We all love a quest. Whether it be racing through suburban streets with only a few minutes left before the grocery store closes to secure a gallon of milk or avoiding monsters to bring a cursed ring to a volcano, a quest adds a little spice to our average existence.
With that in mind, we offer ten more novel series that should follow The Wheel of Time’s footsteps in moving from the page to an epic television program. Think of reading the adventures below as your first quest. Then, if you prove yourself a true warrior of the word, perhaps you’d like to join our second quest: convincing a streaming service to make a live-action adaptation a reality.
1. Annals of the Western Shore
Legendary science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin’s final series, the Annals of the Western Shore, is arguably less ambitious than her more well-known Earthsea Cycle (already adapted) or Hainish Cycle. It is also a significantly easier collection to adapt at only three novels—Gifts, Voices, and Powers.
However, ease of adaptation isn’t the real draw here. Instead, what attracts is the incredibly well-realized world of the Western Shore. A medieval-style world, Le Guin gives real weight to Western Shore, including developing two major faiths—one polytheistic, one mono—and cultures that have developed regionally with numerous differences.
Shore is also a meditation on the power of storytelling. Each of the protagonists possesses abilities that correspond to the building and crafting of stories. One can give voice to those who cannot speak, another can unmake what he sees, a third remembers and mines the past to convey information, and the last teaches others and can describe the future.
It is a wonderful bit of meta storytelling. Seeing that reinterpreted for live-action—Memer the one connected to the past, for instance, conveying information via visual and dialogue homages to other films—would be both a thrill to pull off and to watch.
2. The Books of Bas-lag
A three-book sequence from writer China Miéville, the novels are all set in the fictional world of Bas-Lag. The books—Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council—are a chaotic intriguing mix of fantasy, steampunk, speculative science fiction, and western storytelling. The series frequently mirrors and interrogates real-world politics, including issues of criminal justice, militarization, religion, sexual identity, and workers’ rights.
Miéville’s genre mashup approach creates an unpredictable world markedly different from our own or what we expect of more typical fantasy tales. His prose style suggests moments that are begging for on-screen realization. Most importantly, his characters tend to be complex and compelling, protagonists and antagonists who resist black and white judgments of their goodness.
However, what makes Bas-Lag an excellent choice for adaptation is the loose connections between the books. There is no single lead character who appears in each novel. Events may be noted or echo into other books. Still, none are specifically concerned with resolving occurrences from a previous novel or planting a storyline for a proceeding work. As a result, an adaptation would have plenty of room to play and define Bas-Lag while still offering adaptations of the trio of source material.
3. The Broken Earth Trilogy
Fantasy epics often unfold sometime after apocalyptic events. Other times they concern a cast of characters acting to stop an event or individual from ending the world as they know it. N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy manages to take place before, after, and during an apocalypse all at the same time.
In the world of The Stillness, the apocalypse is a fact of life. Periodically, Seasons–massive years lasting storms that remake the landscape of the Stillness entirely–will strike and decimate humanity. They force huge changes of life upon those who survive in shelters known as Comms.
Over the course of The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky, we see the world before a Season, how characters weather one of the world redefining storms, and what it’s like to emerge from the Comms after a Season ends. Jemisin indulges in both readers’ loves of enormous destruction and suggests humanity’s incredible will to survive by giving us a peek at a world in massive upheaval.
A mother’s quest for her daughter grounds the series in human motivations and gives us reason to invest emotionally in the Trilogy. The final installment becomes a physical realization of a deep philosophical divide where the concepts of hope and striving to improve run headlong into nihilism and accept nature’s realities, no matter how brutal. These deeper themes make the books linger with readers long after they read the last page. A proper visual realization of the Trilogy seems sure to haunt viewers even after credits roll.
4. The Dark Is Rising Sequence
The Dark is Rising Sequence concerns a collection of British children, nearly all average, who find themselves in the midst of the battle between The Light and The Dark. Throughout Susan Cooper’s five novels, the children solve dilemmas on their own by solving puzzles and locating artifacts. Soon they begin to cross each other’s paths culminating in a final all-hands-on-deck fight against absolute evil in the last book, Silver on The Tree.
It’s smart, thoughtful, and nicely keeps one fit in the real world. An adaptation could either go the modern route—as intended when written—or be a period piece reflecting the mid-70s time of publication. Think Stranger Things but in the English countryside and about a decade earlier.
Perhaps you have seen the 2007 film The Seeker and be thinking, “Wait, they already adapted The Dark Is Rising.” And while you wouldn’t be wrong to point that out, per se, you also wouldn’t be entirely right. For one, there was only ever one film. As a result, it only adapted a fraction of the Sequence. More than four-fifths of the story was left unadapted by that single film.
For another, well, The Seeker isn’t a very good adaptation of what it does bring to the screen. Putting aside whether or not the film was good, period, Seeker changes significant aspects of the book, including the lead’s age, making him an American, and upping the combat sequences. Believe us when we say we could go on and on about how this irretrievably sunk the adaptation. We shall spare you that rant, though.
Regardless, the result is Rising has never really been adapted in part and absolutely never adapted in full. The time to get it right is now.
5. The Imaro Series
The Imaro Series unfolds like sword and sorcery epic series with echoes of Conan the Barbarian and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ men apart from society heroes Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. In many ways, it feels very traditional.
However, it was arguably one of the, if not the, first, successful sword and sorcery series written by a Black man, Charles R. Saunders. Moreover, it featured an explicitly Black protagonist, and most of the human supporting cast were also people of color. This perspective inevitably changed the works in ways that become very clear upon a close reading.
In fact, Saunders’ work was sometimes so insightful and prescient, it ended up calling to mind events that occurred after their publication. The most significant of these was the short story “The Slaves of the Giant-Kings,” which Saunders himself pulled from a republished volume because of the story’s closeness to the real-life genocide in Rwanda.
In a traditionally very white, very Eurocentric genre, Saunders’s voice is a different welcome perspective. An adaptation of his work would similarly enrich the television or film landscape.
6. The Kingkiller Chronicles
In the Four-Corners (or Temerant if you’re nasty), there is a humble innkeeper named Kvothe. He does his job well, makes a nice bed, and can pour you a tankard of mead with the best of them. All in all, a good but relatively average proprietor. However, if you catch him at the right time, late at night when it’s slow, and if he’s in the right mood, he will regale you with stores of the arcanist (wizard if you’re nasty) Kingkiller.
To break kayfabe here, Kvothe is Kingkiller and Kingkiller is Kvothe. The Trilogy unfolds like an oral autobiography told to you, a traveler, by Kvothe over a series of three nights—one for each book. As a result, the series desires all the magic and swashbuckling beats you crave with a heavy helping of the four-wall breaking and meta-storytelling turns.
As a series, it would be unique amongst these choices, because it could end up being a more procedural approach to the fantasy epic series. Picture something like The Incredible Hulk tv series meets Tales from the Crypt. In every episode, a traveler encounters Kvothe at his inn. He regales them with a tale of a Kingkiller adventure, one that likely mirrors their own current journey. Perhaps by the time it’s through, the visitor has been inspired to do right, or, perhaps, Kvothe has no choice but to be a little Kingkiller again and stop the visitor from doing wrong.
Ultimately, the series could be entirely a procedural/anthology or could start to coalesce into a serialized story revealed in these designated chunks. The latter would make for another layer of meta. One that would reflect the very nature of serialized television—attempting to tell one story in episodic pieces over time.
7. Magic Kingdom of Landover Series
I’ll be honest with you here. If MTV hadn’t tried to adapt The Books of Shannara fairly recently, that would be the Terry Brooks entry on this list. But, unfortunately, MTV did give that a shot and—unlike The Dark is Rising Sequence noted above—devoted enough hours of storytelling to it that I can’t, in good conscience, push it aside.
However, the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series is no consolation prize choice. By far the most humorous selection on this list, Kingdom straddles the line between modern-day and medieval era farce. It all begins when a lawyer, Ben Holiday, stumbles upon an advertisement offering the purchase of a kingship of Landover. He decides to do it and discovers that it literally makes him the ruler of a magical kingdom.
For six novels (and a rumored seventh coming soon), Brooks follows Ben’s attempts to rule his kingdom fairly, fall in love with a mystical creature, and not completely lose his sense of self along the way. Unfortunately, humor often ends up in short supply, so Kingdom is a welcome change of pace that doesn’t scrimp on the wizards, unicorns, demons, and dragons we all demand.
8. Phèdre’s Trilogy
If you like your fantasy epics rooted in real-world history, Phèdre’s Trilogy will likely prove a delight. Branching from our world’s timeline when the Holy Roman Empire fell apart significantly earlier, Phèdre’s proceeds to unfold in very different ways.
One of the most noticeable is that Christianity failed to ignite in this world, ending up a small branch of Judaism instead of one of the most significant faiths on Earth for over 2,000 years. In its place has risen the worship of Eula and his eight companions, a group of fallen angels. Far more permissive than early Christianity, followers of Eula have far kinder attitudes toward sex, sex workers, joy, pleasure, worshipping of the natural world, and the pursuit of personal freedom.
Phèdre’s also features a woman, the titular Phèdre, as its unambiguous lead, a rarity for both this list and, too often, fantasy epics in general. The fact that she crusades not just for her kingdom but to save the life of her best friend, a man, is a nice reversal on the classic damsel in distress trope.
That’s not to say everyone will accept it as a story of feminist empowerment. One’s acceptance—or not—of her declared birthright as an anguissette will likely define how they feel about the rest of the story. Those who enjoy exploring that aspect of her sexuality will probably enjoy the series as a whole, but those who do not won’t.
For fans of the sexy parts of Game of Thrones, but would’ve appreciated more consent, Phèdre’s offers a possible alternative. And if the Trilogy works for people, the adaptation can continue right on through the entirety of the Kushiel’s Legacy novels.
If there’s anything most of our modern world agrees on, watching cats can be a real good time. Not, perhaps, the musical Cats, but certainly the small, furry beasts that populate our homes.
Imagine those felines as, well, warriors. Tribal groups creating a complex society just out of our view. Think Redwall but unfolding in our time, right under our noses. Think Watership Down but with feral cats.
If you’re thinking it might sound a bit like Kiddo’s first fantasy epic, you’re likely not incorrect. However, everyone’s got to start somewhere. Plus, Warriors boasts an extensive cast of characters and a complexity of interlocking storylines that make it impossible to dismiss as being for little ones. This may be aimed at younger people, but it could deliver a series capable of being loved by all ages.
10. Wings of Fire
Of all the series highlighted on this list, Wings of Fire seems likely to be the first realized. Nearly four months ago, trades reported Ava DuVernay was adapting it as Netflix animated series. Given the fickle nature of Hollywood and DuVernay’s own recent struggles with projects being sidelined, however, we’re going to err on the side of caution and feature it here.
For many of us, the best part of fantasy is the dragons. Wings is nice enough to cut out all that other filler and just give us the firebreathers, thick and heavy. However, writer Tui T. Sutherland would not just let it be a bloody massacre of dragon-on-dragon fights.
The series emphasizes the high cost of conflict. The central drive is a coalition of young dragons trying to convince their respective tribes to resist going to war with each other. Of course, it’s complicated by prophecies and treasure hunting, but deep down, that’s the core—the younger generation attempting to stop the older generation from destroying itself.
That seems more than a little relevant, doesn’t it?
Reach out in the comments below or via Facebook and Twitter and let us know what you think of our lineup. Please also let us know what epic fantasy series Wheel of Time has you hungry to see next.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.