I've taken no classes with Professor Trelawney, the Divination Teacher of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I can, however, see enough of the future to know that after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling's seventh and final volume about the boy wizard, storms bookstores Saturday, July 21, readers and publishers alike will seek out "the next Harry Potter" once the Deathly excitement dies down.
The book industry already has tried to create some self-fulfilling prophesies. Barry Cunningham, the publisher who signed Rowling in the mid-1990s, has described Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams as Harry Potter's heir apparent and already conjured up enormous hype. The adventures of 14-year-old archaeologist Will Burroughs underneath London, Tunnels (The Chicken House) is due to be published in early 2008 in the United States, but other exciting young-adult fantasy novels are already on bookshelves.
China Miéville's Un Lun Dun (Ballantine Books) will appeal to Harry Potter fans while tweaking the archetypes and fantasy conventions Rowling uses so well. In the book, two girls discover a topsy-turvy alternate version of London – hence the title – and encounter such surreal entities as carnivorous giraffes and talking smog (captured in clever illustrations by Miéville in the margins).
If you've ever read a Harry Potter story and thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting to follow some other character for a change?", then Un Lun Dun is like discovering the genre for the first time, and offers a sensibility strangely reminiscent of the songs of the Beatles and XTC.
Fresh attention will fall on Philip Pullman's superb trilogy His Dark Materials (Dell) when the big-budget film version of the first volume, The Golden Compass, is released on Dec. 7 (that Narnia/Lord of the Rings slot on the calendar). In The Golden Compass' antiquated, magical version of Europe, people's souls manifest themselves as talking animals, or "daemons." In some ways, Pullman improves on Rowling, writing with more lyrical prose than the Harry Potter books. The familiarity and humor of Rowling's setting accounts for some of its appeal, but The Golden Compass establishes a more imaginative, thought-provoking universe from the ground up.
Philip Reeve's recently completed Hungry City Chronicles (Eos) switch from magical fantasy to postapocalyptic sci-fi, envisioning a roughly industrial society in the far future. Thanks to a philosophy of "Municipal Darwinism," mobile cities and towns prey on each other, inspiring the superb opening sentence of the first volume, Mortal Engines: "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea." Reeve's characterizations fall flat compared with some of the competition, but Mortal Engines will delight readers who like the swashbuckling adventures of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky or Howl's Moving Castle.
So many grown-ups obsess over Harry Potter that it's easy to overlook the interests of the young readers. Perhaps the best choice that's accessible to 9-to-12-year-olds (but enjoyable for all ages) is The Spiderwick Chronicles (Simon & Schuster), a series of five volumes written by Holly Black, with plentiful illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi. Three children discover a perilous world of magical creatures thanks to the discovery of a secret book, published as a lavish supplemental volume, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. The young heroes not only battle mythological creatures such as goblins, but real-world issues such as divorce. A film version of Spiderwick is due in February 2008, and the authors provide a sequel to the series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, beginning in September.
Something else that makes The Spiderwick Chronicles stand out is its American setting. I love magical versions of London as much as the next reader, but the English have enjoyed a virtual monopoly on young-adult fantasy for at least a decade. With Harry Potter out of the way, maybe it's time for the homeland of Frank L. Baum and Ray Bradbury to declare a little independence of British fantasy.
Do you have any recommendations? Provide them in the comments field!
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