Number 3: Auralia's Colors, by Jeffrey Overstreet
I debated putting this one in the top picks, just because it wouldn't be a very good introduction to fantasy overall; it's a better pick for someone who already loves fantasy as a genre and is willing to try a book that's a little different.
However, I couldn't not put it it in the article. I love the fresh story, the somewhat mysterious elements to the plot, and the original world-building.
Number 2: Daughter of Light, by Morgan L. Busse
This is a stunning allegory that I really need to re-read and then promptly find the next book. I loved Rowen and I think she's one of the more realistic and loveable female characters I've come across in a while. Plus, it has some good sword fights. What's not to love?
Number 1: A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr
Another book that really needs re-read! I loved Mr. Carr's writing style and the concept behind this story was fresh and original. The characters were quite lovable as well.
The Keeper of Edelyndia. by Benjamin J. Denen
-I really wish I had given myself four slots for books (or a way to create ties between books) so that this one could have gone in the top picks official list. Definitely give it a read--it has fresh ideas and a touch of mystery. If you have time, also be sure to check out my interview with him here.
Resistance, by Jaye L. Knight
-Okay, so I should have taken five picks for fantasy because I would have liked to include this one, too. If you like fantasy with a Roman flavor, you should definitely check this one out, especially if you enjoy conflicted characters. You can also read my interview with her here.
By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson
-This one was another close contender for the top three, especially when considering the second and third book in the series. Between Ms. Williamson, Mr. Carr, Mr. Denen, Ms. Busse, and Ms. Knight, I may very well be flat broke in the near future. They're all excellent writers and this intro to an epic fantasy series is no exception.
Oath of the Brotherhood, by C.E. Laureano
-If this one hadn't had so much romance, I would have had a really hard time picking books for this list. As it is, I think it makes a good addition to the Honorable Mention list.
The Sword, by Bryan M. Liftin
-It's killing me that I can't find the sequel to this! Spiritual warfare, sword fights, and a post-apocalyptic society make for an original read.
You can read reviews for these books and more by clicking the "fantasy" tag in the left hand column, or by clicking on the "fantasy" link at the bottom of this post.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this excessively long list! (I'm really terrible at picking favorites and I have no idea why I decided to do four lists for the blogiversary). Tomorrow I'll tackle the last category--miscellaneous speculative.