Fantasy with a quest, destiny, hero – the most well-known is JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. No need to go into detail about Tolkien because his works are so well known.
Lloyd Alexander – The Prydain Chronicles: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron (Newbery Honor 1966), The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King (Newbery 1969), The Foundling and Other Tales
Lloyd Alexander was the master fantasy craftsman. His storytelling was exquisite. I have read almost everything he published. When students want to start out with epic fantasy and do not have the time to read Tolkien, The Prydain Chronicles is a good starting point. Look at the awards within this series! Disney did turn The Black Cauldron into an animated movie in 1985. I prefer the book. Perhaps it is time for a movie studio to revisit Prydain. The Foundling and Other Tales are a collection of stories that recount some of the characters’ early years.
Welsh legends are the inspiration for this series. Taran is the protagonist. He is an orphan being raised by a very old man who limits Taran’s freedoms for reasons of safety. Okay, any time there is an orphan in a fantasy story, that person turns out to be quite special. It might be magical powers or royal lineage. That’s fine, it makes the story good. Evil forces are invading the countryside and Taran flees, not from danger but chases after a pig and that is the beginning of a series of adventures and quests. He has loyal and quirky sidekicks, there is a princess in the mix, and of course evil kings and queens. With themes of loyalty, honor, and courage, this is a top notch epic fantasy series that deserves to be rediscovered. Alexander sprinkles humor into his adventures. Excellent!
Alison Croggon – Pellinor: The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, The Singing
Another spectacular Austrailian author to follow! Maerad is a slave with little memory of her mother. A travelling bard/mystic, Cadvan, discovers her and tells her that she is like him, special. They possess the Gift, the ability to command nature. Under his tutelage, Maerad learns to use her power. It turns out she has a very special lineage and very special power. There is an evil ruler in the land, corrupting the bards, and the land. Maerad learns she has a brother, Hem. Together they uncover their destiny and fight against the Nameless One. The overall tone of the series is grim – lots of impending doom. Recommended for the avid reader – the books are rather long for busy teens but certainly worth the time.
William Nicholson – The Wind on Fire Trilogy: The Wind Singer, Slaves of the Mastery, Firesong
This series is so unique that it doesn’t quite fit into any category. Young Kestrel does not agree with the tightly controlled city of Aramanth. Exams and ratings dictate a person’s role in society, what people wear, where they live, and their work. Colors designate the different societal classes. Kestrel’s family is far down in the system. They are a family of idealists rather than toilers. Kestrel ends up on a quest to end the evil grasp on Aramanth. Her twin brother and new friend join her on her adventures. I can’t pinpoint why these books are so special, but they are. The characters are determined and loyal and brave and I did not want to stop reading about them. Mr. Nicholson tells a brilliantly original story in an eloquent style.
Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass
I read The Golden Compass during the summer I was working on my MLS and taking a YA Lit course. All of the books on the required reading list for the course were depressing – teen angst. I asked the instructor, “Where is the fantasy, the sci fi, and the humor?” I tore through the depressing assigned reading so I could read what I wanted to read and The Golden Compass was begging for me to read. I couldn’t put it down. My kids got their own lunch, I did stop to fix dinner, but went right back to reading. The story was all-consuming. The series is about parallel universes and good vs. evil. In Lyra’s universe, people have a visible aspect of their souls sort of, as an animal or daemon. Their daemon is a part of them. Children are disappearing. Lyra sets out to find her friend who was recently snatched. She discovers an experiment to separate children from their deamons. The Subtle Knife takes a different path in a parallel world where Lyra meets Will. The Amber Spyglass was, umm, an odd ending, a fitting ending, but disquieting. Not sure what happened to the movie of The Golden Compass. The parts were brilliantly cast and the movie truly brought the book to life, but . . . perhaps the book was just too much to be movified.