I’ve read so many trilogies and series that start out with such a good first novel but quickly descend into vapid ‘oh god, I have two hot boys chasing after me, my life SUCKS’ shenanigans. It seems to be particularly prevalent in YA. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance but so often a trilogy is stretched out of what should have been maybe two books at most, and therefore the conflict of book two becomes about boys and not about real world-ending problems.
But the following YA series are brilliant.
1. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
I’m like a broken record, I know, but this trilogy is perfection. The first book is the best – Lyra’s the best character, though I do like Will and the others who come along, the dilution of Lyra time did annoy me at first in book 2 – but the other two extend the magnificence of the story in the first and bring it to an epic, multi dimensional level. Literally, the story traverses multiple different worlds as an epic war between the armies of the worlds fight God and his angels.
It’s difficult to explain these books without it sounding utterly weird. Talking bears, a knife that cuts through different dimensions, talking animal companions that are actually a piece of your soul, travelling to the afterlife… it literally has everything going on. But at the centre of it all is a touching story of friendship between a girl and a boy and the lengths they’ll go to help each other and save the world. Seriously, don’t go by the terrible film adaption. Read the books. Fall in love with them like I did.
2. The Legendeer Trilogy by Alan Gibbons
An older series (my favourite when I was actually a teenager) but still a good one. The adventures of Phoenix as he traverses many different worlds through a ‘virtual reality’ video game device his father invented are hugely exciting, and tap into Greek, Vampire and Norse mythology.
There is a suggestion of romance – Phoenix has a friend, Laura, who he cares about a great deal – but the story isn’t even secondarily about that. It’s about adventures, saving the world and defeating enemies. My favourite book in the trilogy – in a strange reversal of my usual experience – is the second. Phoenix’s fight against vampires is hair raising and scary. I remember devouring it in a single afternoon while watching my cousin play video games with his friend. The friend was incredibly impressed that I managed to read a whole book in an afternoon, which pleased me because I had a lot of a crush on him at the time. Oh yeah, I was hot stuff aged 14…
3. Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
A brilliant example of how writing can be stylised without being extremely irritating. Ness created a world that was both ‘other’ but populated by people who are so human and echo the kinds of power-hungry behaviour we see every day. It’s a frightening concept that humanity could travel to a whole new world and repeat the same mistakes it’s always made, and a little bit too believable.
The evolution of Todd and Viola over the series is really well done. They are both fighting for each other, but travelling down pathways that force them to deviate from each other’s ideals. Their growth both brings them together and unavoidably pulls them apart. It’s a central relationship that’s brilliantly handled and realistically done – more so because it influences the characters but isn’t the entire plot. They make decisions based on their feelings for each other, but they spend most of the book in separate camps.
Though the books are huge, I raced through them in a couple of sittings each and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The final act wraps everything up nicely, but doesn’t fall for the sentimentality other trilogies often do. The end doesn’t pull any punches, but leaves the reader with hope.
4. Burn Mark Series by Laura Powell
Not a long series – though I do often hope there will be another instalment – but a brilliant one. Wonderfully imagined world building, realistic and polarised characters whose interactions with each other are full of conflict just because of their very natures. Of course, it’s inevitable that they end up together, but the brilliant thing about this is they don’t actually change all that much. Glory is still a chavvy, hard-headed thug, Lucas still softly spoken rich boy, but their growing respect for each other allows them to grow to love each other for their differences, rather than despite them. It’s an utterly believable relationship, and again, not the central focus. There’s plenty of intrigue going on with secret organisations to infiltrate and burnings at the stake to avoid.
5. Mickey Bolitar Trilogy by Harlan Coben
Not my usual style this, but hugely enjoyable all the same. Harlan Coben’s crime trilogy for teens has all the usual teen angst about relationships, parents and homework, but wrapped around a framework of mysterious disappearances, secret organisations and nefarious bad guys. The characters are excellent, from Mickey himself to his sidekicks Ema and Spoon. They have realistic teenage ideas and issues, and their unlikely friendship is central to the stories.
One of the things I love about this is that the conflict is tense and believably threatening without ever feeling like something the teens can’t handle. It’s realistic that they would try to solve their problems on their own without involving adults. I’m never drawn out of the story thinking ‘why haven’t they just told their parents?’ As you would expect from Coben, the plots race along and the reveals are satisfying. This trilogy won’t stick with me as much as the others, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do what it does really well.