Avid readers adore trilogies. That annoying ‘wanting more’ feeling at the conclusion of a book is delayed for a long time when you have three to read. Narratives and themes are enduring. Heroes and heroines are tested again and again. Fascinating new characters keep cropping up. Trilogies are the sign of a serious reader- people with true commitment to an author’s cause.
But the actual definition of what makes a trilogy can be blurred. Mervyn Peake's marvelous Gormenghast books only became a trilogy because the author died before he could publish more. Douglas Adams insisted, jokingly, on calling his Hitchhiker books a trilogy as he published parts four and five. Some argue the most famous trilogy of them all – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, which features The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – isn’t a true trilogy at all because the author originally intended them to be published in a single volume with The Silmarillion to follow. Either way, we’re excluding The Lord of the Rings from our list of recommended trilogies because it’s such a well-worn path (Tolkien fans can send their complaints to email@example.com).
The top 10 trilogies recommended by AbeBooks
Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine trilogy
Made up of three epistolary novels (novels comprised primarily of documents), the story begins with Griffin receiving an uncanny, impossible letter from a stranger named Sabine and follows the extraordinary correspondence between the two in a series of letters and postcards, accompanied by beautiful illustrations. These are books make great gifts.
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy
This trilogy is aptly named - the story, while fantastical, magical and about children, is often dark, sinister and frightening. The books which follow Lyra and Will, as they move through parallel universes are typically marketed at young adults, but the superior writing, underlying themes of religion and theology, and captivating story appeal to adults too.
Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy
These books offer a dark, surreal story which focuses on the character Titus Groan (an infant inheriting Earldom in the first book) and the isolated Gormenghast kingdom, at whose centre is an ominous castle of the same name. The books are populated by characters who observe strange rituals and fall prey to madness.
Robertson Davies’ Deptford trilogy
This is Davies’ second and most famous trilogy. It begins with one young boy throwing a snowball at another. In the snowball is concealed a piece of stone, and when its intended victim ducks, the snowball hits a pregnant woman, sending her into premature labour. With delicacy and artful skill, the three books follow the stories and lives of all involved.
Louis de Bernières’ Latin America trilogy
While most famous for his fourth book, the standalone novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (which was made into a film, of which de Bernières strongly disapproved), de Bernières’ first three books made up his Latin American trilogy. Murder, pride, love, poverty and corrupt governments who tend to ‘disappear’ rivals are the stuff of these three books.
Paul Auster’s New York trilogy
Fans of detective fiction should not miss this trilogy. With recurring themes of investigators becoming inextricably mired in the details of their cases, and people being driven mad by their own inabilities to separate fantasy from reality, these three twisting, turning stories are a delight for anyone with a bent for psychological thrillers or private eye novels.
Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy of Bernhard Gunther novels
Set in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, Kerr’s books follow the cases of former-policeman-turned-private-investigator Bernhard Gunther as he keeps landing himself in hot water at the hands of Nazis, blackmailers, Soviet spies and more. There are, of course, a healthy dose of beautiful, troubled women with hearts of gold, and plot twists.
Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy
Nobody makes hard times as funny as Irish author Roddy Doyle. Beginning with The Commitments, in which a pair of penniless friends decide to form a band, the novels follow the life of Jimmy Rabbite (the band’s manager) and his family through ups and downs, comings and goings, with more laughs than we have any right to expect.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy
These books chronicle the colonisation of Mars by Earthlings, and the various processes that must be completed for the inhospitable planet to be inhabitable. The stories go into societal requirements and the strides made toward better, stronger communities than their counterparts on Earth. High class sci-fi.
Peter Dickinson’s The Changes trilogy
This trilogy was written in reverse chronological order and adapted by BBC TV into The Changes in the 1970s. A weird noise causes Britain’s population to hate and destroy machines and technology, and society reverts to a pre-industrial period. No Google. No Twitter. No electricity. No cars. They are young adult books and tell a great story.
We’re also going to spare you the Sleeping Beauty trilogy of erotic novels by A. N. Roquelaure (that’s actually Anne Rice) – even though you’d be shocked at how many copies are sold by AbeBooks. Initially, we put William S Burroughs’ Nova trilogy (The Soft Machine, Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded) on the list but then removed it– do people really want to tackle his ‘Cut-up and fold-in’ technique for three books? It was fine in the 1960s but not in 2009.
Perhaps the king of trilogies is Canadian author Robertson Davies, who produced three of them – the Salterton Trilogy, the Deptford Trilogy, and the Cornish Trilogy. The Deptford Trilogy begins with a fatefully thrown snowball and follows its consequences through numerous themes. Davies’ writing is very elegant, and a pleasure to read. Philip Pullman’s clever His Dark Materials fantasy books have probably been the most adored trilogy of the past 15 years – loved by adults and children.
Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine is our top-rated trilogy and it’s not just because he lives on a small island about 20 miles from our HQ on Vancouver Island in Canada. They are no ordinary read, these books are a hands-on artistic experience and a mysterious love story told through the lovers’ correspondence. The pages are colourful and beautifully illustrated, with many featuring envelopes containing letters and postcards that can pulled out and read. A real treasure. Give them to someone you love.
Other contenders that could have made the list, but did not, include Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy.