Good things come in threes–young adult book trilogies are evidence of the fact. Bad things, alas, also come in threes–as demonstrated by the love triangles plaguing this particular age bracket’s fiction like a particularly unpleasant swarm of wormy insects. Despite this and other common tropes, young adult fiction has been a large part of my reading life and I have alternately loved and hated how addicting they are. It’s been a long time breaking the YA habit, and I still pick up the occasional YA book and as well as actively reading a few in-progress YA series that I really enjoy.
In no particular order, here are eight YA trilogies I read and think deserve to be more widely known and appreciated for their various innovations and uniqueness.
1. The Ruby Red Trilogy (or Precious Stones) by Kerstin Gier (2011-2013)
I have mentioned this series before, talking about how well it handled the time-travel within its world. I just think it’s a really fun, unique series with endearing characters, a root-for-able antagonists-to-lovers plot, and did I mention time-travel? There’s a neat history built into the significant events of the series, and because time-travel, they catch up with some of that history and the stories weave together as things come to a conclusion in the end. This book series was translated from its original German and there is a German film series that was made out of it. I managed to find them online and they’re actually not half bad, though the English dubbing is atrocious. English subtitles with the original German voicing, please!
2. The Gypsy King Trilogy by Maureen Fergus (2013-2014)
I really enjoyed the first book but the sexual innuendo was so frequent and prolonged as to be crippling to the pacing and uncomfortable to read at the time. I finished the series on the recommendation of a friend, and I was glad I did because the writing is strong and the characters interesting and it only gets better throughout the series. The plot is well-built around a secret twin discovery that starts to foil the evil advisor’s plans to take over the kingdom, and what follows is a violent and calculated struggle for the throne and the people of the kingdom, culminating in a race to find a magical macguffin. Honestly, just another good fantasy read with likable characters and a compelling plot.
3. Dust Lands by Moira Young (2011-2014)
This book dragged me into its intentionally poorly written pages and wouldn’t let me go until I emerged gasping at the end of the third book. In the first book, the protagonist has to survive travelling to the capitol in an attempt to rescue her twin brother from the clutches of the evil emperor. Along the way she meets a band of freedom fighters, an unallied rogue, and a varied cast of other characters. While I found the conclusion to the series a bit underwhelming, the worldbuilding and characters were dynamic and good overall. There is a strong post-apocalyptic, desert wasteland vibe to the setting and it has a hardcore experimental aspect to its writing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much, but it was a bold choice and I haven’t seen anything quite like it in the YA market.
4. Age of Legends by Kelley Armstrong (2014-2016)
Look at this: the third series with twins in a row. Twin sisters are coming into their power as the keepers of magical balance in their world when the usual sacrifice to the sacred forest goes horribly awry. The inciting incident sets up the characters, throwing them together while building out the world and setting, while being sufficiently horrific to give the main characters (and readers) trauma for ages. The first book in particular is really strong, teasing backstory and getting your to root for the characters and their relationships. I think the series suffered after the “plot twist” betrayal at the end of the first book was never really resolved in a satisfying way, leading to me being a bit disappointed as far as the characters go, although the worldbuilding and plot continue to deliver throughout the whole trilogy.
5. Wolfe Brothers (or Underdogs) by Markus Zusak (2011)
Standing out like a stolen stop sign in this list of mostly female-led fantasy and dystopian trilogies, we have a more gritty and grounded series set in the real world sans magic, time-travel, or portals–it does have a love triangle, though. A little less affected than some of Zusak’s later works, this trilogy has a rawness and realism that reminds me of The Outsiders. It too has the heart, hilarity, and that glimmering thread of hope that makes the story meaningful and its characters live. The Underdog was published in 1999 in Australia, but the entire series was only picked up and published in North America after the author’s success with The Book Thief. It was combined into an omnibus of all three novels under the title Underdogs in 2011, and I’m so glad it was because it gave me the opportunity to read it and I absolutely loved it from beginning to end.
6. The Splintered Trilogy by A.G. Howard (2013-2015)
It’s angsty teen drama and dark fantasy at its finest. I think part of what makes me like this series so much is how unapologetically kitschy it is. It is full of dreamy guys, twisted nightmares, and art and magic and… weirdness. Curiouser and curiouser, as the saying goes. I enjoyed the writing, even on re-read, and the betrayals, twists and tragic mistakes all weave together in a compelling plot that has emotional impact in its conflict. I’ve mentioned in another post about how it draws on the Alice in Wonderland concepts to make a unique story and world without pretending to supersede it. And I also appreciated the alternative way in which the author wrote her main character out of a love-triangle. Points for originality without descending to polyamory. We love to see it.
7. Théâtre Illuminata by Lisa Mantchev (2009-2011)
I’ve reviewed this series before, but let me add a little blurb here as well. Successful in its experimental style, this dramatic series is full of players, magic, stages, and alteration magic. The world building is so impressive and enjoyable I almost forgive the love triangle. Almost. Drawing on multiple traditions of magic and mythology, including and expanding upon that bastardized so blithely by Shakespeare in his plays, this series embarks on a magical quest through the tragic past, mutable present, and possible future in a bizarre and dreamy atmosphere. The creativity of incident and the vividness of description are really what stick with me from this series. And in regard to the love triangle, I am team Ariel in case anyone wants to know.
8. The Wondrous Strange Trilogy by Lesley Livingston (2008-2010)
Another series I’ve reviewed, I also did an individual book review of Tempestuous. Without sounding like a broken record, I love the light atmosphere to this series as well as the creative realisation of what is a fairly standard concept: faerie creatures in Central Park, a real boucca playing Puck in a Manhattan production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the revelation of supernatural parentage and changelings, travels to the faery realms, run-ins with hell hounds, the Wild Hunt, and bloodthirsty leprechauns. And above all, a sufficiently self-aware main character who makes some mistakes but manages to learn and grow realistically throughout, even while juggling a predictable but sweet romance with a fae (or is he?). It’s just such a fun and satisfying read.
Have you read any of these trilogies? Are there any other YA trilogies you’ve read that you don’t think get the love they deserve? Comment below!