I love reading a good series. There’s something really good about discovering a series, particularly if it has been, or is near to completion. Then I binge-read, rarely touching anything else unless it’s for work. I’ve just finished the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (currently being adapted and shown on Amazon Prime), and that has inspired this post.
It’s also one of the reasons I love my Kindle. Several of these series are very long, and each book itself is quite bulky. Having them on the Kindle cuts down the weight of the book (so you can read it over a sleeping baby’s head without fear of dropping it), and cuts down on storage space. I’m also terrible for needing the next in the series as soon as I’ve finished a book, and with a few clicks from the Kindle store, I’m away.
So, here are my top 5 series, most of which I’ve read in the last few years.
5. Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman
As a child, I loved The Chronicles of Narnia – in fact, that should probably be in this list – and this series plays on that idea. Quentin, a high-school super-geek, is still obsessed with Fillory, a land that he read about in his childhood. Rather than going to college, Quentin gets enrolled in a highly exclusive, top secret school for magic. There, he discovers that magic, and Fillory, are real.
This is not like a children’s series at all: there are all the vices and virtues of adult life, and the part where the students actually graduate is fascinating. It made me hope that one day, JK Rowling will write a post-graduation update for Harry Potter. This is probably the closest we’ll get.
The series can get a bit intense, and it was one that I could put down for a bit, especially on first reading – I had to re-read the first two when the third one came out. There are times when Quentin is, in all honestly, just annoying and dense, but that’s part of what makes him real. Plus, the language is beautiful – really descriptive and evocative. If you were also a fan of Narnia, I highly recommend this.
4. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (beginning with A Game of Thrones)
Before the TV series was made, English teachers in my department at Salford were obsessing about this. When something is recommended by English teachers, I tend to take notice. 5 very long books later, and many, many hours of enjoyable reading, I think I have read them twice. After Ben was born, I wanted something I could get stuck into, but with a sense of familiarity. During those long months of night-feeds, I read this on my Kindle.
I have watched the series, and do really enjoy it, and I can understand people who say they found the TV series much better paced and easier to follow. That’s the reality of having so many different narrators – the novels have 31 different narrators by the end of the 5th (and currently the last one written).
The thing I love about this series, as well as some absolutely brilliant characters, is that you just don’t know what is going to happen next. You don’t know who is going to marry who, who is going to betray who, and who is going to die. You have the sense that, perhaps, Martin doesn’t quite know himself sometimes. I’m fascinated to see where the 5th series is going, as the TV plotlines are, in some cases, taking over the novels’ plots.
It’s funny, but when I saw, for example, the Harry Potter films, I really cared deeply about whether the film-makers got the adaptation right (I think, mostly, they did). But with Game of Thrones, I feel that they are quite separate. The tv writers will make a good series, and the novels will hopefully be written in the way they were always intended to be. I don’t know if this has happened before, where a TV series will overtake the author of the original novels, and it’s interesting to observe.
3. The Farseer Trilogy
This was another one I read while doing night feeds. Again, they are long books, so good to read on a Kindle.
The story follows an orphan boy, Fitz, who turns out to be an illegitimate royal son. He is secretly trained to become a royal apprentice by a brilliant character named Chade.
Magic, mystery, and murder – if that doesn’t sound like a winning combination, I don’t know what does! Fitz is a really likeable character, who does really go through trials and tribulations. I really enjoyed this first series, and it kept me hooked, but I didn’t enjoy the second trilogy, The Tawny Man, so much. It is proper, almost old-fashioned, fantasy, and I really enjoyed it because of that.
2. The Cousins’ War by Philippa Gregory
There are six of these novels, and I confess that I haven’t read the final one, The King’s Curse. However, the first five are excellent. I read them four years ago, and they are perfect holiday reading – well paced, evocative, with enough mystery and intrigue to keep you moving quickly.
Like many of Gregory’s novels, they are historical, looking at the Plantagenet family. My own knowledge of this period is fairly limited, mostly gleaned from having to teach Richard III for KS3 SATs several years ago, but I find it fascinating. The monarchs really did seem to hold on to power by a thread, and it could be so easily taken from them. It is such a far cry from our stability today.
I would quite like to read them in historical order, as outlined here:
Chronological order of the novels:
- The Lady of the Rivers (Jacquetta of Luxembourg)
- The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort)
- The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville)
- The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Isabel and Anne Neville)
- The White Princess (Elizabeth of York)
- The King’s Curse (Margaret Pole)
The BBC did an excellent adaptation of novels 2-4 in the order above which prompted me to read The Kingmaker’s Daughter and The White Princess. If you enjoyed Wolf Hall, you may well like these (although, I’ve only watched Wolf Hall, and haven’t read the novels).
1. The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
I have just finished this series (well, the latest instalment), so it’s the one I can remember the best. But it’s also the series that has gripped me the most in recent memory.
The series opens in 1946. Claire, a nurse fresh from the battlefields of WW2, and her husband, Frank, on their second honeymoon. Despite being married for five years, they have spent most of that time separated by the war. They go to Scotland, as Frank, a historian, is researching his family history. Claire walks too near a stone circle, and finds herself transported through time to 1743. There, she is rescued by Jamie Fraser, a Scottish Highlander. She is pursued by Black Jack Randall, actually one of Frank’s ancestors, and has to marry Jamie to secure her safety. Despite being married to Frank, she falls in love with Jamie, and is caught between the two men, yet trapped in the past.
That’s how the series begins. Each novel takes you on a different journey through Claire’s life, and some of the choices and challenges she faces.
I won’t tell you any more, because part of the joy of this series is that I knew practically nothing about it. Two people mentioned reading it on Facebook, and then I saw the first novel in the library. That was back in December, and I’ve only just finished the series, reading it almost exclusively.
One of the things I love about these novels is the heroine, Claire. She’s a strong heroine, intelligent, brave and willing to take risks. There aren’t many adult novels of such scale that have a woman as the main character. The historical detail is also fascinating, particularly as it is a time in history that I knew absolutely nothing about. Then there’s the love story (stories?), which is beautifully written.
The first novel is brilliant, and really long, which is good for me, as i just devoured it and wanted it to keep going. The next 3 are slower, but there is so much mystery that you keep the pages turning. I’ve really enjoyed the last few, as there was so much hope and excitement… but I don’t want to give anything away.
This has been made into a tv series recently – I think the first one is available on Amazon Prime – and I really don’t know if I want to watch it. I feel like I know these characters so well in my head that they might not match up in the adaptation, and I find it hard when that happens. But I really recommend this series, and even if you only read the first one, it would stand alone. But then I defy you not to read the rest!
I’m always on the lookout for a really good series, so please let me know if you have any recommendations.