George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons was everything we'd hoped it would be — but now we can't wait to read the next book, The Winds of Winter. How can we keep from going mad with impatience to find out what happens to Tyrion and Daenerys?
The good news is, fantasy literature offers tons of other great sagas — many of which are perfect for fans of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Here are 10 great fantasy series that will help the wait for Westeros go much faster. Note: We're sort of assuming you've already read Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If you haven't go do that right now. We'll wait.
Top image: Earthsea by Stephen Bradbury, via Tirpetz Tales.
First book: The Name of the Wind
How It's Like A Song of Ice and Fire: Rothfuss paints a realistic picture of how power works. Kvothe, being poor, worries constantly about money, debts, and being unable to buy drinks for his friends. When he stands up to the nobly born bully at university, he wins the battle for street cred but loses the war for administrator approval. Magic does play a significant role, but it is not awe-inspiringly powerful. Like a lot of the magic in A Song of Ice and Fire, it requires sacrifice, balance, etc. in order to work.
How It's Different: This is a very concentrated story, all about how the protagonist Kvothe grows to become a legend and a great arcanist. If you loved the multi-character perspective in A Song of Ice and Fire, you won't find that here. It is all narrated either from the first-person perspective of Kvothe, or from the third-person account of the man who is listening to his tale. There is very little large-scale consequence to any of Kvothe's actions, so if you were looking for the sweeping, nation-building schemes, those are not yet a part of the story either. (Although the series is called Kingkiller, hopefully for a reason).
Telling Passage: "[The silence] was as heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die."
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: The last book in this series isn't out yet, either! You can live out your frustrations twice!
First book: Gardens of the Moon
How It's Similar To A Song of Ice and Fire: Erikson's saga takes place in an undeniably brutal medieval world where people die and war is a truly foul, lengthy business. Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the Malazan series is about an extended struggle for royal or imperial power, as it chronicles the titular Malazan Empire's attempts to subjugate its neighbor countries. And yet, although the predatory and expansionary Empire is painted as pretty evil, the main characters you end up rooting for are fighting on both sides of the imperial war — you're hoping that members of an imperial, invading army succeed, at the same time you're really praying that members of the rebel group do the same. So you definitely have that same moral ambiguity as Martin — nobody's really a hero, everyone's just trying to survive and hold onto what power they have.
How It's Different: The Malazan books focus more heavily on military realities of an imperial war, rather than mixing in court and faction plotting. Magic also plays a very large role in the books; most armies are equipped with entire legions of mages, and gods actually play a part in the plot. This can make the first book tough for some readers to get into, as Erikson doesn't provide a ton of easy exposition on how magic works in this world.
Telling Passage: Tattersail threaded her way around the dazed survivors, stepping across puddles of blood in the wagon-ruts, her eyes lingering on an obscene pile of amputated limbs...
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: In puddles of blood in wagon-ruts, beside an obscene pile of amputated limbs.
First book: Assassin's Apprentice
How it's like A Song of Ice and Fire: If Jon Snow is your favorite Stark to read about, you might like this one. The main character, Fitz, is a king's bastard who ends up entangled in the royal family's schemes for power and fights for succession. He doesn't have a lot of options in life, and so he tries to pick the best ones he can for both himself and those he cares about. If you like the direwolves, this one's also for you. Fitz has a special gift called the Wit, through which he can bond emotionally with animals — for Fitz, this usually means dogs. They see what the other sees, feel what the other feels, etc.
How It's Different: There are not a lot of badasses in the Farseer Trilogy. Fitz is not shooting his evil dad while he sits on the toilet or bringing about the rebirth of dragons in the world. When crisis strikes, people react passively (i.e. moving away from the coast where the raiders attack). When someone is plotting against the king, it's basically an open secret that the court is afraid to address. When the main character gets beaten, he just takes it. Because he has to. Some readers will find this boring to read about, but some readers will find these reactions realistic. Poor bastards without a real place in the world aren't going to take up arms against every injustice done against them. They're going to take what they can get.
Telling Passage: "She has no reason to rise up against me, save the ones she invents in her head. Her ambitions have always exceeded her abilities." [The king] paused, and looked directly at [his second son]. "In royalty, that is a most lamentable failing."
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: With puppies. That you can talk to.
First book: The Blade Itself
How It's Similar A Song of Ice and Fire: Now, if ever two men were likely to sit down and discuss the myriad ways in which humanity is a shiftless mess with the moral compass of a pole-less planet, it would be Joe Abercrombie and George R.R. Martin. That might be all you need to know. In all seriousness, in the First Law Trilogy, Abercrombie paints a world that doesn't serve to make anyone nobler or better; in fact, it makes most of the characters meaner and stronger. The fight scenes are brutal and well-written, and you're not really sure what will constitute a happy ending here.
How It's Different: There are fewer storylines to follow, and Abercrombie's plotting is much more straightforward and less purposefully world-building. Abercrombie's style also includes a lot more dark humor, with disabled characters giggling maniacally at their own agony — Truly a thrill! For most people stairs are a mundane affair. For me, an adventure! — and lone survivors of wars comforting themselves by talking to the cookpot. Abercrombie's characters are also a lot less likeable than Martin's. The characters in A Song of Ice and Fire may not be knights in shining armor, but most of them are somewhat decent people trying to make their way in an unforgiving world. However, the humor, perspective, and occasional bursts of goodness in Abercrombie's characters still make them sympathetic and relatable. You'll find yourself rooting for some pretty craptastic human beings — we've got a torturer, a shallow and selfish young nobleman, an unapologetically manipulative wizard, and a Berserker.
Telling Passage: "Well, you've outdone yourself this time, Glokta, you mad cripple! When the Mercers find out about this they'll have you flayed!" "I've tried flaying, it tickles."
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: Inquistor Glokta's internal monologues are funnier than every SNL skit you will see between now and the release of Winds of Winter.
First book: The Way of Shadows
How It's Similar to A Song of Ice and Fire: The protagonist of this series, Azoth (or Kylar Stern, as he comes to be known — we'll call him Azoth) is, like many of Martin's characters, more a survivor than anything else. He is alternately a coward and a hero, noble and despicable, kind when it matters and cruel when it matters more. One of the gentlest and most genuinely good characters at the beginning of the series, Logan Gyre, has to learn to be fierce, manipulative, and brutal in order to survive for three months in a hole in the ground. In short, life is tough, so you have to be tougher.
How It's Different: This is essentially a story about how a street rat becomes an assassin. While he does get caught up in international warfare and schemes about royal succession, the Night Angel Trilogy is squarely centered on Kylar, and Kylar's journey. You won't find the incredibly intricate and extensive plotting of A Song of Ice and Fire here, though the story does switch between three-four major story arcs. Magic, as with many of our recommendations, plays a large and rather extravagant role in the series — babies switch wombs, people become immortal, magic artifacts talk to their owners, etc. If that sort of magic sounds like it would stretch the limits of your credulity too far, you may not like the latter part of this series.
Telling Passage: At first everything was curses and beatings. Azoth couldn't do anything right. But curses were just air, and beatings were just momentary pain. Blint would never maim Azoth, and if he chose to kill him, there was nothing Azoth could do to stop him anyway. It was the closest thing to safety he'd ever known.
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: Have you ever read a book where a man makes a rope out of human sinew? Well, now you can check that off your bucket list.
First book: Banewreaker
How It's Similar to A Song of Ice and Fire: In Carey's thought experiment of a series, she looks at a Tolkien-esque story from the perspective of the "bad guys," and shows us that they're actually pretty similar to the "good guys" — except for the fact that they're more sympathetic. Her treatment of ideas like nobility, righteousness, and moral standards calls those very phrases in question, much like a lot of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. And she also uses a large and varied cast of characters that includes knights, elven princesses, and dragons.
How It's Different: This is a book centered in mythology and the making of the world. Carey certainly imbues the gods and their messengers with humanity, character, and emotional reality, but if hearing a city described as "a thousand points of light" makes you annoyed or breaks your suspension of disbelief, this might not be for you. Carey's also very interested in metaphysics and the ways that gods and spirituality directly affect and interact with humanity, so that is an important and well-explored theme you don't see quite as much of in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: The dragons in this series are amazing.
First book: The Black Company
How It's Like A Song of Ice and Fire: The Black Company books follow a band of varied (though generally not nice) mercenaries who are down on their luck and trying to keep their bank accounts in the black. In a quest to do so, they end up in the service of the evil, all-powerful Lady and her empire. They run an interesting moral spectrum. Some characters will genuinely try to do the right thing when circumstances allow (rescuing a girl from abusive soldiers); others will be downright sadistic when circumstances allow. Cook's portrayal of power struggles not only between the two combatants in a war, but between 'allies' on the same side, is also similar to Martin's nuanced portrayal of alliances. The Lady's forces, the Taken, are all supposed to be united against the rebels attempting to overthrow them, but they squabble and battle amongst themselves. Much of the Company's activity in the first book is taken up with defending one Taken against another.
How It's Different: The Books of the North are narrated in first person by a Company medic named Croaker, making for a rather different narrative style than A Song of Ice and Fire. However, the Books of the South and Books of the Glittering Stone are narrated in third person. Cook is also a lot less interested in character study than Martin, so there is less focus on the characters' development and more on their interactions. The cast of characters is also smaller, and the plot simpler. Fans of Martin's writing style will find Cook's very different, especially when Croaker is narrating. Croaker's style can be choppy, quick, and leave out things that you might want to read more about (for example, a battle scene).
Telling Passage: There were nine of them, if you counted Madle and some customers who got involved. Candy overturned the card table. We tripped the catches on our spring tubes. Four poisoned darts snapped across the common room. We drew swords.
It lasted only seconds.
"Everybody all right?" Candy asked.
"Got a scratch", Otto said. I checked it out. Nothing to worry about.
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: You will pick the best celebrity baby name by mashing together members of the Black Company. I promise no one will make fun of Shed Goblin Croaker on the playground.
First book: The Way of Kings
How It's Similar to A Song of Ice and Fire: When the story starts off, you might get worried that it's not very Martin-esque at all. The selfless Heralds are waging a war against a race of monsters called "The Voidbringers". Although it means they must fight and die on behalf of humanity, only to find themselves in a fiery pity of suffering upon death, they continue to defend the humans in cycle after cycle... Until they don't. They leave one of their own in the hell-pit eternally and roll out. The story flashes forward to a thousand years, when various noble factions are fighting one another for control of the incredibly powerful Shardblades and Shardplates left behind by the departure of the Heralds. Like the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, The Way of Kings switches each chapter between a host of seemingly disparate characters trying to make their way out of a complicated and confusing web of factions and conspiracies. There are also no clear delineations between the forces of "good" and those of "evil." The eye-color-based caste system under which most of the characters live is, of course, a terrible construct, but it is more imposed by long years of some cultural stigma than orchestrated by an evil emperor. When we hear of the noble and non-violent High Prince, we all know exactly what is going to happen to him at the hands of the other nine less scrupulous High Princes. And the lowly slave who hates his noble overlords isn't an inspired rebel; he's out for vengeance for what was done to him and his brother, nothing more (yet).
How It's Different: The Way of Kings is populated with scores of mythical objects and magical abilities, most of which are explained, though not as in-depth or obviously as allomancy in Mistborn. So again, if you're looking to get out of fantasy without dealing in too much magic, you will be out of luck. Sanderson also employs fewer POV characters, probably about four-five major ones, which can make the switches easier to cope with. The Way of Kings also gets cutesier than A Song of Ice and Fire, sometimes in ways that might irk. (For example, the "Storm you" curses? Might be a little much.)
Telling Passage: "Authority doesn't come from a rank.," Kaladin said, fingering the spheres in his pocket.
"Where does it come from?"
"From the men who give it to you. That's the only way to get it."
"One did not write the ending of a lifetime of faith with a sloppy last chapter."
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: This book has pictures. Pretty pictures. Want 1,000 pages for the price of one book? Wish granted.
First book: Shadowmarch
How It's Similar to A Song of Ice and Fire: As with many of the suggestions here, the Shadowmarch series shifts between multiple plotlines in multiple countries until all of the different characters' storylines eventually converge in an epic showdown. The main family with which we are concerned is the Eddon family, whose throne of Southmarch has been usurped from them. The surviving twins, Barrick and Briony, must flee their home and struggle to reclaim their rights while their father is held for ransom. Meanwhile, two wars loom — one with the mysterious, Fae-like Qar across the border, and another with the imperial power of the Autarch across the sea. The book has been criticized for taking a long time to get moving — the same criticism we've heard hurled at the fourth and fifth books of A Song of Ice and Fire.
How It's Different: The Shadowmarch series skews younger than A Song of Ice and Fire, though not incredibly so — so you're definitely looking at younger-acting protagonists and a less hard-and-heavy tone. Shadowmarch is also much more interested in how strange and otherwordly the Qar across the border are. While the Others across the wall in A Song of Ice and Fire are terrifying and violent zombie-makers, the Qar come across as more mysterious and fascinatingly, freakishly different. (This is not to say that the average citizen in Shadowmarch isn't pee-your-pants scared of the Qar; it's more a comment on Williams' descriptions). So if the mystery of the Others has you frustrated and wanting to know more, you might find a book which explores the sort-of-equivalent Qar interesting and satisfying.
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: Did you ever wonder what it would be like to read about Richard III as a ginger child living in a fantasy kingdom? No? Well, that describes one of the two Eddon twins, and we don't want to live in your paltry imagination. Actual best way: This series is complete. All the books are written, all the plots are tied up.
First book: A Wizard of Earthsea
How It's Similar to A Song of Ice and Fire: LeGuin's story lacks a central, major villain for the first two books, and most of the series' problems are caused by human vices such as youthful hubris or powerlust. The struggles of Ged to become a more powerful mage are just that — everybody's looking out for number one. Tenar, the other protagonist, enters in the second book, and is initially most interested in consolidating her power as an Arch-Priestess and keeping the other priestess from taking her down. It also deals in very interesting ways with the aftermath of traditional quest plotlines. What does the hero do after he's done being a hero? Can someone so powerful be satisfied just going back home? Image: Earthsea by Morrow Gray.
How It's Different: LeGuin's is a more traditional fantasy story, with a tone that suits her publisher's initial request she write for "older children," and the series rarely switches away from Ged for too long. This makes for a more straightforward plot than any of Martin's. Also, after the evil wizard Cob enters in the third book, there's immediately a more defined villain with a more traditional "quest to stop the bad guy" plot. However, as mentioned above, it deals with the aftermath of said plots in an interesting way.
Telling Passage: ...then she saw that he must have in him the makings of power. As her sister's son he had been nothing to her, but now she looked at him with a new eye.
Best Way It Will Help You Wait: In a wizard house made of dragon bones at the end of the world.