The second season of The Dragon Prince dropped on Netflix last Friday, and epic fantasy fans in the know are comparing notes and excitedly squealing about how much it rocks.
Created by Aaron Ehasz (of Avatar: The Last Airbender fame) and Justin Richmond, The Dragon Prince is a serialized epic fantasy show about two young princes, Callum and Ezran, who must flee their kingdom after the death of their father, King Harrow. At their side is an exiled elf named Rayla. The unlikely heroes must band together to unlock the secret of the dragon egg in their possession and find a way to unite the humans and elves before it’s too late.
A huge part of what makes The Dragon Prince so great is the way it embraces epic fantasy tropes—but, taking a cue from Avatar: The Last Airbender, it also emphasizes character relationships and takes the opportunity to build out an interesting, ever-growing world full of magic, political intrigue, and personalities you won’t soon forget.
For those of you who have finished The Dragon Prince (and if you haven’t—what are you waiting for?), I’ve gathered together a collection of books of all stripes that might just satisfy you until the next season hits.
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The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.
Magician, by Raymond E. Feist
There are few tropes I love more than when two close friends find themselves on opposite sides of a world-spanning conflict. One of my absolute favorite subplots in The Dragon Prince fits this mold: Princes Ezran and Callum’s growing division from their childhood friends Soren and Claudia. The first volume of Raymond E. Feist’s classic Riftwar Saga, Magician, is another strong example of a far-reaching conflict made personal. From their earliest days on the streets of Crydee, young Pug and Tomas were inseparable—but, when Tomas finds the golden armor of Ashen-Shugar, their paths and destinies diverge, setting them on different sides of a war that will rock the world of Midkemia to its core. It’s a great story about the power of friendship, examining the way life has a tendency to pull us all in unforeseen directions.
The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Magic doesn’t get bigger than this. N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy has been showered with well-earned praise (winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years running), and a big part of that can be credited to the world she’s created; it is astonishing in its vision and imagination. Welcome to The Stillness, a far-distant, post-apocalyptic North American (?) continent where sorcerers called “orogenes” use their great powers to quell the earthquakes that threaten to tear what remains of their world apart. Yeah, the characters are great, and Jemisin intelligently examines crucial themes about family, climate change, and humanity, and the plot is taut and thrilling. But it’s the magic, on a scale rarely seen even in epic fantasy, that will really take your breath away.
The Acacia trilogy, by David Anthony Durham
Acacia: The War with the Mein is the first in the Acacia trilogy, an epic fantasy from historical fiction author David Anthony Durham. While it pulls many of its themes and ideas from established fantasy tropes, Durham’s world comes alive as he introduces elements from African culture, history, storytelling, and lore, turning what begins as a fairly by-the-numbers epic fantasy into something truly remarkable. At the Acacia’s core are the children of Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World. When he’s killed by an assassin, his children are scattered across the land. As they each reach their destiny, they become catalysts for change in the realm once ruled by their father.
The Eternal Sky trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear
In novel after novel, Elizabeth Bear does pretty much everything right, but perhaps her most striking accomplishment (among many) is the intricate, thoughtful, and enveloping worldbuilding of The Eternal Sky trilogy. Set in a world resembling the history and landscape of the Asian Steppes, The Eternal Sky, which begins with Range of Ghosts, tells a story of sorcery and rebellion, great battles, and a war that will be remembered for generations. It’s a beautiful world, feeling at once familiar and plausible and also utterly fantastic. Like The Dragon Prince‘s setting of Xadia, there are many factions, countries, and cultures at play in Bear’s trilogy, and the effects of war ripple through them all, to sometimes surprising effect.
Green Rider, by Kirsten Britain
If there’s one crucial element The Dragon Prince gets especially right, it’s the cast—the show follows a host of interesting and sympathetic heroes and villains. I’m a huge sucker for a plucky, up-and-coming protagonist, and Callum and Ezran deliver on this trope in spades. I’ve read a lot of ’80s and ’90s epic fantasy, so I’ve met my fair share of plucky heroines, one in particular springs to mind from a recent read: Karigan G’ladheon, from Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. Between being kicked out of school for dueling, doggedly pursuing a quest handed to her by a ghost, and generally kicking butt, Karigan is loaded down with traits that make her not only a good protagonist, but a fun one.
Worldbreaker Saga, by Kameron Hurley
While this planned trilogy might be a mismatch for The Dragon Prince in terms of tone, audience, and, um, violence, there’s no better story of worlds colliding story than the one that begins in Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. I don’t want to give too much away, but just know that this series takes the traditional “mysterious-army-invades” trope and turns it on its head in the coolest, mind-twistiest ways. Hurley’s novels and stories are always ambitious and imaginative, but in terms of sheer imagination, the Worldbreaker Saga might just be her boldest work yet.
Kids Who Change the World
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
Kuang has been making big waves with her Nebula Award-nominated fantasy debut following young Rin, a war orphan who earns a place at the prestigious Sinegard academy. With a plot influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War—specifically the Nanjing Massacre—The Poppy War moves beyond the usual tropes of upstart-goes-to-school-style fantasy novels, and its second half definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. As war rages on, Rin becomes more than a simple student, and Kuang raises many questions about cost of conflict on societal, cultural, and individual levels. “What distinguishes this novel from other grimdark works is the depth with which Kuang explores these horrors,” S. Qiouyi Lu said in their review of The Poppy War, “they are not a backdrop or mere set dressing, actions depicted carelessly, without an internalization of their consequences. War and its rippling effects are the core of the book, suffusing every page, informing every character’s decision.”
The Price of Magic
The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks might best be known for The Sword of Shannara, which, alongside Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane, helped revitalize epic fantasy in the late ’70s, but his best book is its sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara. A young healer named Wil Ohmsford is swept up into an epic journey by the druid Allanon, his only weapon a collection of small Elfstones said to house great power. The only problem? Wil can’t figure out how to use them. One of the key elements of Brooks’ Shannara series is that all magic—all power, period—comes at a cost. Over the course of the series’ 20-plus books, Brooks examines how the cost of using magic affects Wil and generations of his descendants.
The Power of Friendship
Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis, others
I’m a sucker for a good tale of friendship and found family. I love the way The Dragon Prince‘s Ezra and Callum—exiled from their home, literally hunted by their old friends—have to find new comrades and friends along their journey to restore peace to the world. My favorite story of found family? The sweet, hilarious, touching, and brilliant comic series Lumberjanes. Anything can happen at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley, and April—best friends and Lumberjanes alike—get up to all sorts of zany adventures, and, naturally, discover the power of friendship over-and-over again. It’s an immensely likable series, perfect for readers of all ages.
What books are getting you the The Dragon Prince‘s hiatus?