Book Talk: Series stand outs

Novels in a great series can stand on their own

Peter Critchley/Special to The Morning Star

The novels in a great series stand on their own. Each volume is a work unto itself and can be read out of hand in the chronological order you choose.

The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, acclaimed by the London Times as the “greatest historical novelist of all time,” is a sterling example. Each volume in the series is as complete as the world the author invents, a world set in the Napoleonic wars that we recognize as our own and not our own.

Captain Aubrey and his surgeon, Stephen Maturin, are the kind of complicated, three-dimensional character pairs that have inspired thrilling stories since The Iliad. It is this relationship that lies at the heart of each tale, conveyed in prose that is elegant, civilized and humorous. And if this is not enough, the author possesses a superb sense of place and weaves the kind of narrative that is impossible to put down.

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James Lee Burke’s great mystery series, featuring Detective Dave Robicheaux, often transcends the genre. It is intelligent, even literary, and taken as a whole, it is a body of work unsurpassed by any other contemporary American author. The author’s prose is lyrical and evocative, the plots are meticulously crafted and the characterization, even with the secondary characters, is outstanding.

What sets this work apart is the seamless transition from character to action. The action flows naturally from the complex characters, particularly the protagonist and best friend and sometimes partner Cletus Purcel, to drive the narrative and imbue the work with a rare verisimilitude.

Much of the work of Connie Willis, a multiple Hugo and Nebula winner, cannot be strictly defined as a series. Yet various titles feature many of the same characters—a group of young time-travelling historians based in Oxford 2060—and comprise a singular body of work that in a sense can be defined as a series.

Doomsday Book (1993), To Say Nothing of the Dog, Or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump (1998), Blackout (2010) and All Clear (2010), the four novels with recurring characters, are all remarkable in their own right.

Willis is an extraordinary writer of broad imagination and range, with the ability to create well-rounded characters, intriguing narratives and a keen sense of place and time. And her rigorous research, crucial in setting the stage, is evident in each of these titles.

These titles are all available through your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca.


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