Good Books: Classic Shared World Fantasy Novels

What if Gene Roddenberry had said, “No one is ever going to write anything having to do with Star Trek but me!” and gone through the legal channels to make sure no one ever did? Or if Stan Lee had dictated that he would write every issue of X-Men to ever be released? That would have meant no new Star Trek anything in the past 20 years, and while Stan is still The Man, I guarantee that he couldn’t be cranking out the plethora of monthly X-Men-related titles that are in print (even if he is a Generalissimo).

Luckily for us geeks, there’s this crazy little thing called a shared world. It’s like one big sandbox where lots of authors and creators can come to play. Sometimes you get one who doesn’t play well with others, or plays in a way that not everyone likes, but by and large, it’s worth it to put up with the little bit of bad to get all the good content for our favorite fictional universe.

In the genre of fantasy novels, a lot of the shared worlds are actually RPG campaign settings. In my experience, gamers tend to either rabidly love or vehemently hate these books. I love them (the good ones, anyway – I’ve read some real stinkers). For me, reading them is like hearing about someone else’s game, getting to know their characters, and learning about their adventures. They add a personal depth to a game setting that is sometimes missing in rulebooks. If something happens in the novel that affects the setting that I’m playing in, and it’s a change my GM hasn’t elected to include, I just ignore it or chalk it up to an alternate reality, and still enjoy the story.

If you’ve never read any shared world novels, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some of my favorite series – they’re all at least 20 years old, but I think they’ve stood the test of time. (Psst. My internet handle, Ariel Manx, is a reference from one of these series. Do you know which one?)

Dragonlance Chronicles by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis

If you know anything about Dragonlance (the classic D&D setting), you know there are about 200 novels set in the world of Krynn. If you don’t know anything about Dragonlance, let me tell you, there are about 200 novels set in the world of Krynn. This is incredibly daunting to the new reader! So let me simplify things: start at the beginning with the classic Chronicles Trilogy – Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning – by Hickman and Weis. If you only read three Dragonlance books in your life, those are the ones to read. They’re the books that started it all, turning the Dragonlance campaign setting into a franchise of its own. Since they start at the beginning, you can read and enjoy the Chronicles trilogy even if you’ve never heard the name Tanis Half-Elven. (The Legends Trilogy, which immediately follows the Chronicles, is also very good.) I re-read them every couple of years and they’re just as wonderful every time.

The Avatar Series (Forgotten Realms) by Scott Ciencin and Troy Dunning

I’m not talking about the last airbender or anything having to do with the Na’vi, here. I’m talking about Shadowdale, Tantras, and Waterdeep, the trilogy of novels detailing the Time of Troubles in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. (A couple more novels were released a few years after the first three and are considered part of the same series, but I like the first three best.) The trilogy follows the Company of the Lynx as they search for the missing Tablets of Fate, striving to put an end to the Godswar and the wild magic that has ensued. You do have to be more of a Forgotten Realms geek to enjoy these books, or they won’t make a whole lot of sense, but if you love the Realms, this trilogy provides a great history lesson and is a wonderful read.

The Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a Drizzt Do’Urden fangirl. And I know a lot of folks roll their eyes at the mere mention of the good-hearted drow ranger, living in the surface world and trying to defeat evil as well as his own demons. Are the Drizzt books literary genius? I suppose not. Are they R.A. Salvatore’s best work? I’d have to say his DemonWars saga is technically better. But…I love the Drizzt books. I love the characters, I love the story, and I love the setting (Forgotten Realms again, and in the time period I most often play in). If you’ve laughed off the Drizzt novels without ever giving them a try, I encourage you to reconsider. Start at the chronological beginning, with the Dark Elf Trilogy – Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. Salvatore is still cranking out the Drizzt books, and will be for at least 5 more years, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to catch up – it’s not done yet! (Note: I’m a few books behind in the series, and the last one I read was The Two Swords. I’d appreciate not being spoiled any more than I already have been, kthx!)

And I Know There Are More!

I haven’t read every shared world novel out there for the worlds I love, and there are countless more books for settings I’m not even familiar with. Take a few minutes at the bookstore (or online) to find some novels for your favorite fantasy setting. I think it will make you love that setting even more.

Do you like shared world books? What are your favorite shared world fantasy novels, either for a setting I’ve mentioned or another?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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