This month We Mull the role and types of series in sf and fantasy. Series have been part of the genre from its earliest years and remain popular with readers and publishers. What draws readers into series that may never end or last for thousands of pages? What keeps them reading? Regardless of their challenges, series are essential to speculative fiction and something all librarians should understand.
Consider the different types of sf/fantasy series. One of the most prominent and easily recognized is the traditional multivolume saga in which it’s nearly impossible to pick up the series in the middle, such as George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Check out my review below of the latest entry (Hell‘s Foundations Quiver) in David Weber’s “SafeHold” series as another example of the epic sf tradition and the frustrations in following a story across years and volumes.
Series in which each title has a stand-alone story have become increasingly popular. Early books of this type were often influenced by the mystery genre and include Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files” and Kim Harrison’s “Rachel Morgan/Hollows” books. Steampunk series, such as Clay and Susan Griffith’s “Vampire Empire” titles, often feature this style. Check out their latest volume, The Geomancer, reviewed in this column.
The third type are series in which all of the stories take place in the same universe, but not all feature the same characters, settings, or even time period. Kim Stanley Robinson has been writing about the solar system and human expansion into space since his award-winning Red Mars. Last year’s 2312 is an excellent example, as longtime readers will recognize characters and settings from previous books, yet newbies aren’t required or even assumed to have read the earlier works.
The fourth and final type are shared worlds in which multiple authors play in the same sandbox. George R.R. Martin’s “Wild Cards” series is one example, but this form can also be found in multimedia universes such as Star Wars or Doctor Who. Readers can usually jump in at any point as there are multiple subseries and entry points, and no one is ever assumed to have read all the previous works.
Cho, Zen. Sorcerer to the Crown. Ace: Berkley. (Sorcerer Royal, Bk. 1). Sept. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780425283370. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698409439. FANTASY
Having taken over as Sorcerer Royal from his adoptive father, Zacharias Wythe will never be accepted by many of the snobbish members of London’s magical elite. While the former slave’s African heritage would always have been an obstacle in Regency England, the diminished alchemy in the kingdom under his term is all the justification his enemies need to call for his removal. On a visit to a local school for mystically inclined females, Zacharias meets Prudence, a talented young woman whose illegitimate parentage leaves her in an awkward position at the school—neither student nor servant. Zacharias liberates Prudence from the school and takes her with him to the border between England and Faerie, hoping that he will be able to negotiate with the fae to allow more magic into the country. VERDICT Fans of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will flock to this historical fantasy debut for its shared setting and be rewarded with an exciting story and nuanced, diverse characters who make this novel soar on its own merits. The Malaysian-born Cho also writes sf/fantasy short stories (Spirits Abroad) and romance novellas (The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo).
Griffith, Clay & Susan Griffith. The Geomancer: Vampire Empire; A Gareth and Adele Novel. Pyr: Prometheus. Nov. 2015. 321p. ISBN 9781633880948. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781633880955. FANTASY
Kingmaker, the final volume in the “Vampire Empire” trilogy, concluded with the end of vampires and geomancy in Britain. However, peace didn’t last long, which rather suits Princess Adele and her lover Gareth, aka the Greyfriar. In this spin-off, they are more than ready for a fresh challenge when seemingly unkillable vampires appear in London. When word reaches them of possible survivors from the former London vampire den, Adele doesn’t hesitate to do whatever needs to be done to save Britain and the world from this unexpected threat. VERDICT Aficionados of the trilogy and of steampunk fiction will be delighted by this series launch. First-time readers will be able to jump right in to the new story line. With plenty of airships and action, try suggesting this to fans of Gail Carriger or Pip Ballantine’s “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” adventures.
Weber, David. Hell’s Foundations Quiver. Tor. (Safehold, Bk. 8). Oct. 2015. 784p. ISBN 9780765321879. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429949835. SF
In Weber’s eighth series entry (after Like a Mighty Army) about a world torn between rebels advocating a return to industrial civilization and the rulers who defend the strict mores of the Middle Ages, there is a great deal of advancement in plot and character development. Even as the Empire’s forces advance steadily across Siddarmark, it’s clear the Mighty Host of God Army isn’t yet done. With an increasing number of allies joining cybernetic avatar Merlyn’s inner circle, and thus linked with instantaneous communication, the series is moving quickly back to its sf origins. Technical detail and historical weapon development will thrill military history buffs, but fortunately, the larger plot doesn’t get dragged down in the facts. VERDICT Series fans will find this rewarding reading a reminder that Weber’s series continues to be lively. Newcomers should start with the first volume, Off Armageddon Reef; the time it takes to read this 8,000-page (so far) epic is completely worth it.
Barnett, David. Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper. Tor. Oct. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780765334268. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466809109. FANTASY
In the third entry (after Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon) in this steampunk alternate history series, Gideon is hunting Jack the Ripper when his memory is erased, and he is left wandering in London’s seedy underbelly. His only hope lies with journalist Aloysius Bent, airship pilot Rowena Fanshawe, and Maria, the mechanical girl. Perfect for fans of Mark Hodder’s “Burton & Swinburne” adventures.
Hunter, Sylvia Izzo. Lady of Magick. Ace: Berkley. (Noctis Magicae, Bk. 2). Sept. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780425272466. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698144668. FANTASY
Sophie Marshall and her husband, Gray (last seen in The Midnight Queen), have traveled to Alba to study and teach magic at the university. When Gray disappears, Sophie must use her supernatural talents to find him. Another intriguing fantasy set in an alternate history version of Regency-era Europe.
Monk, Devon. Crucible Zero. Roc: NAL. (House Immortal, Bk. 3). Sept. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780451467386. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698140240. FANTASY
The latest volume in this mix of urban fantasy, sf, and romance (after Infinity Bell) has Matilda Case, one of the immortal galvanized, stuck in an alternate universe when her attempt to time-travel goes awry. She must save her world before another time traveler kills her in order to control time.
Planck, M.C. Gold Throne in Shadow. Pyr: Prometheus. (World of Prime, Bk. 2). Oct. 2015. 325p. ISBN 9781633880962. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781633880979. FANTASY
This follow-up to Sword of the Bright Lady finds Christopher Sinclair, a modern mechanical engineer lost in a violent world ruled by magic and religion, commanding a regiment and confronting new treacheries and challenges. Make sure to get this series into the hands of Myke Cole fans.
Priest, Cherie. Chapelwood. Roc: NAL. (Borden Dispatches, Bk. 2). Sept. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780451466983. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698138414. FANTASY
Evil is plaguing 1920s Birmingham, AL, in this sequel to Maplecroft. A murderer is on the loose and dark gods are being worshipped, which means Lizzie Borden will be needed once again.
Walton, David. Supersymmetry. Pyr: Prometheus. Sept. 2015. 290p. ISBN 9781633880986. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781633880993. SF
The quantum creature known as the varcolac was first introduced in Superposition when it destroyed the life of physicist Jacob Kelly. A decade later, a young professor seems to have harnessed quantum powers in a microuniverse, right until the varcolac takes over and escapes into our world. The mix of action and science make this a solid pick for readers who like their near-future sf on the hard thriller side.
QUOTABLE “…before the ashes even cool, the world will change. Once the boulder starts rolling down the hill, it won’t stop to heed the pebbles.”