Harder than writing a good fantasy book is writing a good fantasy series. To achieve this you need to have written a sequel or sequels that either live up to or are better than the original. It’s tricky, too, because either your first book wasn’t the best but was still good enough to justify reading the sequel or your first book was great and you still somehow managed to top it, which is crazy impressive.
With that in mind, here are a dozen sequels to fantasy books that I think are much better than the first in the series, and if you stopped at book one in these series, you should still give the sequel a shot because if you didn’t you’re missing out on what made the series so fantastic. For these first books, no matter what you thought of the first in the series, you should definitely read at least the first sequel:
The second book in each of Joe Abercrombie’s series is always the best of the series. I can say the same of The Heroes and will give a similar statement for his Shattered Sea series lower down the list but it’s the forming relationships in this book that makes it so great. Logan with Jezal and Ferro, West with the Northmen, it’s all just fantastic.
The first Dagger and Coin book was an average generic fantasy so it wasn’t a surprise that it didn’t get the attention it deserved, but the political intrigue and maneuvering in the sequel was enough to put Game of Thrones to shame. Plots, coups, and the rise of a new cult and their effect on the characters make them so much more real.
Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence (Red Queen’s War #2)
Mark Lawrence has some really good books under his name, but so far this is my favorite of his, and luckily it’s also the second in a series. I did an entire post on why I thought this book was so great. So, besides everything I put in that post, I think this book has something that his Broken Empire trilogy did not, although one of those is also on this list.
Where the first book is more akin to Hunger Games or a space hegemony version of Lord of the Flies, this story is what the setting of Red Rising demanded, light sword fights and strategic space battles. Everything foreshadowed in book one happens in book two, and without the cliffhanger, would’ve left very little for book three.
The first Greatcoat’s book was a mess. It almost felt like the first third of the book was it’s own story, nearly completely disconnected from the rest of the tale. Book two, however, is one beautiful flowing mystery that expands with each scene and setting until it ends in a beautiful thrilling climax where no character comes out unphased.
By far my favorite Wheel of Time book. This is everything I wanted from book one but was withheld for the sake of foreshadowing and a slow character build. Honestly, if the series had ended here, I wouldn’t have minded because everything after this one felt diluted in the need to scrape the rest of the story over so many books.
Here’s Abercrombie again dominating the second book in his series. For the last five years, if you’d asked me who my favorite female character is, I would say, without hesitation, Thorn Bathu. She’s only a main character in this book and her journey and rise in the world of the Shattered Sea was by far the highlight of the whole series.
The King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire #2)
Although clearly the best book in the series, I added this book to the list more from a request than anything else. Where the Prince of Thorns revealed a morally gray character and his adventures in a messed up post-apocalyptic world, The King of Thorns shows his rise as a man to conquer the obstacles his tyrannical father put in his way.
Don’t get me wrong, it was close, but Wise Man’s Fear’s world-building with the Ademre and the city of Severen puts it head and shoulders above Name of the Wind. What put this at the bottom of the second-book list is not only that he’s taken forever to get out his new book but because of a good part of the book is STILL missing.
Now reading the first sequel to a book you thought was good or just average is no problem, but what about holding out until the third book in the series? What third book is so good you have to finish two whole books just to get to the best one and it’d still be worth it? Here’s a list of the third books in series that I think justify reading two books just to get to the third installment:
When I started reading the Dresden Files I thought it was good, but I didn’t understand why I should keep reading the whole series with its fifteen books until I read Grave Peril. In this book the sides are set, the stakes have risen, and the characters are finally at the point where you care about how things turn out for them.
Storm of Swords is still George RR Martin’s best work. Not only does it have the best character arcs and conflicts in the series, every scene the show is known for, besides maybe one, happened in this book. This is the peak of epic fantasy, and no matter how long the other books are, it’s worth it to get to book three.
This one might be controversial given Harry Potter’s popularity with everyone having one book or another being their favorite, but I feel this was the first book that people could point to and say the first book wasn’t just a one-hit wonder and I would say that this one shows that the story doesn’t have to rely on the villain to be great.
Honorable mentions of sequels that are also great and could easily be argued as being better than the original but IMO are still not as good as the original:
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (Stormlight Archive #2)
The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks (Lightbringer Saga #2)
Blade of Tyshal by Matthew Stover (The Acts of Caine #2)
The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett (The Demon Cycle #2)
Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (Malazan #3)
Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #4)
While I’m speaking of series, I have a book in an upcoming fantasy series adapted from a board game franchise. In this case, the fifth book is the best because, of course, I was the one who wrote it. The pre-order for it is up for a limited time so go give it a look for a specialty card and model for the characters: