Looking for something different? Ever thought about books combining ancient Rome, magic, and big scary monsters? Jim Butcher wrote the gripping Codex Alera series just for you. The setting is a classic low-tech fantasy world (unlike the author’s Harry Dresden files, recommended in an earlier blog). But don't think this is just another Middle-Earth rehash. It's not. Aleran society in the series is based on ancient Roman culture, including challenges to the throne, but there are other fascinating people with their own cultures, too, including a second hominid race, the Marat, and another of large wolf-like creatures called Canim. Aleran political intrigue complicates the plot, but Butcher doesn't skimp on thrills, adding border struggles with the Marat and, later, an invasion of Canim. The furies of the title are elementals that humans can use: to move stone, heat water, or fly, for example. The Alerans will need all the strength they can muster, too. A new invader approaches: the vord, a hive-creature with the potential to destroy everything in its path.
The first book is Furies of Calderon, which you can get in print or choose between book on CD, e-book, or downloadable audio, and the series is complete in six books, all available through SJPL-- good news for people who don’t like to chew their nails waiting a year or two while the author writes the next book.
Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy is an excellent YA series for fans of alternate history or the steampunk genre. Taking place during World War I, the books pit the British Darwinists (who use fabricated animals as their weapons and vehicles) against the German Clankers (with futuristic machines). At the center of the story are two young people: Deryn Sharp, a midshipman in the British service who has been forced to disguise her identity and present herself as a boy, and Prince Aleksandar Ferdinand, an Austrian royal on the run from the very same people that murdered his father, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at the start of the war. When the Darwinists' new flying whale ship, the Leviathan, crash lands near Aleksandar's hideout, Deryn and Alek meet for the first time and their stories become intertwined.
Westerfeld, who also wrote the popular YA series Uglies, has created a unique alternate history and through his well written characters he keeps the story fascinating and engaging. The first book Leviathan was recently followed up by the sequel Behemoth, and according to Westerfeld's website, a third book titled Goliath should be released in October 2011.