The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett
The six historical romance novels that make up this series are “vivid, engaging, densely potted,” one critic wrote in 2000 (sound familiar?). The books
follow Francis Crawford of Lymond, “the perfect romantic hero,” and its events unfold during the 11 years from the Scottish border wars of 1547 to the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558.
The Earthsea Cycle, by Ursula K LeGuin
Set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, this series follows a child named Ged through his journey to become a wizard. LeGuin has an “intricate imagination,” our reviewer wrote, adding that in the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, the “attention to physical detail effectively and exactly” represents “young Ged’s reactions to the strange world about him”.
New Crobuzon, by China Miéville
This series, which starts with Perdido Street Station, is set in the fictional world of Bas-Lag, in a complex city, New Crobuzon, inhabited by a broad range of human and non-human characters. In a review on the website Tor, one critic recommended several readings: “The first time, you read it as a travelogue of New Crobuzon,” she wrote, as Miéville dips in and out of multiple perspectives. After, “you re-read it for the pleasurable intricacy of Bas-Lag’s cultural and economic substructures and to appreciate the inventive strangeness of the social details — languages, clothing, cultural artefacts and the like — that you zipped past the first time.”
Temeraire, by Naomi Novik
These nine novels reimagine the events of the Napoleonic Wars. The story starts when, while serving in the British Navy, Captain Will Laurence finds a dragon egg in a captured French warship. He becomes the dragon’s master, and his discovery will alter the course of history. In a review in The Washington Post, one writer called the first book, “Her Majesty’s Dragon,” the “most original of dragon books” and wrote that it contains a “generous dollop of intelligent derring-do”.
The Accursed Kings, by Maurice Druon
These seven historical novels follow the Iron King, Philip the Fair, as he attempts to rule his kingdom and his family. “Believe me, the Starks and Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets,” George R R Martin himself wrote about the series in The Guardian. “It is the original game of thrones.”
A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R R Martin
Or you could just dive right back into Westeros and read A Game of Thrones, the first in Martin’s yet uncompleted series about the epic fight for the Iron Throne. In an interview with The Times from 2005, Martin described how he conceived of the series: One day, an image came to him of a man who was taking a boy to witness a beheading. They find a dead direwolf who has just given birth to a litter and decide to rescue them. This became the opening scene in A Game of Thrones. “To this day I don’t know where it came from,” Martin said. “But I knew that I had to write it.”