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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Books in Brief: Series

CC-licensed image by Banalities; click for original image.

Some time in the next few days I’ll have a lot to say about the year end lists, and we’ll be going back and making some additional edits to our start of season list in light of time crunches and more data. Today, though, I’m taking a moment away from that madness to reflect on series fiction, a topic near and dear to my heart.

We’ve talked about series fiction before, of course. They are tricksy creatures, those series titles that are not first in their series. Middle books have rarely been recognized by the Printz committee over the years. The fact that a committee is only looking at the book in front of them makes it harder to know how to assess these books. So often there are things that work (or don’t) that aren’t exactly in the volume in front of the reader but are instead culminating or developing in that volume but started or will play out in another volume. Which isn’t an automatic black mark — there is no requirement that a book must stand alone in the P&P. But only what is present in the eligible book is fair game for discussion, presumably (there is, admittedly, some room for a committee to wiggle around this, which we’ve discussed a bit) but ultimately we’re talking about recognition for one book, so that specific book is always going to be the heart of the discussion). Often, in a multipart linear series, the elements that a committee is likely to discuss — like setting, character, plot, voice — may be incredible across the several parts while not being outstanding in the actual work in front of the committee. Really, it’s like having only a chapter available for discussion and recognition, while all the other contenders are complete books. No wonder serial works fare badly.

And, of course, mostly all of the multipart serial works are fantasy, and while I don’t think fantasy is persecuted, exactly, there is data that it doesn’t get recognized as often. That’s a chicken and an egg situation — do series titles fare badly because they are fantasy, or does fantasy fare badly because it’s often serialized? I said a few years ago, and still think, that fantasy fared badly for a long time because not enough of the folks on committees were well versed enough in the tropes of fantasy. (This goes double for horror, for what it’s worth, and also affects science fiction and mystery.)

Which all adds up to a very long explanation for why none of the following titles will be namechecked on February 2. But many of these have received lots of stars and/or appeared on year end lists, which makes them books we would normally be discussing. So, in brief, some of the years best mid and end series titles:

Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, March 2014
Reviewed from ARC

I made a case for the first volume last year, barring the final chapter’s massive set up for this volume. I can’t really make a similarly strong case for this volume, although in many ways I liked it more, because it takes a lot of what worked in the first book and amps it up a level. Elliot is a wonderful character and Cello continues to be awesome (worldbuilding win), and this plays out like a mystery, and I do love mystery when it’s done well — here, Moriarty’s trademark surreal and absurd approach meshes nicely with the standard elements of mystery, a genre she often plays with. There is abundant humor and the creativity is just astounding (that rainstorm? So wacky and yet so strangely convincing). The way everything starts to fall together is also some impeccable plotting, but ultimately without in-depth knowledge of the first book, this is impenetrable. Yes, I KNOW standalone isn’t actually a thing, as discussed above, but if we’re only looking at the eligible book, then this one is just bizarre rather than bizarrely brilliant.

 

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor
Little, Brown, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy

It’s over, and by golly it was a good ride.

That Turner award* is calling out for realization with this one, because while I’m not sure I could call out any single volume of this series for an award (and in fact I had lots of reasons why I thought the first volume wasn’t a contender), I totally think the series as a whole deserves some sort of recognition. Eretz and the Angel-Chimera mythos is sheer genius, and the descriptive writing paints pictures in my head. Taylor is a wordsmith who writes politics, battles, and romance scenes with equal facility. We all want to be Karou, because she is both amazing and unknowable and also just a girl we can believe in as a real person. Really there is so much to love in this series. But I don’t see it book by book, I see it as a single whole, and I can only argue for its merits as a single 3-part entity.

 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, October 2014
Reviewed from ARC

In a nutshell, my response to this book could be summed up as: I LOVE YOU, MAGGIE STIEFVATER.

But that’s not very detailed. Nor is it very critical. So: The use of mythology is great. Glendower and the sleeping king motif obviously, but Stiefvater uses so much more than that. She subverts some of it and creates her own pieces, and stitches together elements from the Welsh-Celtic-English-Irish traditions in ways that seem both deeply familiar and new at the same time. Brilliant stuff. (I said a lot of this when I reviewed the first book, also.) The characters continue to develop and fascinate (Ronan has really emerged as just the most compelling, and while that happened in Book 2, the effect lingers). The sentence level writing is frequently gorgeous (although occasionally I think it’s slightly too perfect, in an almost cliched way, but only occasionally). The sense of place is amazing; the location permeates the book, and after three volumes Henrietta feels really real. But…did I mention that it’s the THIRD book? Out of 4? There are layers and developments here that either are the payoff of previous volumes or are set up for the next, which means that taken alone this is almost nonsensical. Whether some of the allusions or themes work, or pay off, or are just so much filler will be borne out in volume 4 and will only succeed or fail in the context of the series as a whole.

But it sure deserves every one of its 5 stars. And when it’s finally finished, it will definitely deserve that Turner award.*

 

Clariel, Garth Nix
HarperCollins, October 2014
Reviewed from ARC

This one is a bit of an odd duck in this post, because it’s not actually a mid series title; it’s a prequel (although almost everyone refers to it as the 4th in the series, so it’s even more complicated from a how to come at this one point of view). And it’s very good, but for me the best bits were the ones that evoked or pointed to the Abhorsen trilogy; in other words, my emotional investment was not because of this book but because I was already deeply invested in this world. I don’t know whether this, separated and looked at as a book by itself, has what it takes. That said, I think we have a guest post making a case for this one, so an alternative opinion might be forthcoming.

 

Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2014
Reviewed (so to speak) from ARC

Ok, confession time: I adored the first volume. I liked the second. By this one I was kind of out of steam, and sure it didn’t have a chance because series and third and great reading but maybe not greatly literary, and I had readers lined up for it, so… I haven’t actually finished this one. I plan to come back to it in February when I have the luxury of reading just for fun.

 

*See the comments on the older posts linked early in this post for the history of the Turner Award, named for Megan Whalen Turner. Elizabeth Fama coined the term, but basically, it’s an award that really really needs to exist for series where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Someday we’ll do it.

 

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About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    But wouldn’t it be lovely they read off these five books for the Printz? :-)

  2. Alright, so I *get* that Blue Lily, Lily Blue is third in a series of four. But. It just doesn’t feel whole.
    The characters and the world are still really engaging–I totally heart Blue and I ship Adam and Ronan–but it all felt like an extended prologue for the finale. The Dream Thieves did such a nice job of offering a complete narrative while advancing the overarching thread, and this just wasn’t as polished.

    I know everyone’s telling me I’m wrong though, and like I said, I get it. I’m just waiting for book four.

  3. I agree about The Cracks in the Kingdom – I thought it was stronger than the first book, but I would be surprised if it got any recognition.

    I could almost see Dreams of Gods and Monsters getting recognition, but agree that the real strength is the entire series, not the individual volumes.

    Just started Blue Lily, Lily Blue – can’t wait to see where the series takes us.

  4. I am so glad that you did this post because I have long thought that SERIES books offer the Printz committee a singular problem. Is it fair to give an award to the second or third book in a series without the first (and second) book also being rounded up in the award? My English teachers have a reading assignment where the students have to read an award book. I run around the library rounding up the award books for them to choose from, several of the award books are second/third/fourth in series. Kids who check them out are at a disadvantage, not having read the books that came before the winner. We (royal we) like DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS because we read the books that came before it, if we picked it up to read without the other books in our brains the experience would be very incomplete and, frankly, a non-award-winning experience.

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