I’m pretty sure Lord of the Rings is always just used as a metaphor for high fantasy. That’s what I’m using it as here, anyway.
After three epic movies, not counting The Hobbit, I’m not going to sit here and explain the plot of Tolkien to everyone. What I’m
focusing on here is worldbuilding, and the ridiculous extent to which Tolkien does it. Not only is there three LotR books, and The Hobbit, but there’s The Book of Lost Tales volume one to a billion. All of these just serve to create the world of Middle Earth to the point where you know more about the War of the Ring than you do about the Revolutionary War.
There’s languages and religions. There’s races. There’s maps. I’m such a sucker for maps. Give me a fantasy map with a map on the inside cover and I’ll love you forever.
As far as worldbuilding goes, Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles have it down pat. You completely believe this world that you’re dropped in without warning. But the best part of the story is not the maps (it has maps) or the languages or the poems (all good fantasy books have poems.) It’s the characters. Unlike the ridiculously descriptive prose of Lord of the Rings, Kvothe’s story is told in first-person. It’s told from the point-of-view of a teenager. And it has some of the most endearing fantasy characters I’ve found in a long time.
So if you’re looking for a high fantasy tale that lets you lose yourself, you’ve come to the right place. Just keep in mind it’s going to be a long ride. The first book is over 700 pages, the second is nearly 1000.
It’s hard to sum these books up in a couple of sentences. It starts off as a frame story with an innkeeper who’s a little more than an innkeeper. The world is dark and dangerous. Demons are closing in while a war rages somewhere far and away. For reasons, the a scribe stumbles upon the inn and realizes that the slow and sedate innkeeper is actually this man who has a reputation of epic proportions. The innkeeper, Kvothe, agrees to tell his tale. It will take three days (hence three books.) It will be told his way.
That’s when we launch into the first-person perspective of a teenager. In the first couple hundred pages, there’s death and demons. There’s magic, a fabled place called the University with thousands of books. There’s a wise old man and then there isn’t one. There’s hunger and cold and despair and music. Lots of music.
Eventually our young Kvothe finds his way to the University, completely penniless. The back cover of the first book had a review that compared these books to Harry Potter. I guess if you mean the main character attends a school of magic, then the comparison is correct. But it’s not a school for young children. It’s gritty and mean and occasionally cruel. Kvothe makes an enemy who eventually tries very hard to kill him. He also meets two best friends, a crazy teacher of Naming (the first book is called The Name of the Wind) and a girl who gives him the key to the moon.
There’s also a quest for the thing that killed his parents (spoiler but not really. All good heroes are orphans.) There’s a quest for the name of the wind. There’s a quest to get to the school in the first place. And that’s all in the first book.
Like I said though, the reason to read these books is the characters. Kvothe is an arrogant ass who’s so brilliant you almost forgive his arrogance. He meets friends at school, Simmon, who is the nicest guy alive, and Wilem, who laughs at Kvothe and deflates his head a little bit. There’s Bast, who exists in the “present” frame story and is a fey or a fawn. There’s Auri, who speaks in riddles and lives under the school. But unlike Lord of the Rings, you are never overwhelmed with proper nouns that you can’t make sense of. The book is long for a reason. You’re introduced to everything a bit at a time.
I read both these books in three weeks of frantic reading. They’re so good I contemplated skipping class. They’re so good I made sure all my friends had a copy to read.
Any lover of high fantasy, any lover of a good story with some magic and demons thrown in, should be falling in love with these books. I can’t recommend them enough, especially as a device to drive away the winter blues.
Fair warning though: the third book isn’t out yet and has no release date (Goodreads says 2025 but I’m inclined to not believe that.) You should read it anyway.