Friday, March 26, 2010

To Be Continued: Sequels and Second Books in Series

The only thing more satisfying that finishing a good book is being able to immediately pick up its sequel. It’s often historical fiction and science fiction that come in multiple volumes; the possibilities for elaborating on the events of the past and future are, after all, endless. Whether it’s a stirring sequel or the second in a deliciously lengthy series, book two has a big responsibility—introduce new plot twists and characters while simultaneously maintaining what readers loved about the first book and building on its momentum. The books that come before these have been reviewed in other book lists so you can go back and read them before diving into their worthy second halves.

Darcy and Elizabeth: Days and Nights at Pemberley by Linda Berdoll, (sequel to Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues), 2006, Sourcebooks (Historical Fiction/ Romance)

For Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, it’s a classic love story: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes... well, that’s where Jane Austen leaves off in her beloved masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. But many Austen fans are not willing to let it end there, not by far. Many writers have resurrected the escapes of the Bennet sisters, but few have dared to write a 400-plus page action-packed continuation complete with steamy sex scenes—and then do it all over again. In Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Austen’s hero and heroine embark on their greatest adventure: marriage. In the sequel, Darcy and Elizabeth, the title couple is basking in the delight of newborn twins. Then Lady Catherine de Bourgh and wicked Wickham rear their interfering heads, the romantic trials and tribulations of sisters and sisters-in-law Lydia, Jane, and Georgiana take on new urgencies, and marital bliss is temporarily disrupted—though there’s still plenty of time for the occasion bedroom romp. Author Linda Berdoll good-naturedly infuses her Elizabeth and Darcy with so much personality that the novels stand on their own and are as enjoyable for romance and historical fiction fans as they are for Austen buffs. Bawdy, witty, epic in scope and tongue-in-cheek in tone, Berdoll’s Austen knock-offs are all in good fun. (Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife is reviewed in the July 2009 booklist “More Jane! For the Jane Austen Purist.”)

A Monstrous Regiment of Women: Novels of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Book 2 by Laurie R. King, 1995, St. Martin’s Press (Historical Fiction/ Mystery)

Author Laurie R. King’s richly detailed, character-driven, literary mysteries are based on another classic series: the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. In the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King focuses on a new protagonist, a gawky fifteen-year-old orphan girl who literally trips over the legendary detective one day in 1915 while he’s studying bees and her nose is buried in a book. The unlikely duo forges an unbreakable bond; the bookish girl, Mary Russell, proves the ideal intellectual match for the supposedly retired Holmes and eventually becomes his partner in detection and deduction. The second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, features an all-grown-up Russell forging an identity of her own as a theology scholar at Oxford in 1921. Russell meets a charismatic religious mystic named Margery Childe and is both attracted to Margery’s distinct brand of feminism and skeptical of her church’s true purpose—especially when the deaths of several wealthy young women are linked to Margery’s “New Temple of God.” It is Russell’s wit and intelligence that drives the story, though Holmes’ strong presence is always in the background. And the only thing more intriguing than the mystery’s solution is the evolving relationship between the great detective and his former apprentice—not to mention the vim and vigor of King’s writing. And there’s more where that came from. Holmes and Russell solve eight more mysteries together, with a new book due in April 2010. (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is reviewed in the February 2010 booklist “The Nine Lives of Sherlock Holmes.”)

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende (sequel to Daughter of Fortune), 2001, HarperCollins (Historical Fiction/ Literary Fiction)

Set in nineteenth century Chile and San Francisco, Portrait in Sepia introduces Aurora del Valle, granddaughter of Eliza Sommers, who, in author Isabel Allende’s previous novel Daughter of Fortune, ran away from her adopted family in Chile to follow her handsome young lover to the Californian Gold Rush. Eliza found happiness and independence instead with Chinese healer Tao Chi’en; now her granddaughter is looking for some of the same. Aurora unfolds the story of her life, from her birth when her beautiful mother Lynn died, to her adoption by her redoubtable paternal grandmother Paulina, to her hastily-arranged marriage to the black sheep of a wealthy South American family. There’s also the love triangle between Aurora’s mother, her opium-addict father Matias del Valle, and Matias’ passionately devoted cousin Severo. In fact, the del Valle family is filled with eccentric and charismatic members, and they all play a part in Aurora’s life. Spanning nearly fifty years of American and Chilean history between 1862 and 1910, this is epic, historical storytelling at its finest. The fact that Portrait in Sepia has deep ties to Allende’s other stories makes the novel’s intricate layers all the more compelling. (Daughter of Fortune is reviewed in the January 2010 booklist “Long Lost Literary Love.”)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson (sequel to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party), 2008, Candlewick Press (Historical Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a novel in two volumes that explores the American Revolution from a new point-of-view: that of an African American boy. When the founding fathers declared independence from British rule, they did so in the name of freedom from oppression. This is certainly something of a hypocrisy when you consider that the grand notion of freedom did not extend to the large population of African slaves who also called America their home. Octavian is a young boy living in Boston on the eve of the revolution. Raised in near-isolation by a strange group of philosophers and scientists, Octavian receives a classical education of the finest order—and then uncovers a devastating truth. In Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, Octavian, his fancy schooling exposed as a cruel charade, is desperately searching for a real independence. He casts his lot with the British army, whose promise of emancipation has a vague ring of truth to it, and joins the rag-tag members of the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. There’s still an ocean of misguided loyalties, betrayals, abuse, and violence standing between Octavian and the freedom he longs for, but author M.T. Anderson presents us with a young hero whose pride and determination result in an elegantly philosophical version of a history we all think we know. (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is reviewed in the December 2009 booklist “Untold Histories.”)

Curse of the Pharaohs: Amelia Peabody Mysteries, Book 2 by Elizabeth Peters, 1981, Dodd and Mead (Historical Fiction/ Mystery)

Amelia Peabody is not your conventional prim and proper Victorian lady. She’s a gentlewoman, yes, and she’s quite well-mannered, but she’s also opinionated, indomitable, and when she wants something, damn near unstoppable. In her first adventure, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia comes into an inheritance, travels to exotic Egypt, saves a damsel in distress, tackles a seemingly reanimated mummy, and meets her match in an irascible archeologist named Radcliffe Emerson. In Curse of the Pharaohs, which takes place a few years later, our heroine has gone from prickly spinster to devoted wife of dashing Emerson and mother of precocious son Ramses. But Amelia has lost none of her spirited independence; when life in dear old England begins to grow dull, she jumps at the chance to go back to her beloved Egypt—even if it is at the behest of stuffy Lady Baskerville. Sir Baskerville has met a mysterious death at his archeological site and his assistant has disappeared. While Emerson indulges in his passion for digging up ancient tombs, Amelia plunges into the murder investigation. It’s no easy task, given then number of suspects (who include an America millionaire, a German hieroglyphics expert, and a British photographer), but no one is up to the challenge like the unflappable Amelia Peabody Emerson. Author Elizabeth Peters’ mystery is clever and the historical details add spice, but the real charm is fabulously feisty Amelia, who will swoop off the page with her trusty umbrella and march straight into the hearts of her readers. (Crocodile on the Sandbank is reviewed in the November 2009 booklist “Adventure and Mystery in the Victorian Age.”)

Lost in a Good Book: Thursday Next Novels, Book 2 by Jasper Fforde, 2002, Viking Books (Fantasy/ Science Fiction/ Humor)

In author Jasper Fforde’s first installation in his best-selling Thursday Next Series, The Eyre Affair, no-nonsense Thursday Next lives in an alternate England where cloned dodo birds are the pet of choice, time traveler is common (though no one knows exactly how it works), and people and characters can move in and out of books. After saving Jane Eyre from a mastermind criminal in book one, Thursday—whose new husband, Landen, has been unfortunately eradicated from time by mega-conglomerate Goliath Inc.—is ready to get back to work. Leaving her position as a literary detective for Special-Ops, Thursday jumps into the world of books and joins Jurisfiction, the department that polices the fictional world. Thursday is paired with Miss Havisham (yep, that Miss Havisham, from Charles’ Dickens’ Great Expectations) and set on the case of the Goliath Corporation, who won’t restore Landen until Thursday returns company partner Jack Schitt, presently imprisoned in an Edgar Allan Poe poem (and Poe is very dangerous fictional territory). Assisted by her real-world partner Bowden Cable, her time-traveling father, her meddling mother, and the Cheshire Cat, Thursday also has to authenticate a new Shakespeare play, master the art of traveling through fiction, and save the world from a mysterious oozing pink sludge that threatens to engulf the entire planet. Literary allusions, puns, wordplay, and sheer fun abound in this bookish adventure that is also comedy, science fiction, alternative history, and hardboiled mystery. Few writers are as efficient in the art of genre-blending as Jasper Fforde, and few series are as witty, wild, or wickedly clever. (The Eyre Affair is reviewed in the July 2009 booklist “Sci Fi Meets the Classics.”)

The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking, Book 2 by Patrick Ness, 2009, Candlewick Press (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

Book one of the author Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy is called The Knife of Never Letting Go, and it’s a hard-hitting, gripping, whopper of a dystopian tale. Thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt has grown up on “new earth,” in a colony that fled the turmoil of our planet for a back-to-basics, simple way of life. But life on this new planet has a strange side effect: men can hear each other’s thoughts, and the result is world of terrifying chaos and pandemonium. In Prentisstown, Todd was taught that this strange phenomenon was a virus that killed the womenfolk. But when Todd stumbles across the last thing he ever expected—a girl who can’t hear what he thinks—everything he knows is about to change. In book one, Todd and the girl, Viola, flee to a city that they believe is a safe haven. But by the time they arrive, their supposed refuge has already been taken over by the vile, sadistic mayor of Todd’s hometown. After this cliffhanger ending, things go from bad to worse in book two, The Ask and the Answer. Todd and Viola, fearing all the while for each other’s lives, are separated. Todd is forced into the “Ask,” Mayor Prentiss’ oppressive regime, and Viola winds up in the care of the “Answer,” a rebel group hell-bent on stopping Prentiss. Both sides are determined to use whatever means necessary, and the result is always violent. There are no easy answers for Todd and Viola, who grow more desperate and disillusioned with the turn of each page. Still, these are two of the most determined kids in recent science fiction literature, and the reader is just as unlikely to give up hope as Todd as Viola. Provocative and un-put-down-able, readers will want the third volume (Monsters of Men, due spring 2010) close at hand. (The Knife of Never Letting Go is reviewed in the October 2009 booklist “Welcome to Dystopia.”)

Predator’s Gold: The Hungry City Chronicles, Book 2 by Philip Reeve, 2004, Eos Books (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction) 

The Hungry City Chronicles is a dystopian series for young adults—a popular trend these days, and as author Philip Reeve so aptly demonstrates, it’s for good reason. Book one, Mortal Engines, introduces an earth devastated by untold climate and political disasters that set the world’s cities in motion—literally. Traction-cities on wheels now roam the globe, pursuing smaller towns to devour and use for resources. Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice historian London and Hester Shaw is the brutally scarred rogue assassin who sneaks onto London to kill Tom’s idol, the adventurer Valentine. But Tom stops Hester, and both are flung out of London and forced to survive in the bleak hunting grounds of Europe. Still, the unlikely duo forges a deep connection, especially when an ancient weapon is unearthed and put to use by London’s corrupt officials. In Predator’s Gold, Tom and Hester have stopped London in its tracks and set out on a romantic life together in an airship, far away from the hungry cities far below. But an idyllic existence is not meant to be—the Green Storm, a fanatic branch of the Anti-Tractionist League that has sworn to rid the world of its hungry cities, believes Hester and Tom had something to do with the death of their beloved leader. The couple seeks refuge on the city of Anchorage, a lovely but stricken city that has lost most of residents to a strange plague and is making a desperate bid for a fresh start on the “Dead Continent” of America. When Anchorage’s young and lovely leader takes a fancy to Tom and Hester’s jealousy gets the better of her, a devastating chain of events is set off involving all manner of betrayals, thievery, torture, daring rescues, and desperate hopes. With a grand scope, fresh plot twists, and suspense galore, the second volume in author Philip Reeve’s futuristic series packs an action-packed punch that will leave readers hungry for more—like books three and four, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. (Mortal Engines is reviewed in the February 2010 booklist “Booklist Additions: Welcome to Dystopia.”)

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