To start off, may I suggest "The Legacy of Heorot" (1987) by Steven Barnes, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This is definitely a "thriller" (understatement), and has great characters. But it is not in the "fantasy" category - but in the "hard" Sci-Fi genre.
Then there is the Orson Scott Card fantasy novel "Enchantment" (1999). Besides being fun and thrilling, it has the advantage of being a stand-alone novel so you don't have to feel you have to spend the next five years reading every book in some series (like with The Wheel of Time and a whole bunch of other great fantasy series). Two other good stand-alone fantasies of Card's are "Magic Street" (2005) and "Homebody" (1998).
I also recommend pretty much anything by Timothy Zahn, but especially "The Icarus Hunt." (1999) (I categorize this as somewhere between fantasy and hard scifi because of the faster-than-light thing which is still fantasy - but then I can pick nits about that with the best of nit pickers.)
Also worth mentioning are "Elantris" (2005) and "Steelheart" (2013) by Brandon Sanderson.
Of course, my most resent all-time favorite novel is "The Martian" by Andrew Weir. But that can hardly be classed as a "thriller" anymore since pretty much everyone on the planet knows the plot and how it turns out.
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