Have you ever come across a book that’s so rich in world detail and character that you think to yourself, “Oh my gosh, I can totally picture this on HBO.” Brotha, you ain’t alone in that regard. I seem to pick a lot of my choice reads (and rereads) based on how cinematically written the work is, which is partially why I do all those dream casting blogs too! But thanks to the success of “Game of Thrones”, “Outlander”, “Shannara Chronicles” and more appearing on TV, I now have the vain hope that maybe the book series’ that I’ve loved over the years can also get the primetime treatment they deserve.
I want to draw your attention today to a few underrated fantasy book series’ that desperately deserve their time on your TV screen. Now, notice that I said television, not movie. Simply put, these fantasy series’ are so vast and complicated that I can’t imagine someone attempting to contain them into a couple of films or less. BUT they are chock full of delicious drama, and serial dramas are where it’s at, folks. With the budgets for high-quality TV shows soaring higher than ever, there’s never been a better time in history to bring the fantasy into reality right before our eyes.
I’m excluding The Dresden Files, because they already did have a TV show, even though it deserves a reboot! Let’s get started.
Doctrine of Labyrinths by Sarah Monette
Book Titles: Melusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis
Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths series is a fascinating story about two brothers going on adventures and getting involved in political drama, psychological trauma, magic, and of course saving the world (but at a price). While it may not sound so fascinating to you at first glance, the world and the voices of our two main characters are brilliantly written.
Felix is a wizard, used to mingling among the rich and powerful in the high courts of Melusine, the city where he lives. Little did he know about his half-brother Mildmay, a rough-and-tough burglar from the slums of the city, and they meet for the first time in their lives, halfway through book one. Their voices couldn’t be more different: Felix is proper and classy, always correcting Mildmay’s speech. But in my opinion, Mildmay’s sections were the most interesting to read: he’s a no-holds barred narrator, throwing all sorts of slang and cuss words at the reader like the street-kid he is. If you’re a fan of odd-couple-roadtrip stories, you will get a kick out of these two. They have some absolutely hilarious moments where they each have to rein in their egos, and the discovery of their brotherly love over the course of four books is very rewarding. I would pay good money to watch these two characters banter back and forth on-screen.
Doctrine of Labyrinths contains that kind of world that’s never explained to you outright. You learn about the history, the lore, and the magic system through character interactions. You especially get a sense of where they are and what’s going on simply by who’s speaking, Mildmay or Felix. This book series is only four books long, but each book is also lengthy. It’s so rich in detail, it’s like being smothered with dark chocolate: fraught with danger, magic everywhere, and a realistic pair of brothers are on a quest. This was also one of the few book series where the ending was so well-done and fitting: without spoiling anything, I’ll just say it’s similar to how the Hobbits must have felt when they returned to the Shire at the end of Lord of the Rings.
The Nightrunner Series by Lynn Flewelling
Book Titles: Luck in the Shadows, Stalking Darkness, Traitor’s Moon, Shadows Return, The White Road, Casket of Souls, Shards Of Time
I would say that The Nightrunner Series and Doctrine of Labyrinth series’ go hand-in-hand for me. I discovered them both in the same year, they both have a rich world that’s revealed through the characters’ perceptions, they both feature magic, and have two main characters who share a tight bond that only grows stronger as the books progress. But while Doctrine of Labyrinths has a much more mature, darker tone for a majority of the books, this one is a little more light-hearted and adventurous.
Our two main characters are Seregil and Alec. The first book begins with them meeting and escaping from a prison, throwing the reader into the action right off the bat. Alec discovers that Seregil is a “nightrunner”, or basically a spy for the Queen and burglar-for-hire in the city of Rhiminee, with a long list of clientele that include the rich and nobility in the city. Seregil takes Alec under his wing as his apprentice and then shit hits the fan: they perform dangerous odd-jobs, dabble in magic, battle evil, travel to far countries, get kidnapped (for nearly a whole book), get separated, reunited, fall in love, save the Queen and her sisters, find out Alec’s true heritage and more. There’s so much material and so much intrigue involved, that it would be more than fitting as a TV show, with the promise of multiple, captivating seasons.
Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik
Book Titles: His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants, League of Dragons (coming soon)
Sometimes I’ve looked back at great battles in world history and thought, “You know what would’ve made that cool? DRAGONS.” And lo and behold, Naomi Novik delivered on just that.
Now, I’m sort of cheating with this one because the rights to the book series have already been bought up by Peter Jackson. He hasn’t stated what he’s going to do with the books yet, whether it be film or television, but here’s to hoping it’s the latter. I have complete trust in the man who brought Lord of the Rings to life, to breathe life into badass talking dragons.
If you groaned at “talking dragons”, hear me out here. The Temeraire series takes place in an alternate reality where dragons are commonplace in the animal kingdom and have been mostly domesticated for military and transportation use. It’s the height of the Napoleonic War era, and William Laurence is a British Naval Captain who discovers a dragon egg on an enemy ship he’s just captured. To the surprise of him and his crew, the egg hatches soon after. In this world, a domesticated dragon must imprint on a human immediately after birth in order to be harnessed, and this baby dragon chooses an unwilling Laurence. Together, they form a deep bond, train with the Royal Aerial Corps, and fight alongside other dragon crews to defend Britain against Napoleon’s forces.
What I love most about this series are the characters and the globe-trotting aspect. The dragons and their captains are all so unique in personality, and you get to know Laurence’s crew as well. They hardly stay in Britain for long: over the course of the books, they travel to France, China, Japan, Australia, South America, Africa, and more. No matter where they go, they feel the effects of Napoleon’s war across the world, but there are several side stories going on as well. It’s more than enough material for a fantastic HBO-style show, especially in the experienced hands of Peter Jackson. But let me be honest: I just want to see talking dragons in aerial/navalbattles!
Sandman Slim Series by Richard Kadrey
Book Titles: Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, Aloha from Hell, Devil Said Bang, Kill City Blues, The Getaway God, Killing Pretty, The Perdition Score (coming soon)
Sandman Slim is a rough ride. Imagine if you’re a powerful magician, betrayed by your cohorts and sent to Hell, only to break out and start exacting revenge on the ones who put you there. That’s the case for James “Sandman Slim” Stark (no relation to the other famous Starks), who starts the first book by emerging from the grave (literally) and tracking down the people who fucked him over.
If this series was chosen for a future TV show, it would be one of the darkest, depressing, but action-packed fantasy shows out there. It’s like film noir on absinthe; or “Supernatural” if all the monsters got away and Dean and Sam Winchester were one, badass stone-cold killer. But when you have such a cold, but dynamic main character in James Stark, there’s got to be some relief somewhere and that relief is his voice. Stark is one of the most unreliable, snarky, hilarious, and vicious narrators in a book series. He knows his situation is messed up, and he luckily has a sense of sick humor to keep him tied to Earth instead of running rampant with his new powers. Now that I think about it, he reminds me a lot of Deadpool, only without the slapstick/gag humor.
But in spite of how dark this series is, it would be fascinating to see it unfold outside of my imagination. The magic system is so vast, and Stark has so much knowledge to spare about what he’s seen, and the political situation between Heaven and Hell, that he has enough stories to keep you sitting enraptured at his feet like a grandfather in a rocking chair for years.
Captive Prince Trilogy (+ side stories) by C.S. Pacat
Book Titles: Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit, Kings Rising
And lastly, because the third book came out recently, I have to give the last slot to Captive Prince. I plan on releasing a longer blog post analysis of the trilogy as a whole, so I’ll keep this entry a little shorter.
Captive Prince is the story of Prince Damianos “Damen” of Akielos, betrayed by his brother, and sent to their enemy country of Vere as a “pet” slave for their prince, Laurent. Damen must work with this ice-cold, serpent prince in order to survive his situation and one day return to his kingdom. All the while, however, he must keep his true identity a secret from Laurent, as Damen was the one who took the life of Laurent’s brother in a past war. The setting is a mix of medieval, French court and Ancient Greece, an unusual combination that somehow works.
What sounds like the summary of a bad fanfic or a smut romance novel is actually opening the doors to a much deeper story. There’s piles and piles of political intrigue, family drama, war and violence, attempted assassinations, double- and triple-crosses among friends and foes, and so much more. But the trilogy as a whole is also heavily laden with the theme of forgiveness and sympathy, especially for your sworn enemy. Damen and Laurent do end up together, but it takes a loooong time; they build their relationship in steps, first with grudging respect, than admiration, friendship, and finally love. And that last one doesn’t even occur until halfway through book 3. I’d heard of slow-burns before, but my gosh this was the slowest burn I have ever read, and every page was worth it. Like with Doctrine of Labyrinths’ two main leads, the two main leads here have fantastic banter: Laurent is witty but mercilessly vicious, and Damen is blunt and sort of serves as Laurent’s conscience. They balance each other out perfectly, and I would pay anything to see their conversations (and battle scenes) play out on-screen.
And there you have it! What do you think of my choices? What fantasy series would be your dream TV show?