Reading in any form is great. Reading something insanely popular is no less valuable than reading something more obscure, I’m just aiming to provide some alternatives. In the vein of “eat this, not that,” you don’t need to take things out of your reading diet completely, merely consider substituting in some other options. Everyone loves mashed potatoes and nobody eats mashed cauliflower instead even though health nuts tell us they are totally the same and we just need to take the plunge. I dislike change but love cauliflower. These recommendations are for if you do want a little change in your diet after you’ve finished all your favorite series.
With the recent success of The Hunger Games movie leading to increased interest in reading the books, I realized that advertising is just as important for books as for anything else. Everyone’s heard of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight. So that’s what everyone reads.
Taking advertising out of the equation, I’m going to try to figure out some major themes in these books and point you towards an alternative that I enjoy and that you might not know about.
If you like… Harry Potter
Because you like… Magic, new worlds, young protagonist, friendships
“Myth Adventures” series by Robert Asprin
If you like magic, and you like fully fleshed out fantasy worlds somewhat similar to our own but slightly different, then I have a series for you. If you like to watch a young magician evolve and grow and grow with him as you read the books, this series is also for you. Robert Asprin’s “Myth Adventures” series of books is a little old. The first one came out in the late ’70s, but it holds up well. I have re-read these books at least once every couple of years, minimum, because they are funny, they are interesting, and the characters are realistic (besides the whole magic thing). The humor in the books is skewed slightly older which makes it a good read for those who have outgrown more childlike fantasy series. It’s also not too complicated – it’s easy to finish one of the books in a day or two.
Each book has a pun for a name. Who doesn’t like that? Of course, they’re all puns based on lisping, but I’ll take it. Hit or Myth, Myth Conceptions, M.Y.T.H. Inc: In Action… the list goes on. There are 12 in the original series, plenty to keep a person busy, and another seven that are considered to be a new series and were co-authored with Jody Lynne Nye. Asprin passed away in 2010 but Nye says there are a few more books they co-authored that will eventually be released, barring issues with the publishers. So, if you do decide to jump into this series, you have PLENTY to read if you like it.
The main character is a wizard’s apprentice named Skeeve. He isn’t just handed innate powers like Harry, oh no, he has to learn them. In the first book he is learning from an old wizard who is killed in some sort of wizard scheme, after he has unleashed a demon named Aahz meant to scare Skeeve into practicing his spells more. Aahz cannot get back to his own dimension without the wizard and so he reluctantly embarks on a journey with Skeeve to retrieve his powers. Everyone learns something along the way, they become fast friends etc.
There are baby dragons, demons are called demons because it’s short for “dimension travelers” so this book can give you your sci-fi fix, there are gangs and mobs, and there are relationships. This series truly has something for everyone. It’s also a touching coming of age story. We follow Skeeve through friendships, romances, career choices (albeit magical ones) and other typical facets of growing up.
If you like… The Hunger Games
Because you like… a dangerous post-apocalyptic style future, political/religious themes
Anything by Philip K. Dick
I’ll let his Wikipedia page sum it up for me: “Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states.” His book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is what Blade Runner was based on, and involves bounty hunters and androids. Dick’s works just about always have political themes and ask the reader to contemplate what would happen if the government turned against us in unimaginable ways. I’d say this is a core piece of what fascinates people reading The Hunger Games. How do we get to a point where what is happening there is acceptable? Whether what is happening is kids fighting in arenas, or a world where the Axis won WWII and things turned out much differently as in Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores what it means to be human and how we protect the ones we love.
These books are more old-school in style, like 1984 or A Brave New World, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. I’ll admit, The Hunger Games is the one series I’ve listed here which I have yet to read, so this recommendation may not be as spot-on, but I can vouch for Dick’s writing regardless of how much the two may synch up.
The great think about Philip K. Dick is that you can pick up any of his books and be guaranteed a good read. They don’t constitute a series, but they share similar themes and compelling stories. Movies made from his books have also included A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall, Minority Report, and recent blockbuster The Adjustment Bureau, though many people do not know that all of these ideas came from the same mind. If you’ve liked any of those movies, go look up their book equivalent – I bet it’s even better. I love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but fell asleep during two separate attempts to watch Blade Runner.
If you like… Twilight
Because you like… vampires. Okay, attractive vampires. Also a re-imagining of the vampire mythos
“The Last Vampire” series by Christopher Pike
Not only does this series have humor, heart, and heat, but it has history, too. It ties in with myths from Hinduism and weaves those into the abilities and memories of the main character, Sita. Sita is a badass. She is a 5,000 year old vampire, the last vampire in fact. She was born in India where she befriended Krishna and made herself a powerful enemy. She has been on the run from that enemy, who does not want creatures such as her to exist, and so she takes on many different disguises.
Moral issues are inherent in this series, as Sita recognizes the evil within herself but tries incredibly hard to make herself believe she is good. This series would make a very good movie, or a very acceptable CW show. It is honestly hard to describe how good these books are. If you like vampires, you will like it. If you like the genre of movies called “steamy thrillers,” you will like it. If you are passingly interested in Hinduism but not enough to get mad about possible errors, you will like it.
Sita is incredibly intelligent, but her enemy, Yaksha, is even more so. Their battle of wits is fascinating to follow, you will not be able to put these books down if you pick them up. I started re-reading one over the weekend to get a feel for the style again and got sucked (ha!) into reading the first three. Though Sita is stronger than mortals because she is a vampire, a lot of the abilities she has developed are because of the time she has had to develop them. When you have lived 5,000 years, you can become very good at a lot of disciplines. Reading back over the summaries of these books, I cannot believe I was allowed to read them in elementary school… I probably shouldn’t have been, they deal with some dark subjects, but they have remained favorites of mine for at least ten years.
A complex character is needed for a good story, and Sita is the epitome of complex. It is difficult to put yourselves in the shoes of such a character, but Christopher Pike manages to create a strong attachment to her through his engaging writing. She is like a much darker version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” if she had become a vampire, and I have always imagined her as looking similar to Sarah Michelle Gellar based on various descriptions. This book will make you think, and it will stick with you in the way that some of the darker Buffy episodes did.
I will admit my one problem: the end. Though the last book I read of the series, number six, came out in 1996, two more have been released since 2010. Since discovering this while writing this post I have put them in my Amazon cart, but the ending of number six disappointed me greatly and I don’t know how the ending can possibly have been resolved. I’ll probably read through the whole series again before tackling the new ones, and I’m just as excited to do so as I would be for a brand new book.
If you decide to read any of the aforementioned books, please please please let me know what you think! I’d love to know if any of my recommendations helped someone find a new series to love 🙂 Comment here or tweet me @emhig