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13 Fantasy Novels That Are Good Despite Their Covers

Fantasy novel cover art is often wonderful and awful and laughable in a way that is independent of the actual content of the book it’s trying to sell. These are 12 of the clearest cases where you definitely shouldn’t let it put you off.

1. The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks

What you expect: An emo ninja with a ponytail cuts himself with an expensive knife and then broods about how misunderstood he is. Mists swirl.
What you get: A deftly paced story full of well-developed characters who do unexpected things with a nifty little magic system based around manipulating different spectrums of light.

2. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

What you expect: A photorealistic costume shop owner with an actual pirate earring from what you thought pirates were like when you were in preschool tries to learn how to use Photoshop’s “Curves” function, fails.
What you get: Totally riveting heist story set in a marvelously decadent fantasy city. Thieves, revenge, a smattering of swordplay, and a crime caper on an epic scale.

3. The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

What you expect: A monk with bad eczema goes for a walk in the desert to be sad.
What you get: Demons! Magic! A world in peril! The awesome nightmare demons come out as soon as the sun goes down to terrorize a shattered society and only one man has the will to learn the secret that will stop them. So. Much. Fun.

4. The Great Hunt, by Robert Jordon

Also, pretty much any of the books in this series, but The Great Hunt is particularly special.
What you expect: The nerds at your junior high band camp throw a costume party.
What you get: The nerds at your junior high band camp throw a costume party but it ends up being really fun. OK, not really. This is the second most-popular fantasy series of all time for a reason: It’s vast and epic and packed with adventure and mythology that will keep you engaged for thousands of pages. A million nerd points if you can read all 14 of these, though.

5. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

What you expect: Twilight, but with more wizards.
What you get: An innovative and expertly deployed magic system, a popular uprising led by a gang of badass thieves, and shitloads of intrigue.

6. Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson

What you expect: Danielle Steele with less kissing and more swordplay, but still definitely lots and lots of kissing.
What you get: War and Peace with more sorcery and more swordplay, and a totally manageable amount of kissing.

7. The Riddlemaster of Hed, by Patricia A. McKillip

What you expect: A fashion show is ruined when an old homeless man wanders onto the catwalk.
What you get: A lovely series with a wide scope that’s packed with likable characters and fun riddles. Dense enough to make you feel like reading it is an accomplishment, but clear enough that it’s equally good for teens and adults.

8. The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams

What you expect: A Boy Scouts camping trip goes horribly wrong.
What you get: A delightful fantasy epic in the classic style that is made immensely more rewarding by Williams’ considerable gifts as a prose stylist.

9. Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan

What you expect: A lazy Medieval re-enactor finds his entire costume on Etsy and just goes with it.
What you get: An utterly engrossing high-fantasy epic from a major new talent that explores themes of war, faith, and loyalty amidst incredible action scenes and artfully developed characters.

10. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

What you expect: Semaphore?
What you get: A masterfully constructed adventure story in a fascinating fantasy world full of depth and history that is just unbelievably satisfying to read.

11. The Black Company, by Glen Cook

What you expect: Darth Vader wears glasses, summons Satan.
What you get: Actually, that occult Darth Vader story kind of sounds like it might be fairly awesome, but this book is not that. This book is gritty, dark, military fantasy at its absolute finest.

12. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

What you expect: Carrot Top finally does a porno. A lute is involved.
What you get: The (hands down) best high-fantasy series written in the last 20 years. If you haven’t read it yet and you like fantasy, immediately start reading it now.

13. And this edition of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

LOL.

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