Sunday, July 7, 2013

Top Twenty Fantasy Series . . .

So, with all of this talk about fantasy, I'm going to finally try to nail down my top ten series.  (What's the plural of "series"?)
  1. Harry Potter/JK Rowling - a classic witch and wizard fantasy.  MG, lots of fun.  If you haven't read this series, you should.  
  2. Lord of the Rings/JRR Tolkien - another classic.  Longer and more challenging than Harry, but richer and darker in some ways.  Written by a scholar of medieval literature.  So many brilliant details.  Movies are classics as well, but the books are still better (and that's saying something!).
  3. Narnia/CS Lewis - yet another classic.  Fast and easy to read, and just plain good storytelling.  Lots of surprises and strange twists.  Some of the later books are bizarre.
  4. His Dark Materials/Philip Pullman - takes place in a strange alternate universe with some bizarre twists.  Some people think it's anti-Christian because of the negative depiction of some of the angels later in the series.  Still a good story.
  5. Abhorsen/Garth Nix - brilliant and dark, with some really scary depictions of the world of the dead.  About a series of heroes who can walk into the land of the dead.  Feels more real than many other fantasies, mostly because death is real.  
  6. Fablehaven/Brandon Mull - the characters are lots of fun, and there are a ton of imaginative surprises.  Two kids find out that grandma and grandpa run a kind of nature preserve for magical creatures.  And they feel obliged to protect ALL of the magical creatures, even the bad ones.  Book 4 has one of my favorite surprises of any book that I've ever read.  Don't want to give it away, but it was worth reading four books to get there.  
  7. Lightning Thief/Rick Riordan - the movie almost ruined this series for me, but it's a fun fantasy based on the Greek gods and goddesses.  Lots of cool applications of mythology.  The hero, Percy Jackson, is the son of Poseidon and a mortal, and he's sent on several quests.  I enjoyed all seven books.  
  8. False Prince/Jennifer Nielsen - No magic needed here.  More like medieval adventure.  It's about a plot to take over a kingdom using a fake prince.  I've read both of the two books that have come out, and both were really good.  The main character is a pleasant blend of pragmatic rule-breaking and naive virtue.  Looking forward to the third book.
  9. Sea of Trolls/Nancy Farmer - Farmer is an incredible storyteller.  She has a gift for carefully crafting character and orchestrating believable adventures.  Lots of terrible evil monsters, and Farmer does a good job turning characters around, making them seem really bad, then really good, then really bad, as the story progresses.
  10. Bartimaeus/Jonathan Stroud - In this series, wizards run Great Britain by summoning demons and making them do their bidding.  They really have very little power without them.  Bartimaeus, who narrates, is a demon, talking about demons and wizards.  It's an original approach, and Stroud makes it funny and interesting.  
  11. Curse Workers/Holly Black - A nice blend of mafia narrative, alternate reality, and magic.  Some people have the ability to work magic through their hands, and it takes place in an alternate present, with an alternate American history that includes concentration "camps" for these magic people, discriminatory laws, and a whole subculture of criminal magic workers.  The main character is a shady curse worker with power he doesn't quite understand.  Lots of mystery and fun.
  12. Resurrection of Magic/Kathleen Duey - This series is strange and dark, and I'm excited about the third book in the series.  It's two overlapping stories, one about a young woman who's a natural adept with magic, and a young man who is sent to a magic school to learn magic - only the school swallows up children and often refuses to spit them out as wizards.  I really like the way that the story develops about where magic comes from, and the twisted way in which it is taught at the strange school.  There's a lot of mystery and evil here.  It's good.
  13. Earthsea/Ursula Le Guin - The rules of magic are strange in this series, and people can lose their magic ability if they do too much.  Magic is based on a language, which happens to be the language of dragons, and there's a lot of work and study involved.  I like that kind of twist.  The series of books includes some strange stories, and Le Guin's imagination is vast.  I enjoyed the tension in this series a lot.  
  14. Chronicles of Prydain/William Alexander - This series is kind of young, but it's fun, with some old-fashioned storytelling structure thrown in.  It feels like an "old" tale, like Tolkien, though it's not quite as dark, and perhaps not quite as detailed.  But it's a good series of tales.  
  15. Graceling/Kristin Cashore - This is a quirky, character-driven fantasy story about a super-strong female fighter who faces an evil king.  There are some twists and turns, but she tells a really good story with some fun fight scenes.
  16. Finnikin of the Rock/Melina Marchetta - Marchetta is a gifted writer, and her Jellicoe Road is a great story and a Printz Honor book.  This is YA fantasy much like Abhorsen, with the story told from the point of view of someone who doesn't really know magic, but who fears it.  It's dark, and there are a lot of scary things in this fantasy universe.  I enjoyed it a lot.  
  17. Shadow and Bone/Leigh Bardugo - This is a relatively new entry here, and it's a weird premise.  There are people with special types of magical power, called Grisha, and the main character discovers that she has one of the magical powers.  But there's an evil dark cloud that is spreading over part of the country, destroying land and people, and strange monsters are breeding inside the darkness.  The main character is asked to help fight the darkness, only the person asking her to fight it is not such a nice guy, really.  It's really dark, and really cool.
  18. Ranger's Apprentice/John Flanagan - This is a cool series about a kid who becomes a Ranger, one of the king's special forces, so to speak, who help lead his army, maintain peace and order, and serve the interests of the king.  There are several different villains throughout the series, but the Ranger himself doesn't really have his own magic.  It's a fun story (at least it was fun for the first five books) about a kid with no prospects becoming a powerful leader.  
  19. Chronicles of Ancient Darkness/Michelle Paver - This is a strange story about a kid whose father is killed by a "demon," and who spends several books fighting for revenge against the demon.  The kid lives in the woods in a hunter-gatherer society, with some clans and villages that he has relationships with.  It's cooler than it sounds, and full of action.
  20. Amulet/Kazu Kibuishi - This is the only graphic novel series on the list, but it's a great story about a magic amulet that falls into the hands of a girl who isn't sure if she can trust it.  Apparently, the amulet could be both a blessing and a curse.  She enters a different universe through the basement of her new house, and she sets out on a quest to help the people of this universe.  It's a good story with some fantastic art, and it has several mind-blowing moments.  
I tried to stick to series where I read more than one book, though I haven't quite finished the second book in the Grisha series (Shadow and Bone).  And there's a lot of diversity on this list.  Most people would consider the Chronicles of Narnia as an elementary-level fantasy (perhaps even a thinly veiled Christian allegory).  Several other titles on the list would be better described as YA or high-school fantasy.  Resurrection of Magic is dark and disturbing in places (I've called it the meanest depiction of teaching I've ever read, where the teachers of magic force the students to learn magic to eat or starve to death trying.)  I'm also fairly certain that there are a lot of great fantasy series out there that I haven't read.  (I would love to hear about those!)  I've said elsewhere (on Twitter, I think) that I don't often read series anymore.  It's becoming less common, though it still happens.  An example of this would be Ranger's Apprentice.  I read the first five books and enjoyed them.  I'm not sure why I never really got into the sixth book.  Now there are twelve books, and a spinoff series.  I might never read those (although the first book in the new series, the Brotherband Chronicles, recently made it to the Caudill list.  I might read it just because of that, though I'm dragging my feet a little.)

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