These are the full on, work for it novels and series that if you really love science fiction or fantasy I will tell you to try. These novels/series are quite the commitment, but the reward is immense. They range from long series that don’t hold your hand explaining how things work or infodumping background information, to shorter series with unreliable narration, to stories with unique structures that aren’t easy to follow. I’m sure I’m missing plenty, but here are four that stand out.
Gardens of the Moon- This is quite the commitment for anyone who wants to try it. Gardens of the Moon is the first in a 10 book Fantasy Series. There is truly nothing like it. The scope of what the author is doing is unbelievable, but he manages to combine it with intriguing characters and completely unique stories. Gardens of the Moon was good, but a lot to process as Erikson just throws you into the world and expects you to slowly get what is going on (really the whole series does this). Every novel in the series seemingly gives you something you’ve never seen before: the Chain of Dogs (from Deadhouse Gates), the incredible siege of Capustan (Memories of Ice), Karza’s intro (House of Chains), a plot centered around economic ruin (Midnight Tides), the creation of the Bonehunters in Y’ghatan (The Bonehunters) and the Malazan march across Latharis (Reeper’s Gale) are all great examples. I’ve just found nothing else like this series.
Shadow of the Torturer- Truth be told I gave up on this series (The Book of the New Sun) of which this is the first novel. It just wasn’t for me (at least not yet, I promise I’ll revisit as too many I trust swear by it). And… I get it. It’s dense and there is so much going on. They stress the brilliance of its construction and hidden layers, its unreliable narrator demanding the attention of the reader at every moment to really comprehend what is going on. I read 2 and half books in the series. I think I’ll try again someday, but it was too much of a chore for me. Honestly, it’s probably the series that I am not into that I regret not being into. I feel like I am missing out on something great.
Use of Weapons- My all time favorite novel. The book is riveting. It’s style takes a bit of getting use to as alternating chapters take you from a present tense story that goes chronologically to flashbacks which by in large go in reverse order. It is in these reverse order chapters where much of the depth is added to our protagonist Cheradenine Zakalwe. The added knowledge to the Zakalwe’s background and motives that you have by the end of the book invites you to scroll back and re-read certain parts. In the end events that happened early on take on significantly more meaning once you fully understand everything going on. I find new things on every reread and I feel like certain chapters are even more perfect than I remember on reread.
Pandora’s Star- This is an incredibly ambitious books with disparate plots all over the place. There are a ton of characters and there is extensive story to tell. Hamilton creates a uniquely developed universe and does a great job of setting up what is ultimately a very interesting plot. The mystery surrounding “the barrier” is unique and fascinating. The alien races he develops are completely original and in the case of the Primes one of the cooler, well thought out alien races I have ever read. It’s big, ambitious, and demanding of the reader. Not one I’d recommend to someone new the genre, but for someone who loves space opera already, it’s a great option.
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