Big Fat Fantasies: Series to Take You a Year

If there is one thing that the fantasy genre is good at, it is producing long books. The fantasy genre has become infamous for a standard length of some 600+ pages, long-winded descriptions, and authors who just don’t stop writing. The trilogy is the favorite number of volumes in a story, but longer series (whether the author calls them a cycle, epic, saga, or something else) are not rare.

Some people, including myself, like this longer format. It can be nice to drop into a book with familiar characters going to familiar places and doing familiar things. You do not need to relearn the complicated character or place names that come with fantasy, nor do you have to get familiar with a new fantasy world or the trappings that come with it, like the author’s own interpretation of magic.

In today’s post I will cover two series, with two additional series reviewed on May 24, that took me and will reliably take you months to longer than a year to complete.

Where possible, word- or page-count for these behemoths is included.  For the purposes of comparison in this article, the entire Harry Potter series has 1,084,170 words and 4,100 pages in 7 volumes.

Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time is, on its face, a fairly typical Big Fat Fantasy. It is a story of light vs. dark, good vs. evil, and discusses the growth of the mysterious Rand al’ Thor as he fulfills the prophecy to become the Dragon Reborn and defeat the Shadow. The series definitely fills the criteria of Big Fat Fantasy, clocking in at over 4 million words or 461 hours on audio.

The Wheel of Time moves slowly. It is one of those series where the author clearly did not have an end in mind when he started and the story kind of meanders, never getting anywhere very quickly. But that does not matter that much. Fortunately, even at its slowest, the series is excellent with a good mixture of action, political intrigue, character development, and not-too-much philosophy that is typical of fantasies.

Robert Jordan, the author of The Wheel of Time, did not have any other well-known works. He wrote under several pen names in different genres including western, historical romance, superhero (Conan the Barbarian) and even dance criticism. But he did not write any other fantasy.

The more interesting works were by Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the last three novels of the series after Robert Jordan’s death in 2007. Brandon Sanderson is one of the pre-eminent fantasy authors today, having written the fabulous Mistborn trilogy (first book: The Final Empire) and currently working on his own Big Fat Fantasy, The Stormlight Archive (first book: The Way of Kings). Both authors are award-winning and The Lord of Chaos, the sixth book in The Wheel of Time, was a nominee for the Locus Award in 1995.

The first book of the Wheel of Time series is The Eye of the World, or, if you prefer to read chronologically, New Spring.

Song of Ice and Fire

Made popular by the recent HBO adaptation of series (called Game of Thrones, after the first book in the series), the Song of Ice and Fire is the latest in a new fantasy subgenre which many people are calling “sword not sorcery.” This genre places the reader in a fantasy world, but focuses far more on the political aspects of
the scene, leaving the fantasy aspects as a backdrop or setting for the book’s lore.

The Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent demonstration of this and is my personal favorite of the series on this list. It follows four different areas in the world of Westeros, which are intertwined in machinations ranging from an invasion by barbarians living beyond a giant wall of ice to political intrigues that are simultaneously very complicated but explained well enough that the reader never gets lost. The author, George RR Martin, uses an interesting perspective of telling the story, involving a plurality of first-person narrators where he jumps from story to story. This allows all of the many plots to be told simultaneously and we never lose the tension of any one plotline.

However, a caveat for potential readers: George RR Martin seems in no great hurry to finish this series. The series is currently 5 books and 1.7 million words (!) but there was a 5 year gap between the publication of the fourth and the fifth. The author has stated that there will be at least 7 books in the series, although with all of the new plotlines it is entirely possible that that is an underestimate.

George RR Martin has had an extremely prolific career. He has a few standalone works, of which I have read Dying of the Light and The Armageddon Rag. While I didn’t like them, they both had great critical acclaim. All of his books (including the above series) have won or been nominated for various awards, including the Hugo.

The first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series is A Game of Thrones.

- Ross H.


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