I mentioned, in an earlier post, that I re-read books quite frequently, and hadn't found many new authors recently (recently, I suppose, being defined as 'in the last few years'). Some books I'd ordered a while ago finally appeared yesterday, and reminded me that I've forgotten rather a few.
Like many, I greatly enjoyed Rowling's Potter books. I'm actually mostly mentioning this because, while I've been reading sci-fi/fantasy for most of my life (the first adult novel I read was Brooks' Elfstones of Shannara, when I was eight or nine); my mother's been pooh-poohing those books for just as long (she liked mysteries and spy thrillers). And yet, I was introduced to this series by my mother; I still haven't figured out how that happened.
The books that arrived yesterday, though, are Riordan's The Last Olympian
(and some others of that series that I'd previously read through the library), as well as several of Butcher's Dresden series. I'll get back to this later, but at about the same time as I discovered Riordan, a friend recommended Stroud's excellent Bartimaeus trilogy.
It's quite ironic; I'm reading more kid's books now than I did when I was in second grade.
Anyway, Riordan's series was wonderful (in both its current and original uses) from beginning to end. Although it was quite predictable what the monsters were, particularly in the first two or three books (having read a great deal of greek mythology, and played D&D quite a bit, didn't hurt), these were hard to put down. And it doesn't hurt that they're very fast reads; I'm not an exceptionally fast reader, and I had to put the book down several times last night for various reasons, yet I still finished it before going to bed.
To be a bit more specific, the series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) takes place in modern-day US, and most of the main characters are demi-gods. The title of the series makes a bit more sense when taking into account that Percy is short for Perseus. The rationale is that, as the center of "western civilization", the Greek gods have moved Mt Olympus to the 600th storey of the Empire State Building. Other features of Greek mythology have also moved in similar vein. If you haven't seen much of Greek mythology, the series is a pretty good introduction. If you are very familiar, that won't spoil the story.
As I said, the series makes a fast-paced, very entertaining read. I'm not sure I really have an opinion of how the last book compares to the earlier ones, but it was still very difficult to put down. At the very least, it makes a very fitting ending.
I was introduced to Butcher's books by a friend with whom I used to game. We played a Fantasy Hero campaign based around his books, which was a lot of fun. The main character is Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago yellow pages (or at least the only one listed as such). He's also treated, at best, with suspicion by other members of the magical community. And as magic tends to break technology commensurately with how powerful it is, that community is a fairly insular one.
The main enemies are vampires (of several different flavors), werewolves, the fae (though, as with most series including them, the fae are a bit of an enigma), evil wizards, and the occasional bit of unholiness. The books are quite action-packed, though definitely not to be mistaken for kids books. They're very gritty, in lots of ways (gore, sex, swearing, outright cruelty, etc).
In the last several Dresden novels, Butcher has mentioned his new "swords-and-horses" series that was apparently what he always wanted to write. I haven't read any of those, but when I saw the first of those, I worried that that series would get all of his attention and care. I'm happy to say that there hasn't been a noticeable drop-off in the Dresden books since then (at least not as of White Night, although I can't tell you anything about that Aluria series; I haven't touched it.
I also mentioned the Bartimaeus series earlier. It definitely borrows a few pages from Rowling; one of the two main characters is a wizard (also starting at age eleven) growing up in England. This is 19th century England, though, and it stays in and around London. Magic in this series is all of the summoning variety, though; the only spells are summoning and controlling demons. The other main character is a demon named Bartimaeus, who is, as demons go, only medium-powerful, but very old and with a gift for the one-liner.
The trilogy takes place over, IIRC, seven years, and progresses from the boy being a gifted apprentice to a high-level bureaucrat (it is Britain, after all). In the first book, Nathaniel is stretching himself to be able to summon a demon as powerful as Bartimaeus. One thing I did find odd was that, even in the third book, Nathaniel is not summoning more powerful demons.
One of the reasons for that is that is that Bartimaeus figures out a way to balance the power in their relationship fairly early on. Even though he has to obey Nathaniel, he is able to negate the punishments that Nathaniel would normally be able to inflict. Because of this, Nathaniel refuses to let Bartimaeus return to the realm of demons; this causes great difficulties for both of them.
One other wrinkle in the series is that societies in that world that depend on magic for their dominance breed people who are immune (to varying degrees) to it. One girl with that immunity is a particular thorn in Nathaniel's side, although they come to somewhat of an accommodation, eventually.
Mostly, the series is about the interactions between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, with external threats being largely levers on that relationship. I won't give away the ending, but it is a very powerful one.
One final note, relating to Stroud and Riordan. They're both in the kid's section, and both sold in the same age range, but Stroud is actually written for kids who are a few years older than Riordan's target. (I'm guessing that Riordan is writing for the lower end of that range, while Stroud is writing for the top end. I think the range was 7-12, but I'm far from sure about that.)
Hmm... And that prompts one last bit of speculation... The Last Olympian ended with a prophecy that will surely drive another series (an author's note after pretty much guaranteed it)... I wonder if the target age will be the same for that series.