Due to the ‘legacy’ of the cinematic remakes, it can be a difficult thing for readers, especially young ones, to conjure an image of the Harry Potter series that doesn’t involve Daniel Radcliffe, a very angry Alan Rickman, and a strangely nose-less Ralph Fiennes. For myself and others of my generation, the Harry Potter books constituted the first major introduction to the world of serious literature, a phenomenon made all the more effective because I was the same age as Harry throughout the whole series (due to J.K. Rowling’s rigorous release schedule), allowing me to grow up alongside him. The reason it enjoyed such success over a fairly wide age group is due to the combination of adult themes with young adult conflicts, all of which befell teenage protagonists; the Potter saga is in-depth enough to offer good character development and event structuring, without crushing the reader with relentless descriptive rhetoric. In the wake of Harry Potter, some other series have also capitalized on the broad and open market available for this combination of young adult – adult fiction, titles such as The Hunger Games, Eragon, and The Golden Compass (if you haven’t read those, any of them would be a good place to start!). In this list, I have attempted to provide for those Potter fans some other classic and perhaps lesser-known titles, ones that feature the same type of literary themes and that will hopefully further inspire both young readers and older readers trying to reconnect with their own youth.
Our first pick is an up-and-coming series by author Cassandra Clare that already features 5 released titles with another release and a full-length feature film both forthcoming. City of Bones is the first title in The Mortal Instruments series, a young adult publication combining classic fantasy writing with modern urban themes. The series follows young protagonist Clary Fray as she embarks on a dark journey marked with danger and self-discovery, in this particular instance involving a group of demon slayers known as the Shadow hunters In a classic supernatural fantasy set-up, Clary is forced to adjust to the dark and often dangerous world of the Shadow hunters while attempting to figure out her own story, both in the realization of who she is and in the discovery of how she fits into this new world.
The author Cassie Clare has an established background in writing Harry Potter fan-fiction, and a number of familiar themes from that series are recognizable in her writing. Both the narrative style and character dialogue throughout The Mortal Instruments should be a comfortable fit for fans of the Potter series, as well as many of the character schemas. In the first book, much of the respective character development is admittedly a bit predictable, but as the series progresses they gain strength and depth, and most readers will find ample reason to become connected to them. City of Bones is a very readable work, and a good introduction to The Mortal Instruments storyline; it is a fast paced and gritty book, and the author possesses good storytelling ability despite the fair amount of predictability in the storyline.
Another of the more familiar works on the list, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians has already gained a fairly substantial following among some audiences, beginning with the first instalment in the series, The Lightning Thief. Some of you may even have seen the poor, but well-intended Hollywood release of this book; rest assured, you’ll find more entertainment and substance from the book than the movie (what a surprise!). Percy Jackson, if you can believe it, does not seem quite to fit in with other kids, at school, or in society as a whole. This may or may not be due to the fact that he is the son of Poseidon, the Ancient Greek god of the ocean. Again, the framework is very similar to the Potter series, most notably in terms of conflicts between character and environment; a series of strange circumstances and events befall Percy, and once his true heritage is revealed to him, he faces a struggle adjusting to his new role. The main storyline revolves around the theft of Zeus’ thunderbolt, an event that could signal an all-out war of the gods unless the thief is captured and the missing weapon returned.
The Lightning Thief is perhaps aimed at a slightly younger audience than some of the other books featured on this list; it is a bit lighter, less dense and gritty, but surprisingly humorous. However, the book does feature some very adult themes that underlie Percy’s conflicts with the world around him (most notably, his chosen existence within it). Personally, I found Percy to be a more likeable hero than Harry, although perhaps not quite as compelling. Riordan builds his works around a very attractive concept; he has modernized some of the greatest myths and characters from the profound and awe-inspiring historical culture that is Ancient Greece. As a result, the richness of Riordan’s composed world suffers a bit in comparison with those that have been taken from legend; that being said, the infusion of Greek mythology to the storyline is incredibly appealing.
Better thought of as a progression from the Potter series rather than a sideways step into more of the same, The Belgariad can be considered a gateway saga for young adults to the world of adult fantasy. David Eddings has established for himself a huge following among older and more experienced fantasy readers, but perhaps isn’t well known by younger generations. His works have provided the inspiration behind the Eragon series, and readers will immediately be able to recognize the writing style adopted by Christopher Paolini, although in this author’s opinion, he has never been able to execute his writing as effectively as Eddings. Set in the style of high fantasy, as opposed to modern fantasy, Pawn of Prophecy features the same themes that fuel all successful young adult storylines. The young hero Garion has no idea that he is a hero, no parents or known heritage, and ultimately no idea of the role he is to play in the unfolding of history. Unexplained events force him to leave his home unexpectedly, and Garion finds himself wrapped up in a strange journey for reasons that no one will explain to him. He eventually finds out that he is one of the few remaining sorcerers left in the world, and perhaps the most powerful one of all – he just has to stay alive long enough to make it count.
As opposed to Harry Potter, The Belgariad is less cyclical as a saga, and more odyssean. Garion embarks on a quest that sees him explore the world as a physical and cultural entity in ways that he couldn’t have imagined before. Despite the constant motion of the characters and rapid progression of the plot, Eddings manages to avoid any narrative repetition, and makes each city, conflict, and character memorable and engaging. An absolute master of dialogue, this is the facet of The Belgariad that will resonate most with readers who are new to the works of David Eddings; the interaction of the characters is compelling and invokes an emotional reaction from the reader without the cheesiness factor that seems to permeate some authors’ attempts at witty dialogue. The Belgariad is one of the most influential series that I have ever read, both as an exposure to adult literature as well as a tremendous saga in its own right.
Firstly, this book contains vampires – don’t freak out! With all the rabid reactions to phenomena like Twilight and True Blood, vampires have become a social taboo apparently suitable only for ignorant pre-teen girls. The vampires that the author Darren Shan conceives of are neither the sparkly kind, nor the mindless killing machines depicted elsewhere. The main character of the series, also named Darren Shan, is a young teenager with some strange interests and bizarre quirks, most notably his fascination with spiders. A character foil to his best friend Steve, who shares similar occult interests but with rather more sinister personality traits than Darren, the two of them attend the Cirque du Freak, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Both Darren and Steve are completely enthralled by what they see at the circus, albeit for vastly different reasons. The plot kicks off when Darren steals an extraordinarily rare and dangerous tarantula from the circus, prompting a series of consequences that sees Darren indebted to a vampire and faced-off against his old friend.
This series is slightly different in that, rather than being the long-lost son of an ancient wizarding family, or some other such environment, Darren is fully aware of the choices he makes that result in his involvement with the vampiric world. Another series targeted towards younger readers, Cirque du Freak features great young protagonists that actually act their age, as opposed to super 12 year olds that are written to be twenty-five. I wouldn’t say that there is the same level of empathy for the characters as in such series as Harry Potter; the reader’s connection with Darren begins with more of a restrained incredulity. Nonetheless, the reader is drawn in by the fascinating plot that overshadows the perhaps rusty writing of the first book. Cirque du Freak is a fun, easy read with a great story that only gets better as the reader progresses through the series.
Another odyssean high fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is as similar in many respects to A Game of Thrones as it is to Harry Potter. We’re back with the traditional ‘humble origins and unknown significance’ of the main protagonist; this time, it’s young Simon the kitchen boy and part-time apprentice to the castle doctor. Simon is forced to flee for his life after saving an imprisoned prince from the dungeons and, as is true to scheme, becomes entangled in a journey that reveals to him parts of the world he never thought he’d see. The entire book is not all journeys and wandering, however a large part of it is spent trying to locate and obtain three legendary swords with which Simon and the Prince might combat the evil that is threatening the land.
The Dragonbone Chair is a very dark and gritty work, perhaps surprisingly so. Simon is very Potter-esque in his temperament as a young hero, and encounters many of the same challenges as he seeks to mature. The book also features a strong young female protagonist in Princess Miriamele, for fans of the Hermione character schema. While some authors thrive on character interactions and dialogue, and others provide exciting action-packed event structures and sequences, Tad Williams’ ability to arrange the big picture, and slowly reveal it to the characters (and the reader) piece by piece is what makes this saga truly gripping. A lot of high fantasy books feature a journey fraught with danger, but somehow tinged with hope and security, as the reader just knows a happy ending is right around the corner. There is no such security in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn; the story is tainted with a kind of sadness and loss, an attribute that only adds to the compelling nature of the story.
From high fantasy, we now fly past modern fiction and travel all the way to the dystopian future. Veronica Roth’s Divergent should be approached with a slightly different mentality than the other books on this list; it will undoubtedly draw comparisons with The Hunger Games, as a young adult dystopian fiction, this is unavoidable. Our heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior lives in a severely fractured Chicago, where every 16-year old citizen must choose between one of five houses (ahem – factions): Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Tris is discovered to be ‘divergent’, that is, she is compatible with three of the factions where most teens are only compatible with one. As one might imagine, with such a fractured society, tensions arise between the factions. Tris’ controversial decision to join the Dauntless comes at just the right time to involve her in a citywide conspiracy, bringing these tensions to the fore.
First of all, in order to enjoy this book, the reader has to accept the concept for what it is. The plot, characters, and entire world are all completely self-indulgent; they are the way they are, and that’s the way the book is written. This is dystopian fiction, and can really only be appreciated as such, without attempting to ground the work in any sort of tangible reality. That being said, it is a lot of fun. The author conceives of a gripping plot, extremely fast-paced and action packed. I, for one, am a sucker for training/initiation scenes, and this book delivers with bells on. The tasks Tris and the other initiates are forced to complete, her interactions with her peers, and the entire hierarchy all appealed to me and ticked every single indulgent box on my list. Tris, as a protagonist, might not appeal to some readers just as much as she might strike a chord with others; she is brazen and not at all subtle, ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ style. Not for everyone, this book will definitely find some die-hard fans of young adult fantasy.
Ultimately, the Harry Potter series is unlike any other of our generation. It is highly unlikely that there will be another saga able to evoke such a strong, worldwide reaction among youths and young adults for some time. Inasmuch as Harry Potter has helped inspire a generation to start reading and interacting with literature as a choice rather than as a punishment, it is our task to continue this trend and encourage the seeking out and interaction with as much literature as possible. In this list, I have attempted to bring together some works and titles that I hope will appeal to those who did find inspiration in the world of Harry Potter. There are many tales of growth, bravery, and exploration, and I hope that you will find these ones worth reading.