Best Medieval Fantasy Books—Our Top 5 Must Read Recommendations 2023 (2024)

Medieval fantasy is one of the most popular fantasy subgenres.

It is different from modern fantasy such as the popular YA fantasy Harry Potter series

Much more than fairy stories, this subgenre is also responsible for many images that come to mind when one thinks of fantasy literature – ancient sword, evil king, knights, armor, and mythical creatures.

Medieval fantasy books are set in the Middle Ages (from about 500 to 1400–1500 CE), before the Renaissance and coming out of the Dark Ages.

Common elements of this fantasy subgenre include an entire world of dark magic, an empire ruled by an evil king, a royal family and their kingdom’s protective wall, wizards, princesses, knights, dungeons and dragons, and dense forests.

Fantasy stories set in the Medieval Era are sometimes known as historical fiction and feature common themes, including supernatural forces, perilous magic, and dragons.

Much medieval fantasy takes inspiration from the early stories of King Arthur and the Knights of The Round Table set in medieval Europe, which is why this genre is also sometimes referred to as Arthurian fantasy.

Read on for some of our recommended medieval fantasy works.

The best medieval fantasy books

Below we’ve included some of the most popular, loved, and highly recommended books and fantasy series in this subgenre.

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1. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is the quintessential book of this subgenre. It is undeniably one of the most important works of fantasy ever published and remains just as popular today as it was first published in 1955.

The LOTR is a trilogy, including:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King

The story follows Bilbo Baggins, nephew to Frodo Baggins, who sets out on a high adventure from his home, The Shire, Middle Earth, to carry the One Ring to Mordor and with the hope and objective of destroying it once and for all.

The One Ring is an incredibly powerful source of magical powers, granting invisibility to the bearer but at the cost of one’s sanity.

Anyone who wears the Ring is invisible to all but one, the Dark Lord Sauron, the Ring’s creator.

The Lord of the Rings has all the essential elements of medieval fantasy.

The first novel of the series introduces Frodo Baggins accompanied by old friends, Sam, Merry, and Pippin in the quest. But complex characters like wizards, dragons, elves, and dwarves join Frodo later on in his perilous journey to Mordor through dangerous terrain, opposing forces such as an army of brutal Orcs and the Nazgûl.

“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes, a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.”

This great series is a classic that shouldn’t be missed by young and old readers alike and is worth a re read after all these years.

2. Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Christopher Paolini’s Eragon is a beautiful, big book, perfect for younger readers (teens/young adults) who want to get into the fantasy genre.

Eragon is the first book in the Inheritance Cycle and was adapted for the big screen. Unfortunately, the film adaptation was not a huge success, but the books are still loved and appreciated.

The story follows a young boy named Eragon, a poor young farmer. Eragon finds a polished blue stone on his walk. He keeps the stone with him, and later emerges a dragon hatchling named Saphira.

As Saphira and Eragon become more familiar with each other, Eragon learns that he communicates telepathically with her.

Eragon realizes his epic destiny as it is soon revealed to him in a story that takes us soaring through the sky.

“No hunter of the sky should end his days as prey. Better to die on the wing than pinned to the ground.”

3. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy, The Wheel of Time series, is the gift that (almost) keeps giving to those who love it.

There are fourteen books in the main series, with an additional three, which means if you liked the first one plenty more will come after.

The first novel in Robert Jordan’s series: The Eye of the World, was published in 1990.

Events take place before the Eye of the World, but the main story begins in this book with our protagonist Rand al’Thor.Rand al’Thor is a young man, a sheep herder from Andor.

As we meet more characters in the book and become more familiar with Rand al’Thor, the main character learns he is a wanted man.

While delivering cider to a nearby town, a messenger informs Rand and his friends that the Dark One is looking for him. What ensues is an unforgettable adventure for Rand al’Thor and company.

Robert Jordan’s fantasy series has a wealth of rich characters, worlds, and ideas. The author’s world-building skills and ability to flesh out characters well is why he is a favorite among fantasy lovers.

“You can never know everything, and part of what you know is always wrong. Perhaps even the most important part. A portion of wisdom lies in knowing that. A portion of courage lies in going on anyway.”

4. The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams

Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is an epic fantasy tale told from the viewpoints of several characters, offering the reader an immersive experience of the overall narrative.

The three books in the series are:

  • The Dragonbone Chair
  • Stone of Farewell
  • To Green Angel Tower

The series takes place on the fictional continent of Osten Ard in a world where humans live united with elf-like immortals and dwarf-like mountain dwellers. The unity of the inhabitants of Osten Ard is primarily thanks to King John the Presbyter.

Early in the book, we learn of the King’s fading health as he advances into old age. As upset as they are about their father’s health, his sons Elias and Joshua argue over who will succeed him as future king.

We also learn that the King has a dark secret. Add to that the agenda of the priest Pryrates, and the safety and well-being of the entire continent of Osten Ard enters jeopardy.

“He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder.”

5. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has sold over 90 million copies worldwide since the initial book in the series, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996.

The series’ popularity skyrocketed in 2011 when HBO adapted it for television with awesome cinematography and a stellar cast of actors.

Even if you’ve seen all Game of Thrones episodes, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is still well worth reading.Long after the series has been concluded, fans still cannot stop talking about it, especially with the release of the new HBO series, The House of the Dragon.

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It’s incredibly dense but fast paced. There are currently seven books published, but George R.R. Martin’s engaging writing style and characters, setting, and overall world-building skills are unparalleled.

The detailed accounts of characters and their stories are just one aspect of George RR Martin’s writing that sets him apart from other fantasy writers and make the books more than worth reading.

The series follows several houses (Stark, Baratheon, Arryn Lannister, Greyjoy, Bolton, Tully, Tyrell, Martell, Targaryen) on the continent of Westeros as they fight for rule of the Seven Kingdoms, the right to the Iron Throne.

The magical link in this series is brought on by the dragons themselves. The focus is really on the dynamics between the houses.

Filled with political intrigue, each royal household forms alliances or battles against each other, despite a great threat that endangers everyone and may result in the world’s end.

Winter is coming and White Walkers, an army of the undead ice people, are approaching and the epic battle is yet to come.

Fair warning, though, the action packed scenes of death and violence, may not be suitable for young ones.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”


Medieval fantasy novels are for readers of (almost) all ages who like medieval times, magic systems, and even legendary dragon riders.

They’re great for teens who are just beginning to explore the a world filled with magic in the medieval period and who will re reading these works decades later, as any older LOTR fan knows.

So, if you haven’t read any of the fantasy books and series mentioned above, check them out. Who knows, you may be inspired to write your own fantasy story and be in the same league as famous fantasy authors.

All these great books are available in print and audiobook format, so if you don’t want to spend months getting through a thick volume, listen and enjoy!

As an avid enthusiast of medieval fantasy literature, I can assure you that this subgenre has played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of fantasy fiction. The intricacies and depth of this genre go beyond mere fairy tales, weaving together a tapestry of elements that evoke a vivid image of a world set in the Middle Ages. My extensive engagement with numerous works within this subgenre has provided me with a profound understanding of its key components and their significance in the literary realm.

Now, let's delve into the various concepts and elements mentioned in the article:

  1. Medieval Fantasy Subgenre:

    • Definition: Medieval fantasy refers to a subgenre of fantasy literature set in a world inspired by the Middle Ages, typically ranging from 500 to 1400–1500 CE, before the Renaissance and emerging from the Dark Ages.
    • Distinctive Features: Key elements include dark magic, evil rulers, knights, armor, mythical creatures, and a setting reminiscent of medieval Europe.
  2. Common Elements of Medieval Fantasy:

    • World of Dark Magic: The subgenre often features a world infused with dark and mystical forces.
    • Evil King and Empire: A central antagonist, often an evil king or ruler, governs an empire with a malevolent presence.
    • Royal Family and Protective Wall: The narrative commonly involves a royal family and their kingdom, often safeguarded by protective walls.
    • Wizards, Princesses, Knights: Essential characters include wizards, princesses, and knights, embodying the classic medieval archetypes.
    • Dungeons and Dragons: The setting often includes dungeons, symbolizing perilous adventures, and dragons, iconic mythical creatures.
  3. Medieval Fantasy Themes:

    • Historical Fiction Connection: Medieval fantasy is sometimes categorized as historical fiction due to its setting in the past.
    • Supernatural Forces: Themes involve supernatural elements, including magic, prophecies, and otherworldly phenomena.
    • Dragons: Dragons, a staple of medieval fantasy, contribute to the adventurous and mythical nature of the stories.
  4. Arthurian Fantasy Influence:

    • King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table: Many medieval fantasy works draw inspiration from the early stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, contributing to the genre's alternative name—Arthurian fantasy.
  5. Recommended Medieval Fantasy Works:

    • "Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien:

      • A quintessential medieval fantasy trilogy featuring a diverse cast, a perilous quest, and a powerful magical artifact—the One Ring.
    • "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini:

      • The Inheritance Cycle's first book, "Eragon," follows a young farmer who discovers a dragon egg, embarking on an epic journey.
    • "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan:

      • A fourteen-book series beginning with "The Eye of the World," unfolding an epic tale with rich characters and intricate world-building.
    • "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" Trilogy by Tad Williams:

      • An immersive epic fantasy trilogy set in the fictional continent of Osten Ard, with complex characters and political intrigue.
    • "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George RR Martin:

      • A massively popular series, adapted into "Game of Thrones," known for its intricate plot, political intrigue, and the looming threat of the White Walkers.

In conclusion, medieval fantasy is a captivating subgenre that has produced timeless classics, and the recommended works mentioned in the article showcase the richness and diversity within this fantastical realm. Whether exploring the landscapes of Middle Earth or navigating the political intrigues of Westeros, these novels offer readers a chance to immerse themselves in the magic and complexity of medieval-inspired worlds.

Best Medieval Fantasy Books—Our Top 5 Must Read Recommendations 2023 (2024)


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