A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
This is the one of only two adult novels I included on this list, but as a fantasy writer, I felt it necessary to include it. This enormous book (and those that follow) contains a world so richly detailed that it’s difficult not to get lost in it.
It seems daunting at first–each chapter rotating between an enormous cast of characters, each with his or her own history to remember. Initially, I did find it difficult to keep up, as I’m sure most do. Stick with it for several chapters, however, and you’ll have no trouble remembering who’s who.
Martin’s world building in this book had an enormous impact on my own approach to creating a unique setting that lives and breathes with its characters. When you read these books, you know that Martin already knows every last detail of the world of Westeros, and he is simply waiting for the right time to unveil them to his readers.
Today, I’m sure many people only know this series as having inspired the HBO show (of which I am also a huge fan), but I recommend reading the books first. You learn things about the characters and the world that the show simply doesn’t have time to include.
Plus, books are always better. Always.