10 Fantasy Books With Rivals and Rivalry You Must See

Fantasy books featuring rivals often add an intense personal stake to the dynamic between protagonist and antagonist.

Sometimes these rivalries are hostile. Other times, they’re respectful, perhaps even friendly. But in either case, these stories are often a reader-favorite.

Are you curious what great novels are out there? If so, look no further.

Here are 10 great fantasy books with rivals and rivalry to read:

I’ve included book descriptions, readers’ ratings and summaries of positive and negative comments for each book below. 

On the other hand, if you’d like a quick summary, here’s a comparison chart.

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess


Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne.

It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial.

But this year is different. This year, these five outcasts will answer the call….

The Liar: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

The Soldier: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

The Servant: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

The Thief: Ajax knows that nothing is free – he must take what he wants.

The Murderer: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.47

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is House of Dragons. This novel delighted its fans with its rapid pace and captivating portrayal of dragons and dragon-riders.

Packed with politics, action and plot twists, House of Dragons thrilled readers. Frequently comparing it to Game of Thrones, they described the book’s fast pace as starting from the very first page. Once they started reading, fans couldn’t stop.

In addition, these readers praised House of Dragons as being perfect for dragon-lovers and people eager to read a great dragon-rider tale. Rather than a part of the backdrop, dragons featured heavily throughout the story. The bond between rider and dragon, they said, was vivid and delightful.

Negative Comments

What did critics say? For the most part, these readers cited two reasons for disliking the book.

The first was that they didn’t think the stakes were high enough. Because of this, they rarely worried about the characters or didn’t feel much if they were harmed. 

The second reason critics tended to give was that they didn’t get attached to the characters overall.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians.

He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different.

For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all.

Eventually Strange’s heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.82

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Second on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. This novel captured fans’ imaginations with its historical realism and matching writing style.

For instance, readers often said that the book read like a Jane Austen or Charles Dickens novel, with the same dry humor, wit and detached prose. They described this story as one with a meandering pace, one they enjoyed savoring.

As for the world-building, fans praised Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for how well-realized and true to history it was. Blending historical fiction and fantasy, this novel captured not just the sights and sounds, but the attitudes and culture as well. Characters reacted to the fantastical elements of the story just as readers expected 19th century Englishmen and women to act.

All in all, fans described it as rich, intricately detailed and a wonderful blend of history and imagination.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, what did they say? It turns out that what fans liked, critics disliked.

Critics described the book as slow and lengthy, one that included details unrelated to the plot (particularly in the footnotes). Aside from that, the writing style struck them as dry and pretentious.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson


Book Cover of The Gardens of the Moon

The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers.

Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead.

But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.88

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is Gardens of the Moon. What did fans say?

These readers frequently praised the author, Steve Erickson, for taking this fantasy story in a different direction than a more Tolkien-like fantasy: while the book has a similar epic feel and scope, it also has a mystery, violence and tragedy to it that appeal to them.

They also mentioned how imaginative they found the story, particularly the world-building, and appreciated how instantly the story threw them into the story of a gigantic war.

Negative Comments

What did readers who didn’t enjoy the novel say?

It turns out that while they agreed that the story was epic in scope, they often felt like that the sheer amount of information they were told meant that they had little idea of what was happening or why it mattered.

In addition, these readers said it was difficult to get emotionally invested in the characters – there were just too many to cover for them to have much development.

Along a similar vein, others mentioned that the dialogue between the characters felt like standard fantasy book talk rather than individualized speaking styles.

House of Blades by Will Wright


Simon can only watch, helpless, as his family is killed and his friends captured by enemy Travelers — men and women who can summon mystical powers from otherworldly Territories. To top it off, another young man from Simon’s village discovers that he’s a savior prophesied to destroy evil and save the realm.

Prophecy has nothing to say about Simon. He has no special powers, no magical weapons, and no guarantee that he’ll survive. But he sets off anyway, alone, to gain the power he needs to oppose the Travelers and topple their ruthless Overlord. It may not be his destiny, but Simon’s determined to rescue his fellow villagers from certain death.

Because who cares about prophecy, really?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.09

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is House of Blades by Will Wright. This fast-paced novel twists the ‘Chosen One’ trope – and fans loved it!

Many readers enthused over Simon, the story’s protagonist. They described him as a wonderful lead, saying he was likable, tenacious and sympathetic underdog. Fans found themselves cheering for him to get the recognition he deserved. 

They also added that the magic system in the book fascinated them. Because of its uniqueness and the story’s fast pace, the training scenes were a treat.

Negative Comments

What did critics say? Overall, these readers focused on the plot and the characters. Several of them mentioned that the plot seemed disconnected, more like a series of episodes. Others said that the characters didn’t seem well-drawn. Some said that this was because the characters

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson


I long for the days before the Last Desolation. Before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. When there was still magic in Roshar and honor in the hearts of men.

In the end, not war but victory proved the greater test. Did our foes see that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance? Fire and hammer forge a sword; time and neglect rust it away. So we won the world, yet lost it.

Now there are four whom we watch: the surgeon, forced to forsake healing and fight in the most brutal war of our time; the assassin, who weeps as he kills; the liar, who wears her scholar’s mantle over a thief’s heart; and the prince, whose eyes open to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes.

One of them may redeem us. One of them will destroy us. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.65

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is The Way of Kings. If readers enjoyed this novel, they often enthused over the story’s grand scope – both in terms of the world-building and the stakes – and its intriguing cast of characters.

Fans remarked that The Way of Kings world-building was phenomenal, sweeping them into the story’s world with intricate and fascinating details. Whether it was the magic system, politics, history or more, the book brought its setting to life.

Along a similar vein to that, fans enjoyed the book’s vibrant and varied character cast. Since these characters came from all walks and stages of life, their different perspectives brought a sense of grandeur to the tale that these readers had rarely seen in other fantasy books.

Negative Comments

In terms of criticisms, readers who didn’t enjoy The Way of Kings generally cited its strengths as also its weaknesses.

For instance, these readers agreed that its world-building and rules for how supernatural powers worked were excellent. However, they said the explanations and overall focus on these were too much. Because of this, they said that the book became sluggish.

Others, though, said that the story in general had a slow pace. The book is long and much of the beginning and middle sets up a faster second half. As such, critics thought that not much happened for long periods of time.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal


People lived because she killed.

People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king.

If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. 

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya — but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds — and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.79

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments 

Next on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is We Hunt the Flame. Inspired by ancient Arabia, this novel tantalized fans through its vibrant world, likable characters, and the electrifying chemistry between Nasir and Zafira.

Fans praised this story for having realistic and complex characters. Whether it was through their backstories, their motivations or their fears, Zafira and Nasir captivated readers with their authenticity. Readers mentioned that they found themselves easily swept up in their emotions and struggles. Throughout the book, they cheered the two on as they overcame their challenges and grew into better versions of themselves.

As for the romance, fans described it as a wonderful slow-burn love story. The tension between the two characters was palpable and readers described themselves as enraptured by it.

Negative Comments

What did critics say? In general, critics mentioned two reasons why they didn’t enjoy We Hunt the Flame.

Some thought the story was too standard, saying that it was ultimately a classic fantasy quest plot. Others though, said that the plot meandered – especially in the section but they traveled through the desert – rather than built towards a climactic ending. As a result, they found themselves drawn out of the story.

The Broken Crown by Michelle West


The first novel of the acclaimed Sun Sword series introduces readers to a war-torn world of noble houses divided and demon lords unleashed…

Tor Leonne — the heart of the Dominion of Annagar, where the games of state are about to become a matter of life and death — and where those who seek to seize the crown will be forced to league with a treacherously cunning ally….

Tor Leonne, ancestral seat of power, where Serra Diora Maria di’Marano — the most sought-after beauty in the land, a woman betrayed by all she holds dear — may strike the first blow to change the future of the Dominion and Empire alike….

Averalaan Aramarelas — that most ancient of civilized cities, the home of the Essalieyan Imperial court, has long been a center of magics both dark and bright. And though the Empire won its last war with the Dominion, and survived a devastating, magic-fueled battle with a far deadlier foe, both those victories were not without their cost…. 

But now the realm is on the brink of a far greater confrontation, faced with an unholy alliance that could spell the end of freedom for all mortalkind.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 3.93

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is The Broken Crown. Inspired by ancient Arabia, this political intrigue novel stood out to fans with its refreshing setting and poetic prose. Mostly though, it delighted them with its fantastic characters.

Readers described the protagonists as coming from all different walks of life: they were princesses, street urchins and more. Each came across to them as well-fleshed out and authentic, and each had their own unique story to tell.

Fans admired them for making difficult decisions and charting their paths, regardless of the political and social challenges. Many of them could easily identify a favorite character, even as they enjoyed and sympathized with the rest of the character cast.

Negative Comments

What did critics say?

Overall, these readers focused on the world-building, saying it confused them. Some said this was because the book was heavily detailed. Others said that the world was complex in general and that the book’s slow pacing made it difficult for them to stay focused when it was explained.

Twilight Falling by Paul S. Kemp


Erevis Cale – simple butler or much, much more?

The shadows grow long on the mean streets of Selgaunt… and the sun sets on one man’s service to Sembia’s merchant lords.

The day’s end finds Erevis Cale serving a new master, one who is beyond the petty accumulation of wealth.

After all, what is gold to one who trades in souls?

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.15

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Next on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is Twilight Falling. This fast-paced novel delighted fans with its action-packed adventure tale and its fascinating, morally-conflicted protagonist, Cale.

In terms of the action, readers described the book as filled with suspenseful fight scenes and magic. The plot itself also had twists and mystery, both of which kept fans eager to read on.

As for Cale, readers described him as a more mature and deeper version of the standard powerful fantasy protagonist. Twilight Falling takes place in the Forgotten Realms universe, which they described as having many classic fantasy setups. As such, they appreciated that Cale wrestled with his dark past, potential redemption, and who he is and wants to be.

Not only did he strike readers as realistic, but his character development was compelling.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t enjoy Twilight Falling, what were their reasons?

In general, critics tended to say that while they understood Cale and thought he was a well-realized character, they found it difficult to connect with him on an emotional level.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence


I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

Book cover of Red Sister

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth.

Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out.

Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive… 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.26

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is Red Sister. This novel’s fans raved about the fascinating concept of warrior nuns and the story’s immersive school setting.

They mentioned that all the familiar adolescent coming of age elements they loved featured in the story. The girls experience friendship, betrayal, bitter competition and more. Moreover, despite a large cast of characters, they said that the girls and women that made it up felt three-dimensional.

Readers also praised Mark Lawrence’s evocative prose. The story features the author’s trademark grit and violence – one that pulls no punches toward its child-aged characters – but readers said they were impressed by its dramatic and lyrical writing style.

Negative Comments

So if readers didn’t enjoy Red Sister, what did they say? Well, these readers remarked that Red Sister was a coming of age story set in a training and school setting.

It was precisely this that bothered them: these readers generally didn’t enjoy stories centered around that particular subject matter. For them, reading about the girls training, studying and having classes wasn’t interesting.

But if a mismatch between reader expectations and the book’s subject matter wasn’t at play, readers occasionally commented that they didn’t feel invested in Nona, the main character. These readers found that other characters in the cast more interesting and said that she would have made a better supporting character.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda


Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone — even the lowborn — a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries.

Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in.

And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.16

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Last on our list of fantasy books with rivals and rivalry is Fireborne. Fans reported that this fantasy novel bristled with constant suspense, excitement and twists. Reading about the characters’ journey from raw recruits to powerful warriors engrossed them.

Those who love dragons also praised the book for its portrayal of these creatures. On one hand, they’re companions and battle partners. But on the other, they’re symbols of the state’s political and military power – for good or for ill.

Speaking of politics, many readers mentioned that the story’s more nuanced portrayal of regime-change, its thorny conundrums and implementation challenges, made this story a treat.

Negative Comments

While Fireborne had its fans, it also had its critics. So, what did they say?

The most common reason critics didn’t enjoy the novel was that they didn’t think the dragons were given enough focus. The story may have them, but Annie and Lee – the human protagonists – and their relationship with each other took center stage. The dragons, critics said, struck them as scenery rather than characters in their own right.

Others mentioned that they found the romance between Annie and Lee dissatisfying. These readers either didn’t find them convincing as a couple or just didn’t feel strongly enough about the relationship to root for it.

10 Fantasy Books With Rivals and Rivalry You Must See

How Do These Fantasy Novels Compare?

10 Fantasy Books With Rivals and Rivalry You Must See


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