The 18 Best Fantasy Novels of 2015-2020

A roundup of the best fantasy novels since 2015 by authors of all backgrounds.

J. P. DeNeui

There is no perfect way to rank a book.

The same intricate worldbuilding that enthralls one reader will spark an outburst by another bemoaning the novel’s insufferable pace. Further, the task of composing a best of list is extra tricky when applied to fantasy as the lines between that genre and sci-fi have become so blurred in recent years that many curators metaphorically throw up their hands and lump the zany tales together. 

Is everything relative, then? Surely not! The field of fantasy is full of talent, full of gems both hidden and widely acknowledged, and still, barely, distinct from Star Wars. Brilliant authors are hard at work challenging all sorts of status quos, but because snobby know-it-all critics don’t always actually turn out to know it all, I have perused assorted best of lists to pit their oh-so-perfect selections against what is surely the only fair arbiter remaining in these troubled times. 

I present the survivors of Amazon reviews.

For each of the 18 winners I have listed the average score out of five stars, the number of reviews on the site at the time of writing, praise from a critic, and a withering critique. Will you trust the wisdom of the crowds or be a rebel? The choice is yours.

The Best Fantasy of 2015

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman 

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.5/5 stars

Number of reviews: 1080

Bernie Gourly, who loved this book: “Trigger Warning is a collection of 24 pieces of short fiction and poetry written by Neil Gaiman. If you know what a trigger warning is (I had to look it up) you may be thinking this collection is darker, edgier, and/or more risque than it really is. (For those who don’t want to look it up, a “trigger warning” is a blurb that intimates that a work has words or images that may induce a traumatic reaction.) However, these stories are Gaiman to the core, which means they are humorous, clever, and often quirky; but they are unlikely to throw one into catatonia or an apoplectic fit.”

Leaaa, who did not: “There were a few actual stories that were good, my fave being the last one about Shadow. As for the other 95% of the book…I don’t know what I was reading. They definitely weren’t stories. More like a weird jumble of random unfinished thoughts.” 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 4574

Meghan, who loved this book: “I loved “Uprooted!” This really is a book that has everything. The descriptions of magic in this are one of the best parts. And the plot!! You’ll be on the edge of your seat for most of the book. A wonderful, imaginative read.”

Maria Kaldvee, who did not: “I was very disappointed… I was doing a ‘facepalm’ after ‘facepalm’, and yes, yet again, another ‘facepalm’. Nothing flows, first-person prose made me cringe so many times. I honestly thought that I was reading a teenager’s attempt at writing fan fiction, instead of a professionally published and edited literary piece composed by a fully grown professional writer.”

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 2381

The Infamous ElJay, who loved this book: “The Aeronauts Windlass has a certain flavor that is equal part YA fiction, Horatio Hornblower and a touch of the Codex Alera. These are grand characters. Unforgettable characters. And talking cats. Never forget the talking cats. They have clans, they have structure. They have tradition. They play the role of the “noble savage” with aplomb and grace. As is the way of cats, I suppose.”

Jack White, who did not: “I have enjoyed other Jim Butcher books but this one was not a winner for me. Way too many characters with limited character development and too much time spent on non-contributing descriptions. For example, there must be 30 paragraphs in the book describing personal retention straps used whilst riding in airships. Is that what steampunk is all about? Straps? If so, count me out.”

The Best Fantasy of 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling (2017 Goodreads Choice Award winner)

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 6032

RMichael, who loved this book: “This book is a written version of the movie. It is literally like reading the movie, with nothing extra. This book is a reflection of what an excellent screenplay should look like and exhibits J.K. Rowling’s remarkable talent. I suspect that the Fantastic Beast movie series will be as successful as the Harry Potter series and just as addicting.”

Kindle Customer, who did not: “It was okay. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t thrilling either. I didn’t like that it was written in a play script format. That just takes away from the whole story line in my opinion. Why they only released that version is beyond me. Wait for the movie, it should be better.”

The Summer Dragon: First Book of the Evertide by Todd Lockwood 

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 276

pixiejen, who loved this book: “Todd Lockwood absolutely nailed it. His world building is fleshed out – but not TOO much. So many writers make the amateurish mistake of throwing too much at you at once. Not Lockwood. His world is fully realized and you see the corner you’re meant to see. It is at points charming, laugh-out-loud funny, exciting and heart-wrenchingly emotional. Yep, this book managed to get me to choke up and cry, too – in a couple places. Hard to do that these days, I’m such a cynic. Thing is – I’m really NOT – and my emotions can easily be teased out of me by excellent fare. And The Summer Dragon is just that.”

Wyoma, who did not: “Wish I could be more positive. I managed to finish this one but won’t buy the next in the series. The dragons were interesting, the story was engaging, but I found myself flipping thru pages describing the gruesome Horrors, and the fights with them that went on for pages and pages and pages. Small quibble- the family has been raising dragons for many many generations, but somehow the main character’s dragon is the first ever to gain clearly articulated speech…”

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu (One of the TIME 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time)

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.4/5 stars

Number of reviews: 160

QuillofArkham1, who loved this book: “The Wall of Storms is the second book in the Dandelion Dynasty. This is epic fantasy large scale with political skullduggery to boot. The characters are very well written and the plot drives the story forward to give an immersive and rewarding read. The story is at times graceful and sublime and by turns sad. Ken Liu has created a sumptuous, additive and intelligent series, one that will leave a lasting impression on me.”

DoctorStopMo, who did not: “Apart from the horrible plot, the book is just flat BORING. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first 50% of the book doesn’t even bring the story’s central conflict into focus. What’s going on for those first 400 pages? A detailed study of affirmative action in the world of Dara. It’s somehow even worse than fantasy tax policy – fantasy affirmative action bored me to tears.”  

The Best Fantasy of 2017

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin (Hugo and Nebula award winner)

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.7/5 stars

Number of reviews: 2416

orkydd, who loved this book: “NK Jemison completes the ‘Broken Earth’ trilogy in very fine style, giving the story of Essun, Nessun and the Stillness to a fitting and satisfying conclusion… The previous two volumes in the series have set a high bar, each being awarded a Hugo Award for best novel. The concluding volume is if anything better still. These are characters that one can feel for and care for. Even the monsters can be redeemed, and no one is free of fault or tragedy.”

Wildlife99, who did not: “The whole series was just ok. Expectations may have been too high, based on all the attention and praise these books are getting. Strengths: Great concept, original, clever narrative device in book one bringing all the main characters together. Weaknesses: The unpacking of the back story to understand what exactly is happening in this dystopian future took way too long… I enjoyed the story but I think it could’ve been done in two books, or more character and plot development should’ve been included to warrant a full trilogy.”

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman 

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 5653

Joanna Tova Price, who loved this book: “I have been waiting sixteen years for this book. If you haven’t read His Dark Materials, read those three first. If you already have, all you need to know is that Pullman reaches the same emotional depth, and continues to stare unflinchingly at the pain, loneliness, hope and bravery of the human spirit.”

jennifer stone, who did not: “Was this really Philip Pullman’s work? It seemed so… uninspired. There were moments of life, but l found it so disappointing. Others here have named the problems – characters are rehashed or flat; the villain’s continual resurrections and reappearances; the weird fairy tale interruptions; story gets drawn ouuuuuuuut; unnecessary profane language… I tried so hard to enjoy it but it felt like pastiche, and l wanted a world (Lyra’s.) So if you are up for a patchwork, with some squares made of a wonderful fabric, and quite a lot of squares made of faux liberty… go for it.”

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 3560

little bookworm, who loved this book: “This is an entrancing story, which swept me up from the very first chapter. It is a wonderful blend of historical fiction, set during the times when Rus was still under the dominance of the Golden Horde, and mythical folklore, with an adult fairy-tale like feel. The wintry setting is completely captivating, making it the perfect read for dark nights; Arden’s writing beautifully descriptive and lyrical.”

Mrs. J, who did not: “This book went from a story premised on Russian folklore to one that not only degrades Christians, but it also characterizes them as duplicitous and malevolent. Look, real-life comprises layers and nuances and not one group is completely good or bad, but to malign, for instance, an entire race because of prejudice and/or ignorance is not acceptable to me; not unless such is required to advance the story. And quite frankly, I don’t believe that Arden adequately justifies this plot device; which makes it seem like a self-indulgent, deliberate, and malicious subversion of Orthodox Christianity.”

The Best Fantasy of 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller (Named Best Book of the Year by Goodreads, NPR, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, People, TIME, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, and others)

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 14781

sb-lynn, who loved this book: “I took a few days to read this book but that was not because it was a slow read. Just the opposite; I was so happy while reading it that I would stop myself after each chapter just to pace myself so it wouldn’t end too soon. I highly (obviously) recommend this to any fans of Greek mythology and for sure to anyone who enjoyed The Song of Achilles. But you don’t have to know much about the Odyssey or Greek mythology to love this book. Although this novel is about a god, it’s really a story about what it means to be human.”

K. Wilkinson, who did not: “DNF. Stopped at page 126. I love mythology, I do not, however, love the F word or other crude language.”

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

Average score: 4.8/5 stars

Number of reviews: 8329

Jacob Sindic, who loved this book: “These characters felt real, their stories and struggles felt like a proper series of adventures and the way they suffered and grew as people throughout the span of the series felt memorable and significant. This ending installment itself is a fitting and heartfelt example of that in its entirety, and without going into spoilers, any happy endings involved are as bittersweet as they are heartwarming for many of the characters in as many ways… I heartily recommend this series to any and all comers, and can say that making it to this ending will be far from disappointing.”

Katherine M., who did not: “Be warned this book is very slow going. I really hated about the first half of the book because it is so slow. The passages are long winded and this book badly needed editing to make it more readable. There is endless talk and no action and the tone of the whole book is just grim. I could barely make it through a chapter without putting it down and never wanting to pick it up.” 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Average score: 4.7/5 stars

Number of reviews: 9157

MammaSnarky, who loved this book: “When I told my kiddo that she might want to think about how this story is somewhat of an analogy to race relations in America her eyes went wide (and I got another “wow). “Mom, that’s true! Ok – now I have to go finish it this morning…..” Thank you Tomi for bringing a story to my family that has so many levels: strong female characters, a worthy struggle, and a clear method of analogy to discuss the difficulties of race in our country.”

MW, who did not: “I’m befuddled by all the positive reviews. Did these people actually read the book? Adeyemi has created a world with great potential, but she fumbles so badly I found myself dragging through most of the book. If I hadn’t had to read it for work, I would have given up.” 

The Best Fantasy of 2019

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Average score: 4.5/5 stars

Number of reviews: 3066

A.W., who loved this book: “Priory is nothing less than epic. In one book, Shannon manages to create an entire world, complete with over a thousand years of history, various conflicting religions, generations upon generations of royalty, dozens of nations, and a sea full of pirates. Pirates! There is pirate action in this book! Are you not convinced? I mean, there’s dragons – and not just one sort of dragon, either. Also, did I mention the whole book has a very, very strong feminist bent to it? How much more convincing do you need?”

horsetails90, who did not: “This book is 90% worldbuilding and backstory infodumps. If that’s your thing, enjoy. If you’re not into sitting through pages and pages and pages of contextless political opining from characters we haven’t even been given a chance to care about, pass.”

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World: Book Two) by Rebecca Roanhorse

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.7/5 stars

Number of reviews: 489

Pernell, who loved this book: “These books are so amazing! As a Diné (Navajo) person, it is so refreshing to see myself in a genre where Natives in general are so under represented. The first book, Trail of Lighting is the first time I read about a Diné Woman Protagonist. It made me emotional. Reading about Maggie again in the follow up novel means that Roanhorse is making a space in SciFi literature for Native (Navajo) people. Her take on culture is respectful and the weaving of Diné words within the book makes the book mean even more to someone like me, A Diné person from Dinétah. I wish I had books like this as a teenager. I can only imagine the positive impact it would have had on me. My family and I love these first two books so far and cannot wait to see what else Roanhorse has in store for Dinétah.”

Brian Smith, who did not: “Whoever “edited” this book should be ashamed of themselves. There are quite a few glaring typos within the first half of the book. It just seems rushed and lazy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, and I’m not hating this one so far, but the typos just seem like something you would see on a cheap blog post (or poorly written amazon review), not in a novel.”

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Average score: 4.4/5 stars

Number of reviews: 3978

OLT, who loved this book: “This debut novel by Alix Harrow…is everything I look for in fiction. Beautiful writing; clever, unique plot; interesting characters; a world I can lose myself in. You can read this on many levels. If all you want is a thumping good fantasy/adventure, it’s here for you. If you want a coming-of-age tale, it’s here. If you want a love story, there’s some of that also. And if you want an allegorical commentary on society and its biases, injustices and strictures, look no further.”

Shal, who did not: “I found this book tedious and not particularly well written so I abandoned it half way through. I should add that I very rarely give up on a book (rare as hens teeth) but there are too many brilliant books just waiting to be read to waste any more time trawling through this rubbish, sorry! I note all the rave reviews for it but some people are easily pleased. Each to his own, I guess.”

The Best Fantasy of 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 11306

Brittany, who loved this book: “I can’t even express how this book has affected me. It was beautifully and eloquently written, to the point where I couldn’t put it down because the words on the page were so perfect together. Every word, every paragraph, every chapter was flawless. There is not [one] part of this story that I do not love with my entire soul.”

Katie, who did not: “Have you ever gone to a tourist trap, thinking, ‘I’m finally going to see this place,’ only to get there and find out that there’s really nothing to see? That is the emotional equivalent of reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I am so very disappointed in this book. I was so stoked about the premise, and I thought it’d be dark and gritty and cool and we’d get a complex plot with a sprinkle of a love story. But, instead, it was a 300 year slog through the endless emotional cycle of regret and loneliness of a 300 year old girl, her emotionally manipulative demon lover, and her clinically depressed, unbearably boring boyfriend. I could not get through it fast enough.”

Rhythm of War: Book Four of the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Image from Amazon

Average score: 4.8/5 stars

Number of reviews: 14323

Blake, who loved this book: “It’s like Stormlight and the Cosmere are taking an important turn….and it is well-worth the ride! This book is packed with action from the very start and answers questions we began asking in Way of Kings. Navani’s POV is a wonderful inclusion. The development of many third-tier characters also shows the way the series will progress as newer characters come into the spotlight. I laughed. I cried. I was on the edge of my seat. Worth the wait and excited for the next volume!”

Bryce, who did not: “The vast majority of characters we see repeat themes from the previous books. Mental health is a major thing in this book both to its credit and detriment. I understand it is a constant struggle for many people but I feel as though that very constant struggle hurts the book. There just seemed to be very little progress in the book. It would be one thing if it was at least fun to read but that was not really the case. It [is] more depressing and dark than previous books especially adding in the mental health bits.”

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Average score: 4.6/5 stars

Number of reviews: 6399

Aran Joseph Canes, who loved this book: “If you like mythology, mysteries and puzzles you are certain to like Piranesi. Those with a philosophical interest in how consciousness has varied throughout history will also want to read this book. Intellectual without losing the enjoyability of a good detective story! Highly recommended.”

Jordan Jasper, who did not: “I found the book to be more of a pretentious mess than a good tale. Reading ‘Piranesi,’ I had the distinct impression that this was perhaps originally a short story that Clarke forcibly padded and padded and padded and padded until it became a novel. Readers will decide for themselves, but I think this would have been much better as a short story–even the 85 pages she makes you slog-through before reaching anything engaging beyond pretense. I liked poor Piranesi, but the book itself did not live-up to him.”

2021 Bonus

Image from Amazon

Best fantasy so far and two to look forward to!

The Ever After by Amanda Hocking 4.7 stars, 34 reviews

We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal 4.6 stars, 83 reviews

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (coming March 16, 2021)

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (coming May 11, 2021)

Honorable Mentions

2015

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu 4.3 stars, 241 reviews

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin 4.6 stars, 5817 reviews

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson 4.3 stars, 88 reviews

The Price of Valor by Django Wexler 4.5 stars, 189 reviews

The Devourers by Indra Das 4.2 stars, 174 reviews

2016

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders 4.1 stars, 914 reviews

Borderline by Mishell Baker 4.4 stars, 167 reviews

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 4.4 stars, 1345 reviews

2017

The Power by Naomi Alderman 4.2 stars, 3908 reviews

The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear 4.3 stars, 48 reviews

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty 4.6 stars, 1894 reviews

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley 4.6 stars, 179 reviews

2018

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang 4.3 stars, 2235 reviews

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope 4.6 stars, 187 reviews

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett 4.5 stars, 898 reviews

2019

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo 4.4 stars, 3810 reviews

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay 4.6 stars, 345 reviews

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie 4.2 stars, 626 reviews

The Poison Song by Jen Williams 4.5 stars, 98 reviews

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey 4.2 stars, 629 reviews

2020

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 4.2 stars, 9927 reviews

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi 4.4 stars, 260 reviews

A Time of Courage by John Gwynne 4.7 stars, 670 reviews

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Joseph Paul “JP” DeNeui (he/him) is a basketball-loving missionary kid from Thailand transplanted to Chicago, Illinois, where he shivers through winters and writes fantasy and sci-fi. He is the author of the fantasy novel Shadow of Wings.

You can follow Joseph on Facebook, Twitter, his website, or LinkedIn to see what’s going on in the world of fantasy writing, fiction, and general fun. Or, if you happen to love a good epic fantasy novel, check out his book in paperback or Ebook.

Email him at: josephdeneui@mockingowlroost.com

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