Who writes the best classic fantasy?

I’m talking about your standard, meat n potatoes swords and sorcery books, who does it the best? Here are some authors to consider: (that I’ve read, there must be many more)

David Eddings (The Belgariad, the Mallorean etc)
Raymond Fiest (Magician etc)
Tad Williams (Memory, sorrow and thorn)
Guy Gavriel Kay (The something tapestry, Tigana)
Terry Brooks (Shannara books)
Stephen Donaldson (not really classic fantasy, but I’ll throw him in just the same)
David Gemmel (Druss the legend, John Shannow stuff)
I don’t want to hear about great, innovative fantasy writers as they’re easy to identify. Its much harder (and more interesting!) to distinguish between the identi-kit fantasy novelists, these are the guys I’m looking to hear about.

I’d pick Tad Williams as the best from the list above, for reasons that I can’t really explain too well. Although his trilogy is almost fundamentalist in its adherence to the classic formulae, with not one single creative idea in over 3000 pages of writing, he just puts the whole thing together with a lot of skill IMO. He’s strong on the basics of pacing, structure, dialogue and characterisation.

Sorry, I can’t get past the suggestion of David Eddings being a great author. He’s not so much meat and potatoes as day-old bread with lard. :dubious:

I’ll admit to reading all of the authors mentioned. Out of them, I’d consider Guy Gavriel Kay the best writer of the bunch with Feist coming in second.

Tad Williams kept my attention for all of two books and I won’t willingly buy another book by him… and I’m still planning to buy the next Robert Jordan book, so I don’t give up easily.

David Eddings and Terry Brooks have written readable books, but I wouldn’t consider either of them the “best” at anything. (Okay, maybe Eddings is the best at using the same story in the most different books)

David Gemmel and Stephen Donaldson are good writers, but I wouldn’t put them as I’d put Kay and Feist.

Damn, editing sucks…

In the last sentence, … I wouldn’t put them as high as I’d put Kay and Feist.

I would describe Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind as cookie-cutter fantasy writers. At times, it seems as if a randomly selected page from one of their novels could be dropped into a novel by one of the others without the reader batting an eye.

Of the ones you’ve listed, Kay is definitely my favourite. His Fionavar tapestry had some incredibly moving scenes, and applied a nifty twist on an old formula. His stand alone novels (Tigana, Song For Arbonne, Lions Of Al-Rassan) are decidedly not formula.


I really enjoyed Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry and one of his other books, but not so much the rest.

For my money David Gemmel is the best of the ones you mentioned. However, his books lately seem to be following a recipe. Still, there are so many of his that are good, you shouldn’t grow tired too quickly.


Yuck. OK, Tad Williams not yuck. But where’s Katherine Kerr? Mercedes Lackey? Sharon Shinn? Jennifer Roberson? Anne McCaffery? Too girly for ya? :smiley:

Charles DeLint? Morgan Llewellyn?

Yeah, the list I wrote was just some titles that I could think of as having read and is by no means meant to be a definitive set of great classic fantasy authors, its just to get things started really.

You make some great suggestions, although it can be hard to keep track of the stuff you’ve read in this genre, I’m fifty-fifty on whether I’ve read Katherine Kerr :slight_smile: I’ve read all of Anne McCaffrey’s stuff, up until she started to take the piss, and she’s put out some iconic work, no doubt about it.

Katharine Kerr (forgive my earlier spelling) writes the Deverry books, with a herbalist and mage named Nevyn (literally, “No one”) who was once a rich and spoiled prince who messed up the lives of the woman he loved, her brother and someone else. The group of them are reborn over many lifetimes as Nevyn, eternally living due to a rash promise to put things to rights, tries to fix his karmic boo-boo.

The interesting thing for me with Kerr is that I continually forget I’ve read her works. Perhaps it’s a flaw, perhaps not, but everytime I pick up one of her books, I love it and marvel at it and only halfway through do I begin to realize I’ve read it already. At that point, it’s like your best friend telling you a really wonderful story you enjoy, so you let him keep talking, even though you start to remember more and more of the details before he tells them again.

How is it that I frequently seem to be the only person on the planet who has read Dennis L. McKiernan?



How can you mention Terry Brooks in the original post & not mention Tolkien? Since it was Tolkien’s stuff that he essentially rewrote & passed off as his own.
(and I use the term “write” loosely).
At least other writers changed things around a bit more.

On a more positive note, I always like looking into these threads for ideas of authors to try. As usual the Straight Dope reading corps has come through again.

Because, in this case, “Classic Fantasy” means Tolkien ripoffs. Mostly.

Greg Keyes is half way through a 4-book series, “Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone.” It’s highly original fantasy but bears a bit of resemblance to the “classic” stuff. I’d recommend it.

George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. There are 3 books now, but will probably be 6 or 7 when the series is finished.

Replace “when” with “if”.

I’ve been waiting for book four for what, five years now, at least?

Beat me to it.

Fantastic series so far…but let’s face it, we’re five years late on book four and the main fight (you know, Ice and Fire?) hasn’t even begun to get revved up.

I hope he finishes it, I really do. I just don’t know if it’ll happen.


Ya know, I’ve probably seen this claim on this message board (and elsewhere, I’d bet) about three or four times. I’m currently listening to The Scions of Shannara on tape, and I’m really not seeing it. Maybe you could make the case the his first, The Sword of Shannara was heavily inspired by Tolkien. But I think he’s done some interesting things since that first effort (which was published in 1977, I might add).

Of course, this might be biased by the fact that the two previous audio books I listened to were Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress. I had fun reading Eddings back in middle school, and I even re-read them as recently as four years ago, but I don’t know what possessed me to listen to the Umpteenth and Umpteenth-plus-one retreads of Eddings’ story back to back.

Either way – give me support for the fact that Brooks just ripped of Tolkien. Cuz I’m just not seeing it.

(I should add that I’ve read Brooks’ original Shannara trilogy and his followup Shannara quadrology (The Heritage of Shannara, I think it’s called) but none of his recent work.)

Thanks for the tip! I loved Keye’s work in the NJO series…best exploration of Anakin Skywalker (the younger) and some of the light side/ dark side issues I’ve seen.

I can’t say as I have a definite opinion as to the ‘best’ in this category- I like them for different reasons. Eddings is certainly light- I can re-read all of his works in the course of a couple days…very fluffy, goes well with meals. :slight_smile:

I will always hold a special place for Jordan, as I met my wife through our mutual interest in him, but he’s disappointed me lately.

Anyone read any Hobb? not sure that falls under ‘classic,’ but it’s a good read.

Sorry, most of those guys fall into what I’ve heard called the “extruded fantasy product” category.

Except for Guy Gavriel Kay. He can actually write.

I like Eddings. Fun and not terribly taxing on the gray matter. I reread both the Belgariad and the Malloreon about once a year, and all ten books (plus the two stand-alones about Belgarath and Polgara) usually take me about a week. If you’re looking for classic fantasy, this is it. Boy goes on quest and discovers he’s more than he ever imagined. That goes not only for Garion, but Rand al’Thor and his buddies, FitzChivalry Farseer, Jon Snow, J.V. Jones’ The Baker’s Boy (whose name I can’t even recall, it was so formulaic), and the kid from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn which I never finished because by page 100 I was so bored I wanted to slit my wrists with the book cover. The only Kay I ever tried to read was Tigana, and I fell asleep sometime in chapter two. I made it about three quarters of the way through Goodkind’s Wizards’ First Rule and gave up, discovering I didn’t even care anymore what the hell a Confessor was.

I don’t mind reading the same story over and over again, as long as the writing keeps me interested.

Eddings is funny and free-spirited, at least in the Belgariad, which is the only one I’ve read.

Tad Williams is my favorite in the big long fantasy category. He makes good use of humor, has loads of distinctive characters, and understands how to write on a large scale.

Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry books are a waste of time in my opinion, though his later material certainly makes up for it.

Other recommendations: Allan Cole and Chris Bunch, authors of the Antero Sage.

Mitchell Graham: The Fifth Ring, The Emerald Cavern, The Ancient Legacy

E. R. Eddison: The Worm Ouroboros

Patricia McKillip: The Riddle-Master Trilogy and many others.