Before I begin, I should tell you that I love Harry Potter as much as you. Harry Potter along with The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia were my first encounters with fantasy fiction. Or any fiction for that matter. That’s why, they have a special place in my heart.
Also, I literally grew up reading Harry Potter books – Harry matured with me. We were of the exact same age.
As a kid, I would daydream about receiving my letter and attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
So, you understand, I’m not writing this because of some grudge against Harry Potter or Rowling. I’m not writing it to sound different, either. I simply read better stuff after I was done with Harry Potter.
It is another matter that ‘Potterheads’ among you wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of fantasy other than the one which tells the story of The Boy Who Lived.
Anyway, here we go.
A Song of Ice and Fire: It still hasn’t been finished as only five books have been released from the intended seven. But dammit, I don’t think I have enjoyed any other series as much as this one. Most of you know it by another title courtesy the TV series: Game of Thrones. GRR Martin’s foray into fantasy has managed to overturn the genre. Every rule of fantasy has changed after that.
Unlike Harry Potter, there are real people in A Song of Ice and Fire. The character motivations are actually believable. Here, there are no good or bad characters, there are just characters, prone to follies and evils. Also, ASoIaF isn’t really a ”fantasy” in the stricter sense of the word, it is just a piece of historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in. I think it having subdued fantasy elements was the biggest factor that made it so gratifying to me. That, and those baffling twists – the predilection of Martin to kill off major characters when you least expect. Yes, it can get depressing at times, but, you know, such is life…
The First Law: Highly inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire, both in characterisation and Martin’s trademark gritty realism, The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie nevertheless manages to have its own place in modern fantasy.
Writing is precise, the prose blunt. Humour is of darker hue and you will be hard-pressed to find a likable character here. Not a single character in The First Law can be said a *purely* good person. To give you an idea: In the three main characters, one is a torturer, other is a barbarian and the last one is an arrogant young noble. And doesn’t that remind you of real-life?
I particularly liked the ending. Joe takes you there by a surprise so big that you will be tearing off your hair in the most violent fashion by the time the last book gets finished.
Malazan Book of the Fallen: Written by Canadian writers Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont. Famed for its ultra-complex world and astonishingly written battle set-pieces. A dizzyingly tortuous tale of thousands of characters which involves humans, non-humans, humanoids, aliens, gods and so on written in ten thick books.
A story so dark that it makes Harry Potter seem like a fairy-tale. People frequently die in the Malazan world, even those who are seemingly important to the plot-line. It is the Book of the Fallen after all.
The Kingkiller Chronicle: Like A Song of Ice and Fire, it hasn’t been wrapped up yet. Two books have been penned down so far in a trilogy. It is a very personal story of a prodigal boy told in flashback by now-adult protagonist.
I was very impressed by the magic-system in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It is totally fresh and original unlike the beaten-down system (same old wands and spells) in Harry Potter. Not only that, it actually has a brilliant story to go with it. Writing is superb, especially in the first book. The second book, while not as good as first, is still a pretty excellent read.
The Dark Tower: Stephen’s King biggest work. Considered his “magnum opus” by himself. An immersive fantasy series intermingled with horror elements in a well-built western setting. Amazing story-telling in an equally fascinating world.
Hmm… While I have compared each of the above fantasy series with Harry Potter, I now realise that none of these are suitable for the age-group Harry Potter is targeted at. All of these have darker themes like excessive violence, grisly murders and so on. While Harry Potter does get darker with each book it still doesn’t reach anywhere near the above five.