Starting a book series can be a daunting experience, particularly when it is longer than three books and they are massive. When a series doesn’t have a clear direction, a well thought out beginning, middle and end, it can feel like the author is only still writing it because it was originally successful. It becomes a chore to read book after book just to get to the end of a story that we lost interest in mid-way through. However, some book series, in spite of our original reservations, prove to be a delightful journey to a new world or an immersive exploration of realistic characters.
I’ve recently finished four book series that were, overall, a joy to read. They are all very different from one another, despite two of them falling into the fantasy genre.
The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb wrote five fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. The Farseer Trilogy is the first one. Set mainly in the Six Duchies, a kingdom ruled by the Farseers, it has as narrator and main character the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, Fitz, who is for the most part a convincing character and not an unflawed hero. He was both trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the family – the Skill. He also soon realised that he could establish a close bond with animals. Though for a while he didn’t know what that meant, he had the power of the beast blood – the Wit. This is a story that delves into court intrigue, lust for power, the difference between duty and self-indulgence, while also believably exploring various human emotions.
Although I liked reading all of the books in the series, the first one, Assassin’s Apprentice, is probably my favourite. The second instalment, Royal Assassin, on the other hand, is the one that I enjoyed the least, since it could have been significantly shorter. For almost half of the book, the pacing is irksome. Thankfully, the final book, Assassin’s Quest, has a much more satisfying pacing and provides a rewarding ending to the trilogy.
As Areias do Imperador (The Sands of the Emperor) by Mia Couto
This series by the Mozambican author Mia Couto consists of three novels which I enjoyed almost equally – Mulheres de Cinza (Woman of the Ashes in the English translation), A Espada e a Azagaia and O Bebedor de Horizontes. It is set in the 19th century, during the latest years of the second largest empire led by an African, the State of Gaza, and is mainly told from the perspectives of Imani and Sergeant Germano de Melo. Imani was part of the VaChopi tribe. Their land was at the centre of a conflict between the VaNguni (the rulers of the State of Gaza) and the Portuguese.
Despite being a historical fiction series, its main focus is on the characters’ inner struggles. Only in the last book do the historical figures gain more prominence. But O Bebedor de Horizontes is still at its best when it delves into the more personal experiences. Throughout the series, various thought-provoking topics are explored, including imperialism, racism, cultural erasure, identity and belonging, all while achieving a believable portrayal of the inhabitants of Mozambique at the time. The ending is powerful and emotional.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
A story about a long-lasting and convoluted female friendship, The Neapolitan Novels by the Italian author Elena Ferrante is a series of four books, which I read in translation into Portuguese – A Amiga Genial (My Brilliant Friend), História do Novo Nome (The Story of a New Name), História de Quem Vai e de Quem Fica (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay) and História da Menina Perdida (The Story of the Lost Child). All of the books are engaging and immersive reads, thanks to a conversational writing style that turns the everyday lives of the characters into an interesting subject.
In the prologue of the first book, we are told that Rhino phoned the narrator, Elena, to enquire whether she knew where his mother, Raffaella Cerullo (known as Lila), was. She had disappeared and taken all of her belongings with her. Elena and Lila had been friends for 60 years and, considering the situation, she decided to write their story, beginning with their childhood. While doing so, she painted a clear picture of the Neapolitan society of the time. This series is, in fact, not only a story about friendship, but it’s also a contemplation on class, equality, the role of education, social mobility and motherhood.
The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Dragons are a recurrent feature in fantasy books. In The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brenan, they are not mythological creatures but animals that roam free and are scientifically studied. The narrator and main character of this series, Isabella, embarks on various exploratory journeys to observe dragons. She was the only daughter in a set of six children. She first became obsessed with all animals with wings and only afterwards with dragons in particular. Isabella didn’t conform to gender stereotypes, neither when growing up nor afterwards, having always tried to break free from what was expected of women. She was adventurous, intelligent, somewhat reckless and compassionate.
Despite being set in a fictional world, not only do the locations of this series resemble our own in many ways, the social issues touched on are also inspired by always current themes. There are many references to women’s rights, social class issues and the ethics behind scientific methods. For that reason, the series has evident anthropological, scientific and social components. Unfortunately, some of the books feature moments where the political machinations are not properly clarified.
Isabella’s desire to become a respected dragon naturalist is at the forefront of the five books in the series – A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes and Within the Sanctuary of Wings. They are at their best when they focus on the characters’ most intimate concerns, particularly Isabella’s relationship with her family and friends. Her discoveries concerning dragons are also interesting, though. The final one is even exhilarating!
Have you read any of these book series? What series have you finished recently? Tell me in the comments!