(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: I Feel Good by James Brown)
It had to happen, but now I’m sad it’s here.
There are so many book series I love, and they follow so many different genres (although, yes, most of them are in SFF). I remember my mom used to do a bunch of research around every birthday and every Christmas (and sometimes even Easter and Valentine’s Day!) looking for the newest and most popular middle-grade or young adult book to give me as a gift. She never gave me a book I disliked.
But, all things being equal, I have narrowed it down to three. And interestingly enough, all three are in different genres – so I guess you’ll get a nice spread.
NUMBER THREE: HYPERION, BY DAN SIMMONS
Genre: Science Fiction
Hyperion and its sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, may not be considered a full series because there’s only two books, but in my mind it has to make my top three. As per usual, I won’t give spoilers except for the premise, but this two-part series has all the intrigue of a whodunnit, all the unique, relatable, and nuanced characters of a work of literature, and all the nerdy science fiction material of a SF classic.
Here’s the basic idea – seven travellers from across the known universe are gathered to be sent on a pilgrimage to the Shrike, an eight-foot tall half-man, half-machine creature revered by a cult on a backwater world forgotten by most civilized cultures. The Shrike is known to see groups of travellers, hear their requests, and grant one of them their wish while mercilessly slaughtering all the others.
But there are some extenuating factors. First, the federation that controls the “human” portion of the universe is at war with an alien race, and the war is centered around Hyperion, which is bound to be destroyed very soon. Second, this will be the last pilgrimage to the Shrike possibly in known history, because… you know… war. And third, it’s explained in the very first chapter that one of the seven travellers is actually a traitor from the alien race who is going to sabotage the mission and cause the fall of the entire human civilization.
So what do these travellers do, knowing that there’s a traitor in their midst? They decide to tell their stories, one at a time, so that they can attempt to figure out who the saboteur is. And so, instead of a regularly structured narrative, you have seven different stories told in different POVs and loosely related to one another, all while the world is crumbling around them.
And that’s just the first book.
It’s a beautiful testament to the human spirit and a sad revelation of human greed, and hands-down the best SF series I’ve read so far. If you’re interested, please pick both books up and let me know what you think when you’re done!
NUMBER TWO: THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVES, BY BRANDON SANDERSON
Genre: Epic Fantasy
This was possibly the hardest decision for number two. I’ve known my number one series since I was a kid, but there are so many high and epic fantasy series vying for the spot directly underneath it. In the end, I chose the Stormlight Archives because it is the one that – for twelve hundred pages a book – somehow kept me captivated and turning every single page.
So get this. This guy, Brandon Sanderson, is so prolific that he comes out with entire 200,000 word books as side ventures while he’s writing the Stormlight Archives, which is his master series. The series is planned to be ten books, each of them over 1,000 pages long. He’s got two out so far (The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance) and the third is scheduled to come out in November.
If you know epic fantasy, you know the plot can’t just be summarized adequately in a few sentences. But here’s the gist – for the last seven years, mankind has been at war with a race of people known as the Parshendi. They war because the Parshendi hired an assassin to kill the king of men on a day when a treaty between the two species was going to be signed. But as the story lifts back, it appears as though the Parshendi were not necessarily fully responsible for the death (and that’s all I’m going to say on that, thank you very much).
What I will say is that the magic system in this book is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. If you’re interested in a full, rich world where everything is drawn out to the last detail, and the magic system is inherently tied into that world, this is absolutely something you’ll want to pick up. My only previous complaint with Sanderson was that his characters seemed sort of two-dimensional, but in this series he’s done an incredible job of making the whole cast – major and minor – feel like real people that you love and hate and envy and pity and triumph with when they have their best moments.
Just know they’re massive, massive books. Like, they’ll hurt if you lean them on your chest while reading them laying down.
NUMBER ONE: ARTEMIS FOWL, BY EOIN COLFER
Genre: Middle Grade Low Fantasy
Oh, man. What do I even begin to say about this series.
Let’s just start with the premise. A twelve-year-old boy genius is the inheritor of a large fortune, a castle in Ireland, and a manservant/bodyguard who serves as the antisocial little shit’s only companion. Artemis, the boy genius, only really loves two things in the world – making adults look stupid, and creating brilliant plans to secure his financial future (as his father is dead and his mother on the verge of a mental breakdown).
So his current plan is, he’s going to steal a pot of gold from a leprechaun.
Artemis is the perfect person to believe in fairies – he’s young enough to still entertain the notion that they exist, but has a high enough IQ to go searching for them in places other kids would never think. And what he finds is pretty awesome.
Fairies exist. They live under the earth, where they’ve pretty much stayed out of sight of humankind so they can’t be hunted. And leprechauns are kind of their police force – a police force which, like any, has a ransom fund for if one of their officers get captured. So Artemis hatches a plan to kidnap Officer Holly Short, a ground-level policewoman.
Except he doesn’t realize a few important things. First, the fairies aren’t cute – they’re vicious, and grumpy, and in some cases downright disgusting. They also have their own SWAT team, all of whom are equipped with technologies the humans can’t even conceive of inventing just yet. And they get pretty pissed when one of their own is kidnapped.
This synopsis is just the first book of the series – there are actually eight of them, and they’re good all the way through the fifth (in most people’s opinion) or the sixth (in my opinion). The thing that makes me fall in love with this series over and over again, no matter how many times I read it, is the wit and the characters. Colfer employs this cast of characters of whom I have never met the like in my entire reading experience – their uniqueness is largely a part of the fairy system Colfer created, but they’re also just great, hilarious characters.
If you haven’t read it, please do me the favor of picking up at least the first book – even if you don’t really like middle grade fantasy. They are so heartwarming, and bizarre, and wonderful… they remind me of my childhood. And as writers, we could all learn a lot from the way Colfer structures character interactions and development.
That’s it, that’s all! Hopefully I just gave you some dank new reading material (if you’re considering the Stormlight Archives, you’ve got a few months’ worth of material, so you’re welcome).
Yours, looking for a new series to usurp the top three (so let me know yours!),