E is for empires! Yes, it is. Fantasy abounds with empires and kings and armies.
There are, sadly, very few fantasy where there are no armed forces (armed with magic and more mundane weapons). Offhand, I cannot think of any. This might be a commentary on humanity; we are incapable of living without armed forces.
But back to empires. You might think the fantasy/sci-fi genre might be perfect for exploring lots of different of law and government, especially ones that don’t exist.
But it seems to have not worked out that way. (I have some doubts as to whether it is even possible to conceive of anything that doesn’t exist somewhere, even if only in myth and legend.)
I am thinking the reason there are so many empires in fantasy is that there were a lot in the past. The Romans, the Persians, Mauryas, the Mongols, the Mayas, Imperial China and its many dynasties, and the many, many medieval kingdoms. Anyway even one large empire would have an influence on its neighbors. Very few non-empire type countries dominate history.
My theory is that these not only fire the imagination, but take over. So there aren’t a whole lot of other forms of law in fantasy (the non urban fantasy type of fantasy anyway). Most people are either trying to push their empire further, defend their empire or trying to create an empire. There might be a prophecy or two involved, too, and smaller squabbling kingdoms.
I expect such things in fantasy. Does that make empires cliché? Maybe. Depends on how it is done, I think.
My favorite empires in fantasy are not, I am sad to say, among the most original ever. But they are not completely cliché, either, and that mostly depends on the world building, on the details of traditions, customs and the flora and fauna.
This list would include:
1) Riddle-Master by Patricia A. McKillip
I love the fauna in this world. LOVE it.
2) Recluce by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
The series goes through a lot of different characters, a few different countries in exquisite detail and each is very interesting.
3) Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
European medieval kingdom, but the character is a Wit and budding assassin. It has charm and so avoids the risks of a typical fantasy setting.
4) Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
I love the fauna and how they all seem to be the same type, not some of this and that. The world building is wonderful. Just wonderful.
5) Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey
Also runs the risks of a typical European medieval kingdom, but has a certain enduring charm.