A nameless Year 6 child (well I assume he has a name, we just don’t know it…), inspired Victor Watson to write a book on series fiction with words to this effect: ‘starting a new novel is like going into a room full of strangers, but starting a book in a familiar series is like going into a room full of friends’. Quite! There are few things worse than sticking with a book for dozens of pages, hoping that the characters/settings will grow on you, then realising too near to the end that they really aren’t going to!
But I think there is more to our nation’s love of series than simple familiarity. In every branch of literature, an author’s ability to create a deep and believable world can be the difference between a monumental success and a depressing failure. Where series fiction has an advantage is the ability to build this world not over the space of a few pages, which can feel rushed and contrived, but over a considerable length of time, weaving together many threads to produce a glorious tapestry of character, geography and history.
Whilst it takes considerable skill for an author to introduce, explore and resolve a story in a single volume, it is as impressive to hold a reader’s attention, concentration and care over a series of stories. For the sake of this ‘bleview’, I am excluding the ubiquitous trilogy – I may explore these separately. I am including in my definition any sequence of books which feature the same characters or tell one story over several volumes. E.g. I would include both Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. My list my rules!
So, from 6th – 1st here are my favourite series!
6 – ‘The Famous Five’ – Enid Blyton
Ok, ok, ok, I know I have lost a LOT of you already but please bear with! It’s true that, as with many other things that were acceptable in the 1930s, The Famous Five are considered irrelevant at best, distasteful by many and downright offensive at worst. That this one sneaks in probably suggests that I have gone with my heart a little. I don’t remember reading any picture books as a child (explaining the love now!). What I do remember is not simply reading these adventures, but living and breathing them. They speak of an age in which young people can safely go off on adventures, solving mysteries and beating the crooks, all whilst enjoying a picnic and each other’s company. The parenting was poor, times have moved on, but my inner child is still desperate to go adventuring with The Famous Five!
5 – ‘The Chronicles of St Mary’s’ – Jodi Taylor
All my life there had been a hole in my life that I didn’t realise was there. Until along came a series about historians who ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’ – time travel to the uneducated. Told from the perspective of a rebellious, ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ style, slightly overweight red-haired woman with physical needs usually centred around food, alcohol or a particular love interest (which in the interests of openness can distract slightly from the story), this is a whole lot of fun! The historical happenings are told with impressive detail, pleasing the history graduate in me, yet the story also moves at such a pace, and with such genuine humour, that anyone could enjoy it. I didn’t know I needed it until I found it…and now I really do!
4 – ‘Gone’ – Michael Grant
A Young Adult series, this set of seven books has been described as ‘Lord of the Flies if it was written by Stephen King’. When the entire population of a small seaside town in America over the age of fourteen vanish without a trace, the remaining inhabitants must learn to survive. Whilst some struggle with the new world, others see their opportunity to rise to the top. An old Goodreads review of mine described this as part of a ‘reality with a fantasy/sci-fi twist’ genre, and as the book progresses the youngsters realise that they are trapped in their locale and that far more has changed than simply a severe drop in average age… A thrilling series, I was gripped until the very end of the last book.
3 – ‘The Long Earth’ – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
As I mentioned before, I really dig that ‘reality with a twist’ genre. I am also willing to forgive weaknesses elsewhere in a story if the world that has been created is captivating enough. Ladies and gents: The Long Earth. Based upon the premise that somebody has discovered a way to ‘step’ into alternate Earths (labelled ‘West’ and ‘East’), and has leaked the plans for the contraption online, this series of five books, the latter two published after the sad death of Pratchett, explores the incredible change on human society that would bring. Centring on a man’s journey across the Earths with a reincarnated Tibetan’s soul housed inside a lifelike robot (ok that’s a strange sentence, I grant you), the first book introduces us not only to the fascinating universe but also to the theme of searching for one’s identity and the impact the past has on us. Some have struggled with the slow pace of story-telling, but for sheer imagination this series deserves its place.
2 – ‘I Am Number Four’ – Pittacus Lore
Like the first instalment of ‘Gone’, this was a charity shop punt, or as I call it, ‘reading roulette’. The basic premise is that nine members of a (fortunately) humanoid alien race (the Loric) have escaped their planet’s destruction at the hands of their enemies (the Mogadorians), and are hiding around Earth with their guardians (the Garde) until they are strong enough to rise up and restore their civilisation. Protected by a charm which prevents them being killed ‘out of order’, the series tells the story of ‘Four’, the next in the chain to be targeted after the first three are killed. It is a fast-paced, thrilling series with twists and turns at every corner of its seven books. Not helped by a terrible, terrible film adaptation and the fact that the first book is the worst (little bit too much ‘coming of age/high-school love interest’ thing going on), the action really picks up as the books progress. One of the series’ that I pre-ordered in hardback and re-read so as to be ready for the final curtain, I LOVED I Am Number Four!
1 – ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ – C. S. Lewis
I really am a parody of myself… Yes we come back to my hero in faith and literature, Mr Clive Staples Lewis. Whilst number 2 and 4 have far more exciting storylines, and whilst number 6 has the nostalgia factor, and whilst number 3 has the sci-fi heavyweight pairing of Pratchett and Baxter, and whilst number 5 has managed to link so many of my interests and reading preferences, none have my heart quite like Narnia. Whether read as a simple fantasy series, or as a fantastical re-imagining of what it would be like if another world experienced a birth, fall and salvation story, Narnia is simply magical. No-one reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (which MUST be read first!!!) can fail to be charmed by the simple yet magical idea that a wardrobe might transport one to another world completely. Entering into a titanic civil war, four children must choose their side carefully and, with the help of a wild, yet good helper, save the creatures of Narnia. What I love most about this series is that it is entirely accessible at whatever level you wish to engage with it. As an adult, as a Christian and simply as a lover of children’s literature I can so relate to the themes, struggles and adventure. And if you’ve never read them before then PLEASE read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first! (If in doubt, go with publication order!!!)
So there we are, a bit of a mega-post but those are my favourites! So what should I be reading next? Have I left out your favourite series or included one that you hate? And most importantly of all, WHERE’S HARRY POTTER???? (I haven’t read it…) Feedback and discussion greatly appreciated as ever!