The archetypal fantasy epic that is The Lord of the Rings continues in a second installment that masterfully ups the ante in Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring while simultaneously fleshing out the rich history and languages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Following the disbanding of the Fellowship, warrior trio Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli set off to rescue captured hobbits Merry and Pippin from the dark wizard Saruman’s clutches as war looms. Meanwhile, Ring-bearers Frodo and Sam venture deeper into enemy territory, and are joined by an unlikely companion along the way. The Two Towers bypasses the dreaded middle-of-the-saga slump, a common problem for fantasy series, with a grand-scale battle between the Horse-lords of the kingdom of Rohan and Saruman’s army of Uruk-hai, an elite breed of the goblin-like creatures known as orcs. It’s a fight that more than rivals the final showdowns of many series that came after Tolkien’s. —Megan McCluskey

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