Authors launching the second book in a series have a great advantage over their first installment in a new world: by book two, a good chunk of world building has already been done. But series writing comes with a disadvantage, too. Ilona Andrews, whose well-known “Kate Daniels” series wrapped a year ago, discussed the problems of revisiting a setting over and over in a blog post: “We’ve described Unicorn Lane over ten times. At this point it’s like chewing old gum.”
Readers may be accustomed to following a single series or world or may pay more attention to the characters than to the authors. But when those authors move on, sometimes the new world they build is just as fun—or even better—than the world they left behind. Sometimes the authors run several series at the same time, delving into different worlds (or even making them part of the same cosmology, such as Brandon Sanderson’s overarching Cosmere). Here are five fictional worlds from authors known primarily for other series that you definitely should not miss…
Ilona Andrews’s “Hidden Legacy”
Best known for: Kate Daniels series
Along with the “Kate Daniels” series, Ilona Andrews has dabbled in a number of worlds, including science fiction and fantasy romance. The “Hidden Legacy” series launched in 2014 with a trilogy centering around Nevada Baylor, a Prime magic user (the highest power level in the world) who can sense the truth—or rip it from a person’s mind.
A conspiracy gets Nevada embroiled with Connor “Mad” Rogan, another Prime, whose reputation for destruction makes him a dangerous ally, but an even more dangerous enemy. The initial trilogy opens a contemporary world where magic and technology run side by side, alliances and secret wars among powerful magical Houses shape politics and corporations, and a private investigator like Nevada can found her own House, making an attempt at running with the big leagues.
While Nevada and Kate have plenty of similarities as narrators, the Andrews team establishes a unique voice for each of them, and as the “Hidden Legacy” progresses into its newest volume, Sapphire Flames, the narrator shifts to Nevada’s younger sister, Catalina, who is now head of the recently-formed House Baylor. Catalina is a Prime Siren: all who encounter her love her and despair—until she incites them into a frenzy that could lead them to tear her apart.
Catalina’s voice is strikingly different from the narrators the Andrews team has previously created, with none of their brash confidence in her voice. She’s unsure of herself, uncertain of her own powers (which she doesn’t trust), and doing her best to navigate the world despite this, hiding those worries so deeply that the outside world will never scent them as weaknesses. As one might suspect from a Prime Siren, she’s an utter delight to follow, perhaps because of those very insecurities, and because of her determination to do what is right, no matter what the odds.
The fact that the newest novel throws her into a chaotic, over-her-head situation with her teen crush, Alessandro Sagredo, a fellow Prime, whom she once rejected because she was so afraid her power would force him to love her. The chemistry between them is as strong as it ever was, despite the fact that Alessandro’s playboy image may be hiding the fact that he’s actually an assassin.
Introducing Catalina as a new narrator gives new readers an easy launch point into the series, which may inspire them to go back and reread the earlier trilogy—and a bridging novella—despite the misleading, romance-appearing covers. While there is plenty of romance to enjoy in the series, these are plot-based urban fantasy, where the underdogs are constantly at odds with—and triumphing over—more powerful forces.
It’s a joy to return a world that mashes up Instagram, Twitter, and celebrity magic families, especially with Catalina’s fresh new voice as a narrator. Readers who have enjoyed previous books by the Andrews team—and plenty of readers who’ve never read one of their novels—will find a world here well worth falling into for however many volumes this series holds.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl
Best known for: Machineries of Empire series
While Lee is best known for his “Machineries of Empire” science fiction series for adults, beginning with the novel Ninefox Gambit, he’s also been involved with a fantastic serial, The Vela, and is the author of a middle grade novel, Dragon Pearl. Younger readers, as well as adult readers who appreciate middle grade fiction, will side with me in hoping that the novel isn’t a stand-alone.
The story follows Min, a fox spirit, as she tries to clear her brother’s name. Jun, a member of the Space Forces, supposedly deserted, but Min doesn’t believe it. Using her Charm abilities to take the shape of other people, she talks her way off-planet and impersonates a Cadet in the Space Forces until she can come to the bottom of the mystery.
Lee introduces readers to a world steeped in Korean mythology, where tigers and dragons and dokkaebi (goblins) encounter ghosts, and have to manage the flow of energy in starships to avoid bad luck. The Thousand Worlds are rife with political organizations that seek to control terraforming, leaving planets like Min’s native Jinju half-formed and practically toxic to the settlers who live there.
The setting is so rich, it’s hard to believe the book might be a stand-alone novel; there’s plenty of room here for more stories, and Min’s own story leaves with enough potential for a sequel that readers should be keeping an eye out for an announcement that more stories are coming in the future.
Devon Monk’s “West Hell Magic”
Best known for: Allie Beckstrom series
Monk introduced readers to a setting full of hidden magicians in her well-received “Allie Beckstrom” urban fantasy series, a world that continued on in the “Broken Magic” and “Shame and Terric” books, that centered around some of Allie’s friends. She’s also written some really fantastic weird-west in her “Age of Steam” books, a strange futuristic trilogy possibly inspired by Frankenstein’s monster in the “House Immortal” books, and a really clever urban fantasy series about vacationing gods in “Ordinary Magic.” But for my money, the books of Monks you absolutely should not miss are the “West Hell Magic” books, which mesh werewolves and wizards with… professional hockey.
In Hazard, the first installment, Random Hazard (who knows he has a stupid name, thank you) is kicked out of the NHL when they discover, to spectacular effect, that he’s a wizard. He’s left with no options to play professionally, unless he joins the freak league, where werewolves and other shifters play alongside tough-as-nails humans and magical sensitives. There’s never been a wizard in the West Hell league before, but Hazard will be the first. The second book swaps narrators (in a deft handling of shifting narrative voice, keeping the tone of the series consistent but creating a unique point of view) to Duncan Spark, Hazard’s werewolf foster brother, as he joins a rival team.
The way that Monk seamlessly blends magic with hockey is delightful; there’s enough hockey to please sports fans, enough of the weird that urban fantasy readers will feel at home, and such a good dose of humor that the series never takes itself too seriously. It’s one of the wackiest genre mashups I’ve ever read, and it’s such incredible fun that I can’t wait until the next (promised) installment comes out.
Nalini Singh’s “Guild Hunters”
Best known for: Psy/Changeling series
Paranormal romance writer Singh is best known for her really excellent “Psy/Changeling” series, a multi-year, world-spanning narrative of the shifting dynamics between Psy (a psionic, emotionless race), Changelings (who can shapeshift to different animal forms), and Humans.
The series has now spanned over so many books, the newest titles are being released as the “Psy/Changeling Trinity” series, so that new readers won’t feel intimidated by the number of books that have come before. But despite the number of books Singh has penned in that world, she’s got her fingers in several other pots. Along with several contemporary romance novels and a thriller, she’s also the author of a very healthy secondary series now spanning nineteen books on its own.
The “Guild Hunters” series introduces readers to a world of angels, vampires, and hunters. Guild Hunters work for the Angels, who rule over the other groups, tracking down rogue vampires and bringing them to justice. Beginning with Angel’s Blood, the series centers on Elena Devereaux, a hunter, who rises to become a major power in the world, and Raphael, the dangerous Archangel ruler of North America.
As the series progresses, Raphael becomes more human due to his relationship with Elena, who becomes his consort. Because the series is from a third-person narration, Elena and Raphael aren’t the central characters in every novel, but their development, and their relationship, drive the action in many of the books. While the series has plenty of Singh’s signature romance, the format and ongoing relationships allow for a more urban-fantasy style. Readers who aren’t sure they can fully commit to a paranormal romance series (even one as good as Psy/Changeling) will be right at home among the angels and vampires of the “Guild Hunters.”
Nnedi Okorafor, Shuri
Best known for: Binti series
Okorafor has won awards for almost everything she’s written, but her two most prominent series are her “Akata” series for young adults, and the gorgeous “Binti” trilogy of space novellas.
Prose readers may have missed that Okorafor also made a jump over to Marvel comics, along with such well known SFF writers as Saladin Ahmed (Magnificent Ms. Marvel), Seanan McGuire (Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider), and Alyssa Wong (Aero), as well as literary luminaries Ta-Nehisi Coates (Captain America) and Eve Ewing (Ironheart).
While Okorafor certainly didn’t create the Wakanda setting of her ongoing comic, Shuri, she’s taken the long-time Marvel setting, riffed on the comic and MCU versions of the world and her titular character, and made the series her own. (In one of the early issues, she borrows from the Guardians of the Galaxy and has Shuri astrally project into Groot for a memorable “I am Shuri” conversation with Rocket Raccoon.)
While there may not be a huge overlap between Okorafor’s prose readers and readers who gravitate to the Marvel universe, any of her readers who make the jump are sure to be entertained—and see some of Okorafor’s familiar themes about identity and understanding make an appearance. Okorafor’s Shuri is happier in the laboratory than in the political sphere, and she has no desire to take up the mantle of Black Panther while her brother is off planet, but when faced with choices that must be made, she doesn’t shy away from making them.
Add a few giant, music-loving space bugs that could destroy the universe with wormholes, and you get an idea of the scale of Okorafor’s comic run (which, hopefully, will continue on for several more collected volumes).
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the huge shift J. K. Rowling made when she took on the identity of Robert Galbraith to write the Cormoran Strike mystery novels, the first four of which have been published, with plans for another ten. It would also be a shame not to mention Jennifer Estep’s truly excellent epic fantasy “Crown of Shards” series, a departure from her urban-fantasy, YA myth, and superhero romances.
What are your favorite secondary worlds? Let us know in the comments!
Alana Joli Abbott writes about books for Den of Geek. Read more of her work here.
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