Perfect Fantasy Trilogies (Or Series)

Okay, when I posted about perfect SFF and pointed to a bunch of short works, a lot of you started suggesting longer works. Now, the fact is, I think it’s much, much harder to point to a trilogy or series and declare that the work is perfect. Given that much room to stretch out, the chances are enormous that the author will at some point do something that you, the reader, dislike or disagree with.

You’ll sit there fuming:

  • I can’t believe the author did that.
  • Everything works for me except for this.
  • I had no trouble suspending disbelief until I tripped over this one feature of the worldbuilding.
  • The protagonist seemed generally pretty smart until she did that.
  • The pacing seemed good except the story slowed down and dragged through this section here.

In a longer work, it’s rather unlikely that everything will work for a reader. Also, readers won’t agree what feature of the story fails. I mean, in the Tuyo series, I have seen comments from readers who dislike:

  • The jackal-headed Lakasha-erra.
  • The weird non-realistic astronomical stuff.
  • The situation between Ryo and Darra at the end of Tarashana
  • Ryo’s extended recovery after the thing that happens between Ryo and Aras in Tarashana.

And so on. All of those things have been particularly picked out by other readers as a feature they especially like. That’s the way it goes with longer, complicated SFF works. This is inevitable, and that is why perfection is much (much) harder to find in long novels, trilogies, and longer series.

But sure! I’m totally up for a challenge! Here is a list of NEARLY perfect longer SFF trilogies (and longer series).

1) Naomi Kritzer’s Freedom’s Gate trilogy:

Here’s my review of this trilogy. This comes first on my list because I literally cannot think of anything I would have done differently if I’d written this trilogy. It’s just fantastic. Is it perfect? I don’t know, probably not. Is it nearly perfect? Absolutely.

2) Sherwood Smith’s Inda series:

Here are my comments about this series. There are specific worldbuilding details that I found unbelievable, so not as perfect as the series above. On the other hand, Sherwood Smith managed those details in a way that prevented me from pausing to roll my eyes. Anyway, great series.

3) Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series.\

Again, not totally perfect, but wow is this a great series. Here are my comments about the first book. In this case, Janus worked SO PERFECTLY when the reader never got to see his point of view; although I understand why Wexler broke that pattern and gave us scenes from his pov late in the series, I wish he has managed not to do that. I didn’t like how various details of how the overall series worked out, but on the other hand, I didn’t detest anything about the ending. That’s crucial, as obviously a horrible landing will retroactively ruin the whole series. Overall, this is a really great series, even if not totally perfect. With the plus that the first book is entirely self-contained!

4) Kate Elliot’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

This is another trilogy I’m finding hard to critique. It’s cluttered and baroque, a zillion disparate elements, yet the story is overall cohesive, which is quite an accomplishment. Here’s my review of the trilogy.

5) Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion trilogy.

Wow, I don’t like the current cover. Here, try this one instead:

It’s not like the other cover is actually misleading, but this quieter image better suits the feel of the trilogy. I read it a long time ago, so I’ve never reviewed it online. But when I was looking at the fifth spot and thinking hmm, what’s another great fantasy trilogy, this one came to mind. Immediately I thought, Of course! Because actually, this is pretty much a perfect trilogy. The overall arc is clear and smooth from beginning to end; the elements of the story all fit together with neat precision. There are difficult moments … okay, if I think hard I can recall details I don’t particularly care for … but overall, this trilogy is very nicely put together. Elizabeth Moon tends to keep going with series, scattering the pov among tons of pov characters until I lose interest. That happened with her later books set in this world. But this trilogy is great.

That’s five! I’m stopping there. I bet you all have a suggestion for this list, so toss ’em in the comments!

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24 thoughts on “Perfect Fantasy Trilogies (Or Series)”

  1. I’ll go with Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series for perfect series.
    It was a trilogy for a long time. Now there are 5.

  2. Jo, that one is certainly at least mostly perfect. MWT does absolutely amazing things with pov in that series. She does a lot of amazing things in that series. I’d be more inclined to pick out just one as “practically perfect” — and for me, it would be The Queen of Attolia.

  3. I will still vote for Wells, Nix, Bear, Elliot.
    Definitely not Lackey or Wexler.
    House of Shadows comes close, but sequel isnt quite as good.
    As for Tuyo: i was definitely shocked Ryo continued with Aras after “the thing”. Forgive, yes. But not forget.

  4. I have actually never read more than a book or two by Mercedes Lackey and I’m not very familiar with her work. By the time I noticed her books, I was already turned off by the whole idea of magic horses that are not at all like actual horses, which may have gotten in the way.

    I’m glad you liked House of Shadows so much! Thanks!

    You’d be surprised, possibly, at the number of readers who think Ryo makes WAY too big a deal about “the thing” and are quite impatient for him to get over it. There’s a wide range of reactions to the way that’s handled. I wouldn’t mind discussing all that in detail, but I can’t on a public blog because wow, very serious spoilers.

  5. I’d second MWT’s Thief, maybe nominate Peierce’s Alanna books as nearly perfect. I love a lot of the nuances of the character arc, her relationship with femininity, and how it shows what actual adult relationships look like (the ex isn’t necessarily a monster, you can be friends again after you’ve cooled off, etc).

    I have lingering fondness for Lackey, but I think she’s one you have to find at the right age, maybe. Def not perfect.

  6. Great post!
    I just finished reading the Freedom’s Gate trilogy by Kritzer for the first time (because of your review Rachel), and I agree it was very good. I need to read a book multiple times though, before I can really form an opinion on whether it is nearly perfect. This one is definitely worth a reread.

    I’ve also read the Inda and Paksennarion series: I enjoyed them, but had problems with both. Neither would make it on my nearly perfect list. The Inda series is just too long, I had trouble maintaining my interest through the whole thing. The plot goes off into too many branches, and while I really wanted to know how it would all end up, it felt like I would just never find out. I haven’t read Paksennarion as recently, but I remember I also had some trouble with the pacing in this one. As far as Elizabeth Moon’s work goes, I prefer the Vatta series.

    I haven’t read the Spiritwalker trilogy yet, but I think I’m going to try that next. Love the recommendations on this site!

    And now for my suggestions:

    Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell – I haven’t seen Hilari Bell mentioned yet on this site, but I think a lot of you would really enjoy her work. She writes YA SFF, and it’s both thought provoking and fun to read. (Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get interested in her latest, the Knight & Rogue series, but I’d highly recommend all her other books.) I think the Farsala trilogy is her best work, and definitely qualifies for nearly perfect – please take a look.

    Tuyo series – hard to say a series is nearly perfect before it’s complete, but this is surely looking up. One of my favourites already.

    Sailing to Sarantium/Lord of Emperors (by Guy Gavriel Kay)

    Narnia (by C S Lewis)

    Inheritance Trilogy (by N K Jemisin) – Note: this series has a lot of disturbing bits and almost passed my tolerance level. But the quality of the writing, the ingenious worldbuilding and strong plot made it worth the discomfort in my opinion.

    Touchstone trilogy (by Andrea K Host)

  7. Thanks for your suggestions, Melanie! I’ve never read anything by Hilari Bell; I don’t even remember hearing her name. I’m picking up a sample of the Farsala trilogy … now. There, done.

    I found the Inda series slow, but deeply rewarding. I read it over a fairly long period, but found it stuck in my mind well and I never had to go back and re-read pieces to remember what had been happening. But for ONE Sherwood Smith book, I highly recommend A Stranger to Command. That one won’t strike you as scattered or too long: one pov character, and a very neat character he is.

    Personally, my favorites of Jemisin is The Shadowed Sun / The Killer Moon, but I’ve only read it once. Like you, I feel like I need to go back to a series before picking it out.

    I don’t think the Touchstone Trilogy is perfect. It suits me to a “T” and may be the single series I’ve read the most often, which is a separate category. In fact, that would make a great post — most-re-read SFF novels and series. It would be right at the top for me.

    Thanks for picking out the Tuyo series! All I can say is I’m happy with my *plans* for the third book of the main trilogy. I just need to pull it off …

  8. I take your point about the Touchstone trilogy Rachel, and regretfully agree it should be removed from my “nearly perfect” list. I just wanted to mention it because i loved it so much. This is one of the very few books i reread immediately after my first time through. I can’t quite figure out WHY i love it so much when i agree it isn’t close to perfect.

  9. I love Hilary Bell! I would suggest Rosemary Kirsteins The Steerswoman trilogy, except KT doesn’t seem quite finished. Also the Summer Tree series. Obv.

  10. Discworld Night Watch subseries. Possibly the Witches subseries, too.

    I would not call Narnia perfect. I like it, but I also have problems with some of it. Not the allegorical parts, either, the writing choices.

    And don’t forget the varieties of serieses: Same setting, different stories – see Tuyo. Same setting linked, what happened next stories – see Floating Islands, House of Shadows. Same setting one long involved story – Black Dog, Lord of the Rings, assorted others.

    Tuyo is right up there in overall quality.

    Ooh, perfect trilogy, not yet mentioned: Riddle-Master of Hed.

    Our hostess’ Griffin manages to both tell one long story while doing it as separate stories, same setting. Neat trick (applauds). Still letting Death’s Lady gel, so won’t opine.

    Paksennarion never did anything for me, although I read it when it was coming out. Lackey – does something right but boy howdy does her work, such of it as I have read which isn’t a lot, and most of it early, have problems. I would think twice about recommending it as anything other than page-turner and foundational work.

    I’ve at least heard of Bell, but not read anything. Downloads sample.

    I keep trying to read Elliott’s Cold Magic and not getting very far. Maybe when we’re all done with the work on the house (still ongoing). It’s still sitting around on my Kindle.

  11. Steerswoman is the ONE work I most want to see finished before I die. It is SO good! Well worth reading even though it’s not finished.

  12. I think Cold Magic does start slowly. Hopefully you’ll get far enough into it for the story to grab you, Elaine.

    YES for Riddle Master of Hed. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that; it was a seminal work for me personally.

    And yes once more for the Sam Vimes series, although I thought the first book in that series was not great. Night Watch itself is fantastic, probably my favorite of Pratchett’s books.

  13. I love Hilari Bell’s Farsala trilogy! Ditto Nix’s Abhorsen and MWT’s Queen’s Thief series.

    Though they’re children’s books, I would say that The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper is practically perfect, as are Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain.

    As for regular series/trilogies, I love the Death’s Lady trilogy. I have a feeling it’s one of those I’ll keep going back to. I would add Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion, as well as The Lord of the Rings.

  14. Kathryn McConaughy

    Hilari Bell is a lot of fun! I particularly liked the Knight & Rogue series–not so much the plots as the central characters–when I first encountered them as a teenager. A solid and realistically difficult friendship between two very different people. But I’m not sure how it would read if I were first picking it up as an adult! I like Farsala a lot because of its historical echoes.
    Susan Dexter’s Warhorse of Esdragon trilogy is also near to my heart. Each book can stand alone, but they’re better read together.

  15. I bet you all have been mentioning Hilari Bell from time to time and I just haven’t paid attention. I’m glad to have picked up a sample now.

    But the ending of The Dark is Rising series! No! I hate the “and then they forget everything” types of endings.

  16. Susan Dexter’s The Wind Witch was an amazing book. I just reread Hilari Bell’s A Matter of Trade a couple of weeks ago. I love how she twists tropes around. Her books are YA but they really make me think. I appreciate all the recommendations on this blog, but I’ve never picked up Terry Pratchett. Maybe now is the time?

  17. Ooh! Night Watch!

    Long ago in the mists of time, I tried Pratchett’s first book, didn’t like it, and that was it for me and Pratchett for decades. Night Watch may not be the best book to start with. On the other hand, that’s the book that finally made me an instant fan of Pratchett’s later books. It’s hard to know what to recommend because I’m not sure that’s the best starting point, even though it worked great for me. I will say, the Sam Vimes series is my favorite series within Pratchett’s works, but not the first book of that series. Lots of people pick out the Tiffany series as their favorite, and I agree that whole series is good.

    One thing to know about Pratchett is that many of his books are social satire disguised as fantasy. If that’s what you expect, you’ll love those. Going Postal is a fabulous example of his satire.

    Finally, Monstrous Regiment is a standalone that’s very good.

    Pratchett’s books work wonderfully well in audio format, so if that’s a thing for you, definitely try one that way.

  18. I gave Feet of Clay to a friend who is a potter. She loved it and went on to read the rest, last I heard. I started a different friend with Carpe Jugulum . And I’ve seen claims that Small Gods is a good starter.

  19. Paksennarion. I like but don’t fully love it, but for me it has the quality Jo Walton called “grabbyness.” I dip into it and don’t stop without rereading a lot. I like the follow-on books better despite the different pov sections.

    I’m not sure I have a series to add to this. Martha Wells’s Raksura books, maybe. The other ones I can think of are still being added to and don’t have an obvious closure in sight – Astreiant, Murderbot, I might be tempted to add Lorna Freeman’s Borderlands series (Covenants, The King’s Own, Shadows Past) except it was never finished and there’s no discussion at all of it anywhere I can see. But I so enjoy Lord Rabbit’s adventures and the things he learns.

  20. I’ll admit that I read all of Lackey’s Valdemar books as they come out (so. many. books) and I enjoy them. I think I enjoy them despite their issues, though. I’d never list them as perfect.

  21. I will also say The Riddle master of Hed trilogy. I slowly reread it across the last couple of years and it was still perfect.

  22. I read the comments to make sure someone mentioned Riddle Master of Hed – yes! It’s perfect. I remember how breathless I was when I read it for the first time.

    I love the Farsala trilogy but I’m not sure it’s perfect; I think it gets better as it goes, and the first book is the one I almost never reread. That ending, though… and the commentary on myth…

  23. I agree about the Riddlemaster trilogy. I ought to have thought of that one; glad someone else mentioned it!

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