Sarah Fine - Guards of The Shadowlands

I don't know if any of you have read any of these books (if not, click on the images above to go to their Amazon pages), but although I've read a fair amount of fantasy in my past, this trilogy was the one that made me start writing fantasy. After reading these, I wished I could write something even half as good. They aren't aimed at my age group (though I don't really hold with age-assigned genres really. A good story is a good story) but I absolutely inhaled them. The characters leapt off the page at me and the settings and set-up were incredibly unusual and innovative.

In Sanctum, the heroine's best friend kills herself and ends up in a place beyond the Suicide Gates. The heroine (Lela) ends up dying and chooses to go to this awful place, to try and rescue her friend and the book follows her journey as she tries to survive and free her friend. This is the blurb:
A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance – hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone – she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t – the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.
I was hooked from the first few lines and as soon as I finished it, I bought the other two books in the series, hoping they would be as good. They were.

In Fractured, the action moves back to Earth and to the school Lela was at.
In the week since Lela returned to Rhode Island as Captain of the Guard with Malachi as her second in command, local news has been dominated by chilling sightings of human-like creatures running on all fours. Lela knows there’s only one explanation: the Mazikin have arrived in the land of the living.

Needing to maintain the appearance of a normal life for her foster mother, her probation officer, and her classmates, Lela returns to Warwick High along with Malachi. At night they secretly hunt for the Mazikin nest. To assist, two new Guards from very different parts of the Shadowlands are assigned to Lela’s unit, including the bad boy Jim, who repeatedly challenges Lela's authority. Lela struggles to keep all her Guards on the right side of the law, but their mistakes come at a terrible cost.

As one painful revelation follows another and the Mazikin start targeting those closest to her, Lela finds herself more vulnerable than she’s ever been, wanting a future more than she ever has. With an enemy determined to separate soul from body, one question remains: how much is she willing to sacrifice to protect those she loves?
In Chaos, Lela faces some of her biggest challenges. I can't really say much about the plot because to know the set-up does have some spoiler-effect on what happens at the end of Fractured.

I re-read the entire trilogy over the last week or so and even though I knew what would happen, I still couldn't put the books down. So what was it about them, that had me so hooked? I would have to say that it was because I totally fell in love with both Lela and Malachi and I was rooting for them from the start. They're fully fleshed-out characters, with flaws as well as strong points and a well-developed character arc, not only in each book, but across the trilogy too. Coupled with that, the set-up was incredibly detailed and fully rounded. I could easily see the different places in the books and the awfulness of the place beyond the Suicide Gates in Sanctum genuinely made my skin crawl!

I hope some of you take a punt on these (and enjoy them). As I say, it's all Sarah Fine's fault that I started writing fantasy.

What fantasy books would you recommend? Is there anything you've read that completely pulled you in and wouldn't let you go?