I read Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara before LOTR when I did read LOTR I never noticed the similarities until they were pointed out.I am really love David Eddings, I read the Belgariad as a 12 year old long before I read Lord of the Rings and even now after seeing how LOTR inspired the series I still prefer the Belgarid.
My favorite has slowly become Sanderson. After he finished WOT for Jordan his ability to write and create fascinating cultures exploded. Something that I adored about Jordan was that it never felt like his fantasy was "India, but fantasy." or "China, but fantasy." The elements of the cultures were certainly there, but the Seanchan, the Sea Folk, the Aiel were all unique despite the features they shared.
Take the scene in which Kaladin witnesses a woman's safe hand exposed, for instance. I was just as mortified as he was at seeing this because of all the build-up. It took a moment to really settle in just how absurd it was. Yet something like a hand being as taboo as a breast was only one fraction of the fascinating segments of the cultures. The Stormlight Archives truly feel like a living world because of it.
Terry Pratchett, hands down.
Not quite fair to the others as Tetty has so much depth beyond just fantasy.
edit: I should give credit to the artist, Jeff Sorley. He posted it on Facebook - and said it was okay to share.
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