This week I’m looking at some Fantasy series which have been continued or completed since I first recommended them. There have been a few disappointments. I have mixed feelings about Rachel Hartman’s  “Shadow Scale”, the follow-up to her much praised “Seraphina” (see my post of January 2013) and the promised sequel to Saladin Ahmed’s “Throne of the Crescent Moon” (see April 2013) hasn’t yet appeared. In Catch Up Week (Part One) I’m going to concentrate on four series that have kept up a consistently high standard.

I’ll begin with P.C.Hodgell’s long-running God Stalker Chronicles which follow the fate of the three peoples of the Kencyrath who are trapped on an alien world and face an ultimate battle against the chaotic force known as Perimal Darkling. The first novel, “God Stalk” (see my post of July 2012) was published in 1982 and the series currently includes seven novels and a number of short stories. The leading characters are Torison, the haunted Highlord of the Kencyrath and his much younger twin sister, Jame (you will have to read the books to find out how that can happen). Warrior and thief, Jame, remains one of my most admired Fantasy heroines. The main story-line about the promised rise of the three who will lead the fight against encroaching darkness is progressing extremely slowly but that’s fine by me. I’m happy in the company of rule-breaking Jame with her stupendously dysfunctional family and her dazzling leadership qualities. The most recent novel, “The Sea of Time” (2014), has all the qualities I enjoy in Hodgell’s work – a complex time-twisting plot, extraordinary places and fascinating cultures, and a pantheon of peculiar deities who interact with mortals in very surprising ways. Long may this imaginative series continue.

In October 2012 I recommended Benedict Jacka’s “Fated”, a contemporary Urban Fantasy about a mage whose special power is seeing possible futures. There are now seven novels in the Alex Verus series and an eighth is due out next year. In this fictional universe, magic-users are rigidly divided into Dark and Light mages who maintain an uneasy truce. Diviner Verus was once apprenticed to a Dark Mage but he rebelled against his cruel Master. He runs a magic shop in London and tries to be independent of both the Dark and Light Councils. In all the novels, Verus tells his own story, so we get to know him really well. Many Fantasy series have heroes or heroines who don’t develop much during their adventures. Jacka’s books stand out because Verus’ situation and character change dramatically as it becomes harder and harder for him to shake off his past and stay neutral. He tries to find better ways of training the magically gifted and, partly to protect his own apprentices, throws in his lot with the Keepers – the police force of the Light Council. Even this isn’t enough to save him from those who believe that a former Dark Mage can never change. The latest novel, “Burned” (2016), starts with terrible news for Verus and ends with a shocking turn of events. This increasingly dark series asks whether someone who is treated as a villain is doomed to become one. I really don’t know what the answer is going to be but I shall keep reading to find out.

Later the same month (October 2012) I recommended Catherine Fisher’s “The Obsidian Mirror”, which was then called the first novel in the Chronoptika Sequence. There are now three more novels in this sequence (“The Box of Red Brocade”, “The Door in the Moon” and “The Speed of Darkness”), which has been renamed The Shakespeare Quartet. Even more confusingly, in some editions Volume Two has the alternative title of  “The Slanted Worlds”. Don’t let this put you off a truly exciting read. The series is made up from diverse elements such as a haunted English manor house (Wintercombe Abbey), a wood ruled by the Shee (fairies), a mirror that enables time travel to any historical period, a magician from the past and a messenger from a Dystopian future. It shouldn’t work but it does. Among the well-drawn central characters are a man determined to bring his wife back from the dead, a boy searching for his lost father, a changeling desperate to escape from the Shee and a girl trying to save her entire world from destruction. The plot is extremely tense because they cannot all succeed. One person’s triumph will be another person’s tragedy. The concluding volume, “The Speed of Darkness” (2016), begins with a mighty tempest and never lets  up. Only start reading Fisher’s series when you have plenty of time to spare because you probably won’t want to stop until you’ve found out what happens to all the troubled people (and spirits) gathered at Wintercombe Abbey.

In November of 2012 one of my choices was Jasper Fforde’s Young Adult Fantasy “The Last Dragonslayer”, the first of The Chronicles of Kazam. This novel is set in one of the Ununited Kingdoms of Britain at a time when magic is at a low ebb. It introduces a most appealing heroine – sensible foundling, Jennifer Strange, who struggles to organize the “sorcerers, movers, soothsayers, shifters, weathermongers and carpeteers” employed by Kazam Mystical Arts Management. During an eventful week, Jennifer appears in a vision and on TV, is threatened with prison and death, becomes famous and discovers her destiny as a Dragonslayer. It’s a destiny she is determined to avoid, especially after she meets the last of the dragons. This is one of the funniest Fantasy novels I know. It is stuffed with eccentic characters and extraordinary creatures, such as the Transient Moose and Jennifer’s fearsome pet, the Quarkbeast who looks “like an open knife drawer on legs”. The sequel, “The Song of the Quarkbeast” (2011) is equally amusing and inventive but in the third volume, “The Eye of Zothar” (2014), both the heroine and the series grow up with a vengeance during an action-packed journey through the hideously dangerous Cambrian Empire (Wales). I’ve always hoped that someone would dramatize Fforde’s novels and now my wish has come true. Sky Television has made a film of “The Last Dragonslayer” and is going to show it over Christmas. It should be one of the highlights of the Holiday Season for Fantasy readers. Until next time….