His Dark Materials
I picked these up because I had heard good things about them, because they were supposedly 'Young Adult' books and thus a fast read for me, and because all three books of the trilogy were out and available. Importance not necessarily in that order.
The books are very good, not at all what I expected, and taken with the Garth Nix series I recently read, have led me to wonder what, precisely, is the distinction between fantasy and 'young adult fantasy'. The plot and themes were more developed than some 'regular' fantasy titles I've read, which is something I had not expected from a series initially sold as 'young adult.'
The initial book, 'The Golden Compass' is set it a world that is similar to, but yet unlike our own, where a person's soul resides in their animal familiar--a dæmon. The main character of the first book is Lyra. In the second book and third books the story line is split between Lyra and Will Parry. Will Parry comes from a parallel world that is more like our modern than Lyra's, but in each world there is a plan with which Lyra and Will unwittingly interfere. In Will's world the threat comes from government agents, while in Lyra's world the primary threat comes from the church, but there are plenty of independent agents who also cause trouble.
The use of parallel worlds allows for both magic and technology to exist, although I, unsurprisingly, prefer the magic to the technology, although I am ambivalent about the dæmons.
I especially liked the religious tensions that underlie the plot, but then anyone who knows me should have been expecting that.
The characters were very good, the writing was very good, and the story was excellent, quite different from anything I've read recently, although I do admit that I have a penchant for sword and sorcery, so that limit may be self-imposed.
Michael also read the books and liked them, but then he tends to like almost anything he reads.
I liked the books, I liked the story, and although I didn't love the resolution, it was still very good. I'd definitely recommend these books to teens and adults who like fantasy.