Good news, everyone! George R.R. Martin has announced the very long awaited The Winds of Winter will be coming out this year!
Scott Lynch is pretty sure the fourth Gentleman Bastard book, The Thorn of Emberlain, will land in 2017. Patrick Rothfuss… Well, Patrick is making no such promises. Yet hope springs eternal for fans of epic science fiction and fantasy writers like those three and others who release their books only when they’re finished, and not necessarily when readers want or expect them (i.e. right now). No amount of praying, begging, sobbing, or goat sacrifices can make the books we’re craving come out any sooner. The night is long and full of delayed publication dates.
One day those long-awaited books will come out. In the meantime, however, there are lots of other series to read. And indeed, it’s easy to find lists of series to read “while you wait” (this is the internet, after all). Instead, I’d like to highlight a few addictive fantasy and sci-fi series that are every bit as engrossing as the “big three” up top—yet which far fewer people seem to be aware of. These are books full of wonderful characters and astonishingly good storytelling. It’s time for a new obsession!
The Riyria Revelations, by Michael J. Sullivan
This is one of my favorite suggestions for fans of Game of Thrones. Riyria has everything you could possibly wish for: the characters are some of the best I’ve ever encountered in fantasy literature, the writing is top notch, and the plotting is so tight you’d be hard-pressed to find a mouse hole in it. It also has one of the most satisfying endings of any series I’ve read.
Sullivan brings us the tale of Hadrian and Royce, a mercenary and a thief. They start out doing small jobs, but soon find themselves trapped in a web of political intrigue, lies, and scandal. They have to outsmart, outrun, and outfight everyone from kings to gods. The story can get a little grim, but it never reaches the dark depths A Song of Ice and Fire can sink to, even as it thrills even the most hardened grimdark fan.
The series is six books long, gathered helpfully into three tome-like omnibus editions. Sullivan has also expanded the story in a trio of companion novels, The Riyria Chronicles,but I suggest reading the Revelation series first. These incredible stories were first self-published and became word-of-mouth successes, but I still maintain they deserve so much more fanfare. I want TV shows. I want a video game. I want Funko POPs. Don’t miss out on these books. I bet you can finish all nine before the next George R.R. Martin book comes out.
The Legend of Eli Monpress, by Rachel Aaron
This series is completely finished, which should be a relief to fans of Scott Lynch seeking another roguish anti-hero. For fans of Locke Lamora, Eli Monpress is right up your alley.
Aaron weaves a tale of a magician and thief—the greatest thief in the world in fact—named Eli Monpress. He’s charming, debonair, witty, and a complete scoundrel. He has total mastery of spirit magic, making him able to charm and cajole locks to open and jail doors to fall off their hinges. He’s always a step ahead of the law, but he’s running from so much more than that.
Joining Monpress are Josef Ligton, the best swordsman in the world, and Niko, a troubled and tormented young girl. The villains are as memorable: creepy, unsettling, evil. There were times I couldn’t even breath as I read, so panicked was I that our intrepid heroes wouldn’t make it.
There are scandals. There are massive, world-breaking secrets that unravel as the books progress. Monpress has a shady, shadowy past, just like Locke Lamora, and uncovering it is just as shocking and satisfying. There are more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at, each one raising the stakes higher and higher before everything comes crashing down. There are five books in the series, the first three gathered together in a handy omnibus. If you are a fan of Lynch or Brandon Sanderson, by all means, read them now.
The Tales of the Ketty Jay, by Christopher Wooding
If you’re anything like me, when you aren’t tapping your foot waiting for the further adventures of Kvothe, you’re still pinning for Firefly. You’re on the hunt for something containing a lovable, sarcastic crew of misfits going up against impossible odds. Friends, I have the series you have been waiting for. Clear your schedule, you won’t be able to do anything productive until you’re finished. Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay don’t take place in space, but they do involve thieves and pirates and fanciful aircraft. Because these are sky pirates. Think Firefly with a touch of steampunk and a dash of Indiana Jones.
Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay. Absolutely nothing ever goes right for him. An easy, sure thing deal explodes into a huge disaster that is pinned squarely on Frey and his crew, who must clear their names before they’re shot out of the sky. To their dismay they discover they are pawns in an even larger, more fraught, and far more dangerous political and religious conspiracy. The crew spends most of the four books in over their heads, and it’s a delight to watch.
The series is packed to the brim with feats of daring-do, catastrophes, and enough whip-smart snark to please even the most discerning Joss Whedon fan. Wooding truly has a way with words, and his characters leap off the page. He also has a gift with character names, and they swiftly became one of my favorite parts of the series. The series is sadly complete at four books, but each volume is harder to put down than the last. This is a series that deserves to have a TV show (maybe the guys behind The Expanse could help?) and a loyal, dedicated following.
The Samuil Petrovitch trilogy, by Simon Morden
This is a series I always find hard to define. It’s like the lovechild of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson:a techno-dystopian science fiction wasteland with a crumbling London and hardscrabble characters.
Samuil Petrovitch is a man with many problems. He has a heart condition, he barely escaped a crumbling irradiated Russia, and he’s so close to a scientific breakthrough, he can taste it. Then one day Samuil witnesses a young girl being kidnapped and he decides to stop looking away and do something about it. This turns out to be a very bad idea. Soon everyone from Japanese Yakuza, the Russian mob, and a ruthless rogue computer AI are out for his blood. It’s like an episode of Mister Robot mixed with Snow Crash.
Like Martin, Morden isn’t afraid to be mean to his characters, and Samuil spends the series paying dearly for his single good deed. The author paints a startling and eerily possible idea of a rotting London, a destroyed Europe, and an America run by religious fundamentalists straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. (Like Transmetropolitan, but bleaker.) Samuil is an impressive character, and made it impossible to tear my eyes away from this beautiful cyberpunk nightmare. The series stands at four books, but Morden has said there may be more, so fingers crossed!
The Johannes Cabal books, by Jonathan L. Howard
Maybe you’re the kind of reader who wants to distract her impatient brain with a completely different kind of book. Maybe you like your darkness with a bit of zany humor ala Terry Pratchett. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered too: presenting Johannes Cabal, necromancer!
Howard’s series is demented, delirious fun. Johannes Cabal matches wits with everyone from cultists, his vampire brother, to Satan himself. The prose is witty and the humor, darker than midnight on a moonless night spent digging up the local cemetery. Cabal is a serious man and he deals with life’s little indignities with biting sarcasm, calm indifference, and manic genius. In the first volume alone he has the audacity to sell his soul and then demand it back. These books are a dream for anyone who loves the more esoteric, weird parts of science fiction and fantasy—a must for fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Kadrey, and V.E. Schwab!
This series is at five books and counting, and will fill the hole in your chest left by the ending of Penny Dreadful. It’s a stylish, morbid, and self-aware, and will delight anyone who likes their humor textured wuth tentacles and smelling slightly of brimstone.
What lesser-known series do you champion as readers wait for winter to come?