Joel Rosenberg is a well-known science-fiction and fantasy writer who also made a name for himself as an advocate for gun rights. He is best known for writing the portal fantasy series, Guardians of the Flame, which this article will go into depth about.
This 10-book series focuses on a group of students who find themselves inside their game which proves to be completely different than they thought and exposes them to new dangers.
Guardians of the Flame has received a range of praise since the first book was released in 1983 and incorporates some intriguing themes such as slavery and freedom. If these books sound like something you’d enjoy, stay tuned to find out the best order in which to read them. But first, here’s a little more about the author.
About the Author
Joel Rosenberg was born in 1954 in Winnipeg to a Canadian mother and an American father and enjoyed dual citizenship throughout his life. He grew up in North Dakota before moving to Connecticut with his family and was the oldest brother of Carol Rosenberg, the Miami Herald reporter.
He studied at the University of Connecticut where he met his future wife, Felicia Herman. During his time at university, he began playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends and following numerous discussions about the game, he decided he could write fantasy novels that center around gaming. He continued to game throughout his life which provided him with inspiration to write his fantasy and science-fiction novels.
His writing career did not take off until years after his graduation. He worked as a care worker, gambler, truck driver, bookkeeper, and motel clerk before he settled on writing.
His first written work was released in 1978 – an op-ed pro-nuclear weapons report that was published in the New York Times. His first fictional work was called Like the Gentle Rains, a science-fiction piece that was mentioned in Isaac Asimov’s magazine in 1981, which allowed him to gain the popularity needed to publish future novels.
His first novel, The Sleeping Dragon was released in 1982 and would become the first book in his Guardians of the Flame series. In the following decade, he began another fantasy series that was inspired by both Norse mythology and Asian culture.
His written work is contained within the science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery genres but toys with the alternate fiction and mythological subgenres. For example, his Mordred Heirs series is an ‘alternate fantasy fiction’ series that tells of a world where Mordred defeated King Arthur.
In his spare time, Rosenberg dedicated himself to advocating gun rights after he and his family were threatened by a neo-Nazi. Following months of torment, Rosenberg wanted to protect his family at all costs, which he claimed guns were necessary for.
He became a handgun instructor and helped others protect themselves in the same way he had done. However, in 2010, Rosenberg overtly carried a handgun into the Minneapolis city hall during a meeting with the police chief.
He objected to the laws prohibiting people from carrying guns in state buildings and he profoundly objected, filed a complaint against the police officer he interacted with, and shortly after posted a video on YouTube instructing people on how to conceal guns on their person.
He wrote two books about gun handling: Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Minnesota and Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Missouri.
In December 2010, he was charged with numerous gun-related crimes, although he never used guns to harm others. He was scheduled to attend court in August 2011 but died shortly before.
Rosenberg had suffered from diabetes throughout his life but died in June 2011 after a respiratory depression that caused major organ failure, a heart attack, and brain damage.
Despite being a controversial figure in the eyes of many due to his stance on gun laws, Joel Rosenberg continues to be a successful author over a decade after his death.
His most famous series is the Guardians of the Flame series however his other work is equally as intriguing. Due to his unexpected and early death, his D’Shai and Mordred’s Heirs series are both incomplete, so if you choose to read these two, make sure you’re prepared for an abrupt ending.
Without further ado, here are all of Joel Rosenberg’s series in reading order.
The Guardians of the Flame Series
If you’re a gamer or a fan of LitRPG novels, you’ll love the Guardians of the Flame series. The series focuses on a group of students who are transported to their game world and must navigate the realm from the inside.
Rosenberg put a huge amount of emphasis on his characters, who are all very well-developed and have collected many die-hard fans throughout the series. The overall aim of the characters is to abolish the slavery that exists in the game world.
Common themes that crop up throughout the series include the protection of children, freedom (symbolized by the consistent references of the flame throughout), abuse and suffering, childhood trauma, and the right to bear arms.
Many of these themes are close to Rosenberg’s heart and make for enthralling reading. His protagonists are loosely based on Greek heroes and popular figures within American history and folklore.
The Sleeping Dragon (1983)
The Sleeping Dragon introduces us to the avid gamers who would become the protagonists in this all-encompassing and dangerous quest that spans the whole series.
What they knew well as a fun game soon became their reality as they found themselves immersed in the game world, assuming the identities of the characters they had been using to play. Left to navigate a new world where fire-breathing dragons roam free and a range of fantastical creatures expose them to new dangers.
The 7 players have one task – they must reach the Gate Between Worlds in order to return to Earth but so much stands in their way and the gate itself is guarded by a deadly enemy, will they ever get home? Or are they trapped inside the game they once loved?
The Sword and the Chain (1984)
After successfully returning to Earth, the remaining gamers return to the Other Side to build their own town and fight against the slavery that dominates the realm.
The Sword and the Chain presents new challenges for each gamer and dives further into the lives of those suffering at the hands of slavery. Not only does this shed light on the reality of life in this fantasy world but it also helps to develop each character in detail.
The Silver Crown (1985)
The battle to abolish slavery continues in the town Walter and Karl have made home. Dragons, wizards, and telepathic communication has become their norm and now, Karl must provide protection for the royal family, whose lives are being torn apart by slave forces.
The Silver Crown is a battle for survival and defense. Karl and Walter are exposed to new dangers that will pose a great threat to their kingdom.
The Heir Apparent (1987)
After witnessing a traumatic death, Jason escapes. But in fear of being labeled a coward, he must prove himself and set out on a new venture – to seek revenge and kill the leader of the Slaver’s Guild.
However, when his father finds out his plans, he embarks on a rescue mission to save his son before he gets himself in too much trouble. The Heir Apparent is a gripping novel that dives into the personal life of Jason and his family.
The Warrior Lives (1988)
After Jason’s reckless actions, he now assumes the throne and all of the responsibilities that go with it. Not only does Jason now need to fight the slavery that remains rife in the kingdom but he must take control of all other issues that arise throughout the kingdom.
The Warrior Lives is filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns that’ll leave you desperate to read the next novel.
The Road to Ehvenor (1991)
This novel sees the narrative shift from Jason’s perspective to Walter’s. This change in narration brings a shift in tone and as a result, The Road to Ehvenor is one of the funniest books in the collection as it allows Walter’s witty and sometimes cynical personality to shine out.
This novel sees Walter lead an army of allies to Ehveor, a town that has been overridden with faeries. It’s unpredictable, confrontational, and jam-packed with twists.
The Road Home (1995)
After his best friend hatches a plan to kill every last slave master in the realm, Jason is forced to intervene, but what he doesn’t know is that in order to save the kingdom from chaos, he’ll have to enter a dangerous pact.
The Road Home is a brilliant addition that follows on from The Road to Ehvenor. Rosenberg has been praised for the maturation of his writing as the series goes on. Although many series deteriorate in quality, this series gets increasingly better, with more thoughtful writing and the ability to draw all previous books together.
Not Exactly the Three Musketeers (1999)
Not Exactly the Three Musketeers is a novel that branches off the standard (almost repetitive) plot lines in the previous 7 books. It incorporates new characters, characters that mirror the classic three musketeers, first demonstrated in the novel of the same name written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844.
But of course, it has a Rosenberg-esque, fantasy spin. According to reviews, some readers have enjoyed this one as a standalone because it’s so different from the others in the series. It will help if you have read the original Dumas novel, in order to fully understand the author’s intentions and the references he’s using, however, this isn’t essential.
Not Quite Scaramouche (2001)
This novel leads directly on from Not Exactly the Three Musketeers. It follows the same characters and intertwines their paths with the original characters, Jason and Walter.
Not Quite Scaramouche is an action-packed battle for power – the perfect book for readers who enjoy adventure.
Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda (2003)
The three ‘musketeers’ Kethol, Pirojil, and Erenor now serve Jason Cullianane and have vowed to keep him from harm whatever the cost.
Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda is a fast-paced story that centers around a magical, dangerous scheme that could end in death or complete power. Will they take the risk?
The Keepers of the Hidden Ways Series
The Fire Duke (1995)
Torrie, his friend Ian, Torrie’s father Thorsen, and his uncle Horsea embark on a rescue mission to save Torrie’s girlfriend and mother from a mysterious creature that has kidnapped them. They must venture into another world, a world called The Hidden Ways that Thorsen and Horsea have escaped from previously.
The Fire Duke follows this group of unlikely heroes as they battle monsters, men, and gods, including the infamous Fire Duke who will do anything for power and influence.
The Silver Stone 1996)
There are dangerous games at play and politics have become deadly. Three friends are swept up in the sinister relationships between noble houses and must fight to prove themselves worthy.
The Silver Stone relies on a new duelist. One that must venture into this perilous world and save the land from inevitable war.
The Crimson Sky (1998)
Ian returns to The Hidden Ways with one objective – to find the ‘Brisingamen’ gems that have the power to change the universe. But to get his hands on these gems he must first seize them from Loki, the cunning, trickster god.
The Crimson Sky features psychology, magic, power struggles, and deadly choices. It’s a brilliantly written addition to the series and incorporates references from both Irish and Norse mythology.
The Thousand Worlds Series
Ties of Blood and Silver (1984)
Unlike his other books, the beginning of this series features significantly more action than character development, so it’s perfect for readers craving plot-driven narratives.
Ties of Blood and Silver immerses us in a new fantasy world – Oroga. Set in the city of Elwere, described as the ‘city of rainbows’, this story hones in on David, a man who was kidnapped from Elwere when he was just a baby and has grown up among thieves in the Lower City. David dreams of Elwere, considering it the city of dreams.
But David has become part of a plan he knows nothing about. Eschteef, a strong, superhuman creature with terrifying features and razor-sharp teeth, has hatched a plan David is the key to its success.
Emile and the Dutchman (1985)
Emile is the narrator of this story. He is a talented pilot fulfilling his first job in the Corps. He lives under the constant watch and instruction of the Dutchman and remains polite and obedient. But the Dutchman is a rude, disobedient drunk but he’s a fantastic team leader.
Emile and the Dutchman not only hones in on this turbulent relationship but it also tells of their mission – to find a new civilization, an alien civilization, and discover whether their allies or enemies.
Not for Glory (1988)
Not for Glory has a military basis. It revolves around the barren planet of Metzada, which has become the new promised land for Earth’s Israeli refugees and their descendants. Metzada’s inhabitants survive only because they are mercenaries and they rely on their one export.
This story hones in on Ari Hanavi, who has one more time to prove himself a hero. This story is jam-packed with diplomatic strategy and scenes of battle.
Hero is another military tale set in the same world. It’s very similar and delves into multiple perspectives. It draws upon the genuine history of the Jews and Islamic states and provokes discussion about what distinguishes a hero from a coward.
The D’Shai Series
The D’Shai series is different from any of Rosenberg’s previous series. This first book concentrates on Kami Khazus, a member of an acrobatic group that follows his reputable father. They live in a society dominated by nobles and must fight for their survival.
A noble, known to have a turbulent past with Kami is found dead and Kami must do everything in his power to find the culprit and prove his innocence. But the fierce feudal system works against him and throughout his impossible mission, he’ll have to remember his place. D’Shai is set in a society that echoes medieval Japan, which adds a new dimension to Rosenberg’s intricate work.
Hour of the Octopus (1994)
Hour of the Octopus dives straight back into the magical and unjust world that is based on Asian antiquity. In this brilliant addition, Kami must use his established investigative skills to look into another murder of a nobleman, who was killed at a royal wedding. In doing so, he would save the bridegroom, the current prime suspect.
The Mordred’s Heirs Series
In an alternate world where Mordred defeated King Arthur, the history that followed looked very different than the tales of legend that exist today. The kings of the Pendragon dynasty ruled over most of Europe and Asia and by the 17th century, their dominance was almost worldwide.
Paladins hones in on the knights of Order, who have sworn to serve the Crown. Their swords, created by the Great Wizards, were so powerful that they could contain the souls of the saints. Well, the White ones could. The Red swords on the other hand were capable of much more destruction and in the wrong hands, would unleash chaos.
Knight Moves (2006)
Knight Moves again hones in on the mighty Pendragon Empire and the powerful swords that lie within it. Now, the Empire is under attack by unprecedented supernatural forces and even these powerful swords may not have the ability to save it.
The Sparky Hemingway Series
Home Front (2003)
Home Front is a story of promises, friendship, and duty. It follows Sparky Hemmingway who is faced with a big decision to make. He can either make a dangerous journey and help a dear friend or take the easy route and leave him hanging.
Action-packed, rich with character development, and featuring some unexpected twists, this novel isn’t one to miss.
Family Matters (2004)
Sparky now has the responsibility of caring for his friend’s daughter, Tenishia, whom he aims to give a reasonably normal life. The duties that come with this strange form of fatherhood puts pressure on Sparky and when Tenishia turns out to be completely different from what he expected, he’s pushed to his limits.
Family Matters not only develops this unusual relationship but also throws Sparky into the deep end with a new political challenge.
Rosenberg wrote a variety of interesting and innovative fiction that will provide a reading experience, unlike any other sci-fi or fantasy novels you may have read before. His work is worth a read, especially for science-fiction or fantasy fans and gamers!
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Guardians of the Flame series need to be read in order?
Yes – this series must be read in order so that readers can follow character and plot developments.
Is Guardians of the Flame an epic fantasy?
Many might argue that this series can be categorized as an ‘epic fantasy’ due to its quest-like plot and incorporation of fantasy creatures such as wizards, warriors, elves, and dragons.
Who are the main characters in the Guardians of the Flame series?
Walter, Karl, Andrea, Lou, Doria, James, and Jason make up the leading protagonists in these novels.
Is Guardians of the Flame easy to read?
The language isn’t particularly difficult to understand and frequent fantasy readers will have no issue following these books.
Whose work should I read next?
Authors such as David Eddings, Terry Goodkind, and Jennifer Roberson are all similar to Joel Rosenberg, so if you enjoyed what he has to offer, chances are you’ll love these authors too.