10 fantasy novels that would make great TV shows
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With HBO’s Game Of Thrones wrapping up a stellar first season and American Gods (far) on the horizon, television is on the cusp of a fantasy revolution. And it isn’t the squeaky-clean fantasy of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings (for that, see the upcoming and very promising Once Upon A Time) – cable TV is ready and willing to tell adult fantasy stories for adult viewers.
With that in mind, the Screen Rant crew put together a list of the fantasy novels we’d most like to see adapted into serialized TV dramas with modest-to-big budgets. All of them would make sprawling, epic TV shows… in the right hands, of course.
Check out our list and see if you agree with our picks – and add a few suggestions of your own to our comment section.
Honorable Mention: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
Gods Behaving Badly is a lot like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in that it assumes that the old Greek pantheon is real but diminished in a modern world devoid of religious fervor. The difference is that in Phillips’ interpretation, all the Greek gods live in the same crappy house outside of London. Immortal, yet developmentally stunted, gods like Ares, Hephaestus and Aphrodite take menial jobs while clinging to their last shreds of power.
This gives them just enough time to squabble amongst themselves and make life a living Hades for any hapless mortal who spoils their fun. This book screams for a dark comedic drama along the lines of Dead Like Me – here’s hoping that Red Hour Films gets their act together and delivers on their promise to make the novel into a TV series.
10. The Necroscope Series by Brian Lumley
Harry Keogh sees dead people. In the modern United Kingdom that could be a problem, but the protagonist of the Necroscope novels uses it to his advantage, discovering that the dead are generally okay folks. They teach him the skills he’ll need to solve his mother’s murder, fight a growing menace of vampires and necromancers, and affect the growing operations of ESP-ionage on the world stage.
With over a dozen novels roughly coinciding with real-world time, there’s a lot of material to cover for aspiring writers and producers. This is a series that’s not afraid to throw spies, psychics, sorcerers, vampires and mathematical formulas for teleportation into the mix – and that’s just in the first novel! Later novels go even further down the fantasy path, including adventures set in twisted vampire realms, inter-dimensional wars, and conflict on both sides of the life and death divide. With the complex and multi-faceted world of the novels, a rich continuity rivaling the likes of Doctor Who is not out of the question.
9. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
Imagine the Assassin’s Creed video games, minus the ridiculous “genetic memory” framing device. Now add in a medieval setting and a pinch of magic. Bang! You’ve got The Night Angel Trilogy, also known as The Shadows Trilogy, by Brent Weeks. These three paperbacks have been flying off the shelves since their introduction in 2008.
The protagonist is Azoth, a pickpocket orphan (man, there’s a lot of them running around the fantasy genre) living in the streets of Cenaria. The boy becomes an apprentice to the best assassin in the city in hopes of avenging the rape of a childhood friend. Cable viewers who want blood and sleaze in equal amounts (I know you’re reading, True Blood fans) couldn’t hope for better source material.
8. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
A more modern fantasy interpretation, The Kingkiller Trilogy begins with The Name of the Wind, in which our hero, Kvothe, recounts his many adventures. As a skilled fighter, intellectual and musician, Kvothe is a pre-Rennaisance man, and uses his talents to haphazardly solve whatever quest is laid before him.
Like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicle isn’t finished; the last of Rothfuss’ three books has yet to be published. That shouldn’t worry fans too much, though – were development to begin immediately, it would still be 2-3 years before the first episode aired, with plenty of time to conclude the story. Which is more than many George R. R. Martin fans are currently hoping for.
7. The Sword of Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks has been described as a master of modern fantasy, and tens of millions of readers can’t be wrong. The first set of novels in his main universe are centered around the mythical sword Shannara, and the generations of men who wield it. A classic adventure fantasy, The Sword of Shannara is seen by many as a continuation of the Tolkein tradition – although there are a few who say Brooks follows his inspiration a little too closely.
Many have tried to adapt Shannara to the big screen with exactly zero success thus far. The latest comer was Warner Bros., who let the rights slip out of their grasp back in 2010. Perhaps someone could take a hint from Game of Thrones (which started out as a movie project) and sail for the long-form serialized waters of television. And if the series should last more than three seasons, there’s plenty of material to draw from for a continuing story.
6. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
With a story spanning decades of story time and real-world time (the ten books of the series were published between 1970 and 1985), adapting The Chronicles of Amber for the small screen would be no small task, and bringing audiences along might be even harder. But for the right studio, the series would be well worth the attempt.
The novels focus on the relationship between two “worlds” (dimensions) the various shadowy worlds “around” them, and the special few who can travel between the worlds. Reality is a fragile thing within the confines of the series, and meddling with the wrong magic (or taking the wrong hallucinogens) can send hapless users onto terrifying new planes of existence.
5. The Belgariad by David Eddings
Another rags-to-riches orphan story in the oldest tradition of high fantasy, The Belgariad follows the story of Garion, a farmboy destined for greatness. The story begins with a prophecy of a confrontation between good and evil foreshadowed by a mysterious “storyteller” character. The five books in the saga have a lot in common with A Song Of Ice And Fire with the exception of a much larger emphasis on magic.
Eddings’ first novel in the series, Pawn of Prophecy, was published in 1982, and the following four books came out within the next two years. It makes for a fast and extremely cohesive read, and the divisions between novels are pretty much perfect for season-long story arcs.
4. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
Beginning with the titular Outlander, this time-traveling romance series follows protagonist Claire Randall. She begins the story in Scotland in the 1940s, just after World War II, where she and her husband are investigating some family history. After a pagan ritual near some standing stones (a la Stonehenge) goes awry, Randall is whisked away to the 1700s, wherein she meets a swashbuckling captain who bears an uncanny resemblance to her future husband.
Outlander and its sequels stress historical fiction and romance more than strict fantasy, but if its fervent fans are any indication, there’ more than enough room in the current TV schedule for its like. Gabaldon doesn’t skimp on the sultry details (shifts and bodices go flying with remarkable regularity), and there’s plenty of alpha males and despicable villains to keep the story clipping along.
3. The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
If there’s one series on this list that fits the traditional fantasy mold to a T, it’s The Riftwar Saga. The fist volume was published almost thirty years ago, with a long history and well-developed world that rivals George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire, despite being only three books long. Squabbling kingdoms, ancient magic and a world war all flesh out the long story.
The primary character is an orphan named Pug, who begins his career as a magician’s apprentice. Across thousands of pages and decades of story time, high magic and good-old-fashioned steel determine the various rulers of the world – heights to which Pug ascends via luck, skill, and no small amount of scheming.
2. Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey
Beginning with Kushiel’s Dart and extending across a pair of trilogies, Kushiel’s Legacy may be the most risque of the currently popular fantasy series. This medieval world has enough debauchery and deviancy to make residents of Sodom and Gomorrah blush – in other words, it’s right up Showtime’s alley.
Kushiel takes place in a fantastic mirror of 12th-century France, with a plot inspired by some of the more spicy segments of Christian and Jewish mythology. Leading lady Phedre is cursed by a minor physical flaw and sold into slavery, wherein she embarks on a whirlwind tour of Carey’s complex and intricate world. There’s enough material in the first book for three seasons of television at the very least.
1. The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Curse of Chalion is a sprawling saga with spiritual overtones, in the vein of a medieval Ben Hur. Lupe Cazaril returns to his ancestral home after a disastrous war and an even more horrifying internment. Despite yearning for a life of quiet fulfillment, his new assignment as a royal tutor brings him front-and-center in a struggle to free the royal family of an ancient curse.
The gods of the fantasy world are characters in their own right, not unlike a modernized Greek epic. The Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and the Bastard are an integral and ever-present part of everyday life (far more so than the various gods of Game Of Thrones) and give Bujold’s universe a distinct culture that few can match.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and we know there’s a few well-loved novels we’ve missed. If you’ve got a favorite fantasy series that you want to see adapted for television, let us know in the comments.
Michael Crider blogs at Screen Rant.
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