I read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi, and pretty much all of it until this point has been young adult. Series have always been popular with the young adult genre, which only feeds into the theory that one of my old professors has that the YA genre was concocted for the sole purposes of making money, rather than encouraging literature for younger readers. In many ways, I agree with him, especially when I see absurd things like the Gossip Girl series (book 34823 released this summer!) and all the cookie-cutter vampire covers lining the shelves with 18 books each.
So I’m re-posting this list, which I wrote up for the Writer’s Revue last year. Here are a few quality series that I think everyone should read.
1. The Abhorsen Trilogy, by Garth Nix
The Abhorsen trilogy is by far one of the most original young adult fantasies I’ve ever read. It was published in the mid-to-late 90’s, written by Australian author Garth Nix. The trilogy, beginning with Sabriel, creates an immersive world that is split into the New Kingdom and the Old Kingdom, swirling with magic, and steeped in its own carefully constructed mythology and legends. The story follows Sabriel, a young girl who is the daughter of Abhorsen (a powerful figure who fights necromancers with necromancy), as she and her family battle against the Dead’s endless struggle to rejoin the living. Easy to read for any young adult or independent reader, it addresses the dangers of abusing power and the issues surrounding death, among other things. I recommend it to any and everyone.
2. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter series really just goes without saying. Not only is it the story of a boy and his friends battling evil, it’s a story about growing up. What’s more, it’s one that an entire generation grew up with. I don’t know that later generations will ever get the same experience of Harry Potter that we kids of the 90’s and 2000’s did, but it’s still a worthwhile read for any child. It’s a good series to grow up with: the first books are very kid-friendly, and the writing matures as the characters (and the readers) do. And before anyone cries “witchcraft!”, it’s got more Christian morals woven in than Bible school.
3. The Pendragon Series, by D.J. MacHale
The Pendragon series is another that I find to be really innovative. The story follows Bobby Pendragon as he becomes a Traveler, a member of a pan-dimensional coalition that guards the dimensions, or “territories”, from the demon St. Dane, who seeks to bring out the worst in human nature and cause societies to destroy themselves. Each territory has one Traveler who watches over it and works with other Travelers, jumping dimensions through a flume system. Some territories resemble Earth at various stages of its development; others are entirely new worlds, with new kinds of sentient beings. This is an expertly crafted concept. I especially recommend this series for young boys; fantasy is often populated mainly by female characters (I know it seems surprising, but remember Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown, Tamora Pierce’s extensive bibliography and numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8 on this list, which all focus primarily on female protagonists), so it’s good to have a series where the main character is a teenage boy.
4. The Artemis Fowl Series, by Eoin Colfer
The Artemis Fowl series is another good one for boys, especially know-it-all boys like my brother. The story begins with twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl, a boy whose father is missing and whose mother is ill, leaving him to replenish the family fortune; which he does by very successful illegal means. Artemis’s search leads him to the secret underground world of fairies, sprites and other supernatural creatures, whose world is far more modern than we’d suspect. The series is very funny, very smart, and a very enjoyable read.
5. The Young Wizards Series, by Diane Duane
The Young Wizards series begins when a young girl named Nita finds a book in a library sale called So You Want to Be a Wizard (which is also the title of the first book). She soon meets a boy named Kit who has also recently become a wizard. Together over the course of the series they learn about the very scientific methods of performing magic outlined in their text, and with other wizards they battle the Lone Power, who seeks to destroy the universe. Another series about growing up (who am I kidding, these are all about growing up), Diane Duane uses the books to address many serious, sometimes traumatic issues that kids face but don’t often discuss. Certainly one of the older series on this list; the first book was published in 1983, but is nevertheless still a favorite.
6. The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy, by Frank Beddor
The Looking Glass Wars trilogy offers a reimagining of the Alice in Wonderland story and universe. In Beddor’s version, Alyss is the princess of Wonderland, born to Queen Genevieve Heart. The Queen of Hearts from the original story is Genevieve’s older sister, Redd. During a bloody coup by Redd against her sister, seven-year-old Alyss flees Wonderland through a dimensional portal called the Pool of Tears and ends up in 19th century London, where she’s adopted by the Liddells. The story heats up when Alyss returns to Wonderland to overthrow her Aunt Redd. Recasting the concept of magic as White Imagination and Black Imagination, Beddor gives us a new fantasy with recognizable context and characters. A very interesting read for older teens.
7. The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games trilogy is a recently published series that has seen an explosion of well-deserved popularity. In a time when vampire novels are all the rage, Collins addresses a different kind of vampire: a tyrannical government, bleeding its people dry and then demanding sacrifices—I’m sorry, tributes—on top of that. The trilogy is the story of how a girl named Katniss becomes one of these tributes, but refuses to submit, and provides a spark that sets the nation on fire. As relevant as any dystopian work of fiction, the Hunger Games trilogy deals with themes of power, ethics, and control. I recommend it for everyone (but then, you all already knew that).
8. The His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman
The His Dark Materials trilogy, which includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, has gotten a bad reputation because of Pullman’s highly publicized atheism, but this is still one of the best fantasies I’ve ever read. Pullman, just like every author on this list, has created a thorough and immersive world with its own laws and legends and blended it seamlessly with our own modern world and ideas. Many would say that this is a series about “killing God”—if you read it, you’ll understand that this is not the case at all. This is a coming-of-age story where a young girl, Lyra, struggles against the forces that would keep her ignorant in the name of innocence. Its theme centers on the hopelessness of satisfying a child’s thirst for knowledge and experience, and the disservice done by denying them. Highly recommended.
9. The Bartimaeus Series, by Jonathan Stroud
The Bartimaeus series introduces another conception of magic and presents us with an alternate history of our own modern world, where magic is real and influences the course of events. The story focuses on the djinni (or genie, in layman’s terms) Bartimaeus, who is summoned by a young magician named Nathanial to do his bidding. The books follow their (mis)adventures in a steampunk London and other locale as they battle other magicians and generally wreak havoc as spirit and boy learn to work together, learning things about themselves in the process. Very enjoyable, highly recommended.
10. The Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini
The Inheritance Cycle (or Lord of the Rings Lite, as I like to call it) is the story of a boy named Eragon (Aragorn/Frodo?) who finds a dragon egg that was stolen (the One Ring) from the evil King Galbatorix, who betrayed his fellow Dragon Riders and destroyed them all (Sauron). In his quest to bring down Galbatorix, Eragon battles Urgals (Orcs) and an evil sorcerer named Durza (Saruman), and receives help from the dwarves, the elves, a group of rebel humans known as the Varden, and most of all his dragon, Saphira (Sam). Okay, all jokes aside, Paolini drew on his resources and came up with a very quick, enjoyable, light read, which is admirable considering he started writing it at 15 (damn those lucky kids with editors as parents). This series almost didn’t make the list, mostly because of its obvious influences and because the writing can be trite at times. But! This is a book written for young teens, and for young teens it is perfect. It introduces them to staples of fantasy and is written in language and style they can understand.