You can tell an epic story at any length; sometimes a standalone fantasy can traverse just as much narrative space as an entire trilogy. But when it comes to fantasy worlds that we can explore every inch of, we are particularly fond of series with nine books or more. Yep, you heard us: we want trilogies upon trilogies (with the occasional side duology/quartet) in our favorite long-running SFF series. From alternate histories to fantasy that slowly becomes science fiction, from lady knights to more than a few telepathic dragons, from sagas that span one generation to multiple centuries, these series are so expansive and immersive that reading them feels not just like visiting a new world, but like coming home.
At the start of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, it’s been nearly a century since the kingdom of Tortall has seen a lady knight. Within 25 years, it will have two: Alanna of Trebond, the aforementioned Lioness, who disguises herself as a boy to get her shield; and Keladry of Mindelan, the Protector of the Small, the first girl to openly train as a knight, and shoulder her own burdens for doing so. Between those two quartets is a third series, The Immortals, chronicling Tortall’s battles with ancient creatures like Stormwings and goddess of chaos Uusoae. Humans struggle to maintain balance between the mortal world and the Realms of the Gods, led by shapeshifting wild mage Daine Sarrasri. Bookending these quartets are the prequel trilogy Beka Cooper: A Tortall Legend and the Tricksters Duology, about Alanna’s spy daughter Aly. While you could start chronologically, we recommend beginning your adventure when Alanna does.
The Wheel of Time
In The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan introduces us to his unnamed world in steps, starting with the relatively narrow viewpoint of Rand al’Thor. A farmer’s son from the backwater area of Two Rivers, he has little need to know much about the lands beyond his family’s own fields, and especially not about those realms’ conflicts and intrigues. Until, of course, the conflict comes to his home in the form of a Trolloc attack, which in turn has Rand and his friends joining up with the Lady Moiraine of the Aes Sedai on an epic journey. The readers’ world expands alongside Rand’s over the course of the 14-book series (plus one prequel story for good measure). And just as the Wheel of Time keeps turning, so too does the Wheel of Time (re)read—join in on the current first read here.
While many fantasy authors map their magical lands onto what is still ostensibly an Earth-like planet, Sir Terry Pratchett went above and beyond with his particular worldbuilding. Discworld is, as it says on the tin, a disc-shaped world—carried on the backs of four elephants that in turn stand upon the shell of an ancient space turtle moving slowly through the cosmos. Within this world (roughly the size of our Pacific Ocean), are myriad continents and nations and prominent cities like Ankh-Morpork within which dragons and gods and witches and golems all coexist. Over the course of forty-odd novels, readers get the chance to discover every nook and cranny of Pratchett’s comical fantasy world.
Dragonriders of Pern
Weyr Search, the novella that would eventually become part of the novel Dragonflight, depicts a pulpy fantasy realm of dragons and dragonriders, ominous stars and fateful duels… but by the time that Anne McCaffrey was expanding the world of Pern, she found herself less interested in writing fantasy and more drawn to science fiction. So, instead of dropping the series, she made it sci-fi: the fantasy realm is the far-off planet of Rukbat 3, colonized by Earthlings and renamed for its initial evaluation as “Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible.” Except there’s one resource that came very much in handy: those dragons, or genetically-engineered fire lizards, which are the only thing that can face off against the all-consuming alien force of the Thread. Part of the fun of immersing oneself in Pern, as Mari Ness covers in her reread, is watching the shifts not only in Pern’s culture over just a few decades of story, but in the evolution of the series itself.
The Saga of Recluce
If you can believe it, while writing The Magic of Recluce, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. did not set out to write a second book, let alone a twentieth. His primary intent in penning that first book thirty years ago was to present a realistic fantasy—that is, a world whose inhabitants were more concerned with their day jobs than in mythical quests, and whatever magic (chaotic or ordered) they possessed was just one of several tools for survival. These more everyday applications of magic have also shaped government structures in Recluce itself and the lands beyond, from rule by traders’ councils to chaos wizards to military matriarchies. And when those different ways of life clash, well, there’s your conflict—not to mention the ongoing push-and-pull between order and chaos. Modesitt established enough of the foundations in The Magic of Recluce that it gave him enough material to generate new stories for decades—and he’s not done yet.
Realm of the Elderlings
While the five series contained within Robin Hobb’s epic fantasy saga travel all over the eponymous realm, moving forward chronologically and switching perspectives among a variety of characters, it always comes back to FitzChivalry Farseer. Starting with the Farseer trilogy, every other series returns to the viewpoint of this royal-bastard-turned-assassin-in-training and his strange, seemingly destined, relationship to the Fool. The latter wears many faces over the intervening series, but the most recent set of books, the appropriately-named Fitz and the Fool trilogy, proves that these two have more to learn about what binds them.
Malazan Book of the Fallen
The most likely of all these worlds to get truly lost in, Steven Erikson’s high fantasy world can feel very sink-or-swim to new readers—especially the first novel, Gardens of the Moon, widely regarded as one of those books that takes multiple tries to get into. However, any diehard Malazan fan will tell you, if you can adjust to the in media res beginning of the series, you will be rewarded with centuries’ worth of payoff across the original 10 books, not to mention immersive, epic stories in Ian C. Esslemont’s novels set in the same universe. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, as Joel Minty puts it best: “the series goes as deep as you want it to go.” You can reread every book until you’ve caught every subtle hint, or you can have an occasionally bewildering or even overwhelming read if it means that you are letting yourself get fully caught up in the experience.
Terre d’Ange (and Beyond)
By the end of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy, loosely framed as the memoirs of Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, the courtesan-spy-turned-noble has played integral roles in the game of thrones and grappled with omnipotent angels and treacherous humans. While readers no doubt would listen raptly to the rest of Phèdre’s lifetime, instead the focus shifts for the Imriel trilogy to that of her foster son, exploring his dark birthright beyond the borders of Terre d’Ange. Like Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series, each trilogy reveals the changing attitudes and power structures of this great land—and then we jump forward a century and across the water, to Alba and the Maghuin Dhonn. While these great magicians’ bloodlines have intersected with Terre d’Ange’s in the past, in the Moirin trilogy we get the reverse perspective. In a time in which Phèdre is a legend, Moirin journeys south to discover her D’Angeline heritage and restore the Maghuin Dhonn to their former greatness.
The original ten trade paperbacks of Vertigo Comics’ The Sandman collect 75 issues’ worth of story from Neil Gaiman and art from Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Dave McKean, and more, spanning a handful of worlds. There’s the Dreaming, Morpheus’ domain full of prisoners and rogue dreams. However, part of the Lord of the Dreaming’s power is to pass into the waking world as well, where he must grapple with nightmarish serial killers and a “dream vortex” that threatens the existence of his kingdom. Other issues flit, like jumping sheep, from Asgard to Hell to Faerie, to the other realms ruled by Dream’s siblings Death, Delirium, and the rest of the Endless. And if that’s not enough, the six-part Sandman: Overtures series loops back to the beginning, revealing how Morpheus began the series as a prisoner himself.
While the first trilogy within Naomi Novik’s alternate history focuses on the Napoleonic Wars, and how a British Royal Navy captain’s bond with a Chinese dragon turns the tide, the latter six books in the series move beyond the scope of one war. William Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures take them across the globe from China to Scotland, Australia to South America to Russia, as they seek a cure for a draconic disease while fixing diplomatic blunders and otherwise doing their part to maintain human/dragon relations. It’s a rare treat to take in an alternate history that moves beyond the borders of one country to show the cultural and historical shifts on a global scale.
What are your favorite long-running SFF series?