07 November 2011

Stuff I Like (in triplicate)

I'm not sure what it is about trilogies - why there are so many, why they work so well (usually), why we have to wait a whole year* between installments... But indeed, there are many, and so I thought today I'd list off a bunch of them, most of them recently completed, for your perusal.

Maze Runner et al. - James Dashner

Dashner had already published two series when The Maze Runner came out in 2009, but this was the one that hit the jackpot. In a future society that has devolved into chaos, a small group of people known as WICKED is trying to figure out how to save the world - or are they? Thomas awakens with no real memories in a glade full of other boys, who have been arriving at the rate of one a month for two years. The next day, a girl shows up - and then things really go haywire. The totalitarian aspect is downplayed in this dystopia, but the adventure factor is set high and there are definite aspects of zombie apocalypse as you work your way through the series. The other two volumes, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, continue the story to a satisfying (if slightly open-ended) conclusion.

Beka Cooper - Tamora Pierce

Pierce has long been a fixture of YA fantasy - her earliest series were already hits in the 80s - but this, her latest to be set in her invented realm of Tortall, may well be the finest of the lot. In part (at least for me) that's due to their increased length - Pierce herself admits, in a note at the end of Lady Knight, that after publishers realized that kids really would read books with higher page counts, thanks to J. K. Rowling, she was able to expand her own as well. (In fact, the original quartet of novels about Alanna was written as a single book!) Anyway, Beka. She lived hundreds of years before Alanna, Daine, and Kel (protagonists of other Tortall series) and was in fact an ancestor of Alanna's husband, George Cooper (and therefore also Alianne, heroine of the 4th Tortall set). As a kind of policewoman (known as Dogs or, when they're in training, Puppies), Beka gets into all kinds of scrapes - and just to make things really interesting, she can talk to dust spinners and the dead souls that ride on pigeons (yep, you read that right). Consisting of Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff, these have earned a spot on my favourites shelf - or would if it weren't already overfull with her previous titles!

Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

So, I wanted to write about her other, more recent, series, but after reading the third book I'm not at all convinced that it's a completed trilogy, 'cause there were a lot of unresolved plot lines at the end (that would be the Seven Realms series, a high fantasy, with The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and The Gray Wolf Throne). Still, her books are kinda awesome, so let's hit upon the Heir trilogy instead. Consisting of The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir, these are set in the "real" world (y'know, like England and Ohio) and concern themselves with the hidden society of magic tucked away beneath the notice of ordinary mortals. In this society, those destined to be magic users of one sort or another (there are 5 types) are born with a stone in their chests which designates their calling - except for Jack. His was missing. Unbeknownst to him, the medication he takes every day isn't for a heart defect after all... You'll also run across Ellen, a warrior, Seph, a wizard, and a multitude of well-written characters (both teenagers and adults) as the two warring factions of the Weirlind vie for supremacy.

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

Steampunk! Woohoo! *ahem* This trilogy comes on the heels of Westerfeld's other super-popular series (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, plus Extras), and reimagines the world in 1914 with the factions involved in WWI divided mainly by their allegiance to steam machinery (the Clankers - that'd be Austro-Hungary, etc.) or genetic engineering à la guided evolution (the Darwinists - that'd be the United Kingdom et al.). I don't choose those nations at random; they're the homes of our two protagonists, Deryn Sharp (a Scottish airman {okay, she's a girl, but don't tell!} serving on the Leviathan {a massive living airship}) and Alek (who doesn't really have a last name, since he's, y'know, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire who fled home after his parents were assassinated). Their adventures take them to far-flung lands, including Turkey, Siberia (Tunguska, actually - yes, that means what you think it does), Japan, and eventually the United States, in the company of various critters (I SOOOO want a perspicacious loris!), good guys, bad guys, and wacko geniuses (like, say, Tesla - yeah, him). Not saying any more. Go read (oh, the second and third are titled Behemoth and Goliath).

Healing Wars - Janice Hardy

This one wins for being one of the most original ideas I've seen in the past few years. Nya and her younger sister, Tali, eke out a living in the oppressed city of Geveg after their parents and grandmother are killed. Both have inherited the ability to heal others by taking on their pain, but only Tali can then deposit it into the mineral called pynvium to get it out of her body - Nya can only shift it into someone else, where it can do untold damage to the recipient. The series follows Nya as she discovers how to use her ability, even as the entire population rises up against the usurping Duke of Baseer - hidden and previously unknown relatives appear, friends are made and sometimes betrayed, and pain itself becomes a ghastly weapon to be used and reused on the guilty and innocent alike. Though Nya is 15 years old, this series lands in the Young Readers section (not Teen), I think due in part to the mostly happy ending - people die, but, well, let's just say it doesn't end like Mockingjay, okay? Highly recommended (titles are The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall).

Books of Umber - P. C. Catanese

This is an interesting one, set in an alternate world but with a character or two pulled out of ours. Getting ahead of myself. A boy wakes up with no memory of who or where he is (I know, I already did one of these, but stay with me here) and is soon discovered by a small party of adventurers. They take him along (dubbing him Happenstance, or Hap for short), and on their journey he displays some very odd characteristics, including the ability to jump like a flea and never need to sleep. Over the course of the series more and more is revealed about his origins, alongside more episodic storylines like sea voyages, feuding princes, stolen dragon eggs, and much, much more. The Umber of the series title is the leader of this rag-tag band, having crossed into this other dimension some years before and spreading many ideas from our own world (even while, being bipolar, he suffers from lack of proper medication). A great twist right at the end of the third volume serves to tie things up nicely indeed. Oh, and the three titles are Happenstance Found, Dragon Games, and The End of Time.

The New Policeman et al. - Kate Thompson

All J. J. Liddy wanted was to find his mum some extra time for her birthday - he didn't expect to discover that time was actually leaking out of the world... I was drawn to this one originally by the musical tie-in (Liddy is the latest in a long line of musicians; in fact, there's a page of sheet music in every chapter!), but as the later entries in the series arrived, we diverged from that and went farther along the road to ecofantasy and even dystopia. Throw in the old Irish deities, Tir na n'Og, changelings, global warming, and - well, you get the idea. Somehow this combination actually works, producing three linked works which span nearly a century (well, and then things get really wacko at the end, but whatever) and at least 5 generations. Like the setting, the author is Irish (and a fiddler herself); the three titles are The New Policeman, The Last of the High Kings, and The White Horse Trick.

Kronos Chronicles - Marie Rutkoski

I don't know why 16th-century Bohemia isn't used as a setting more often, at least if this series is any indication of how fascinating it was. (Still kicking myself for sleeping through this author signing last April...) Petra's father, Mikal Kronos, is a genius with metal; in fact, her pet spider, Astrophil, is a small sentient tin being her father made for her. When the prince commissions him to make an astrological clock, and then (ew ew ew) removes Mikal's eyes so he can't repeat the feat, a pissed-off Petra heads for Prague to get them back. Aided by a Gypsy lad with talents of his own, as well as some useful trinkets from her childhood friend Tomik, she makes her way into the palace - and then things get REALLY weird. Look for appearances by actual historical personages (notably John Dee, who, for those who have also read Michael Scott's Nicholas Flamel series, comes off in a very different light in this context). Titles here are The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe, and The Jewel of the Kalderash.

Fallen Moon - K. J. Taylor

Right, confession time - I haven't made it through this whole trilogy yet, but felt that I needed to include it 'cause it's COOL. You've probably noticed that I'm a giant dragon fiend, but when I saw these griffin titles start showing up I took notice - after all, still giant flying mythical creatures, right? And then I found out that the author is Australian, and we all know what a kick I get out of the awesome fantasy coming out of Australia these days, so bonus points for that! Anyway, Arren Cardockson, though a northerner and therefore seen as a slave by the southern nobility, has been chosen as a companion by a griffin. He has risen through society despite his origins, but a wrong step sends his fate spiraling out of control. It's pretty dark (at least so far) and I have to admit I'm looking forward to finishing it - if I remember, I'll even update this post when I do. :-) Titles are The Dark Griffin, The Griffin's Flight, and The Griffin's War.

Dark Heavens - Kylie Chan

More Aussie goodness! More that I, erm, haven't quite finished yet, but I have a good excuse this time, I only got my hands on them a few days ago (they were published in Australia starting in 2006 but have only made it over here in the past couple of months). Anyway, Emma Donahoe, an Australian living in Hong Kong, has quit her job at a kindergarten to be a full-time nanny for 4-year-old Simone, the daughter of powerful businessman John Chen. Or, is he a businessman? They don't usually carry swords with them everywhere, do they? A heady mix of Chinese mythology, martial arts, and, y'know, creatures and stuff. I'll have to update this one too, I guess... The writing isn't always as smooth as I'd like and it takes a little while to get going, but when it does, boy does it ever! Titles here are White Tiger, Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon.

*The exception seems to be fantasy trilogies by debut/foreign authors - when those come out as mass market originals, they seem to arrive one a MONTH instead, which is awesome 'cause you only have the jitters for a little while before the next one appears. :-)

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