By Jonathan Stroud
Young Adult reading level
Book 1 - The Amulet of Samarkand
Book 2 - The Golem's Eye
Book 3 - Ptolemy's Gate
I'm not very well-read compared to you guys, but I thought it was very well written and humorous. When I read my first Discworld novels, I thought that the setting was a lot like the run down Ankh-Morpork of CoM and Sourcery, where the city was stagnating and the wizards went around killing each other.
Background (from Ask's wiki):
The three novels are set in London in an alternate history to our own, though many countries, cities, events, and people are from actual history (such as Prague, Solomon, the Roman Empire, William Ewart Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, the American Revolution, etc.). The books presume the idea that magic, magicians, and demons have been active throughout history, radically altering it. In particular these changes are reflected in the contrast between modern aspects (such as electricity and cars) and older ones (colonial-era weapons including muskets). The current time is never directly stated. The books incorporate references to various world mythologies and folklore, such as the Arabian Nights and Homer.
In the alternate history existing in the story, a type of oligarchy exists, where the people are mainly of two classes. The British monarchy is mentioned in passing, but is said to have been overthrown long before the events of the book.
The magicians are the governing class and hold all important posts in the government, from a Prime Minister down through assorted other ministers. They perform their magic indirectly by summoning, binding, and controlling various types of spirits, and by creating magical artifacts to do the same. The magicians are normal humans, who know how to summon demons and bend them to their will.
The commoners are those who are ignorant of magic and who make up the rest of society. They are kept in line by the governing class through fear and ignorance. It should be noted that some commoners are born with a resistance to magic, or a sensitivity to its presence. Unlike the Muggles of the Harry Potter universe, who do not believe in magic, the commoners are fully aware of the magical world and know of the magicians' dominance, and although most humans cannot see demons without special lenses some have the ability to see them naturally.
The books blend twentieth-century England with past epochs. London in the trilogy still has the Crystal Palace, where the climax occurs. Because it is stated that the trilogy occurs over a hundred years after the death of William Gladstone in 1898, it is clearly past 1936, when the real Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire. Airplanes and e-mail are mentioned, so it can be assumed to be set in more modern times. The Tower of London is still used as a prison. A chandelier in the first book is said to be made of "crystal taken from the ruins of Versailles", and it is implied that France, Germany, and Italy obey Britain. Britain's main rival is the Czech Empire (inheritor to the Habsburgs), which has been greatly weakened but still resents Britain.
In the third book, the war against the "American colonies" is a main cause of the commoners' dissent. Apparently, Britain still retains dominion in North America and is sending troops there to suppress discontent. It is also implied that only the New England colonies have large cities, the rest of North America being still under the control of Native Americans.
The series is a lot darker than Discworld, but it's still got funny bits scattered around. The main character, the djinn (or genie) Bartimaeus was who I was reminded of when I read about Rincewind, because both have that cowardliness overlaid with cynical sarcastic humor. It's also got those lovely footnotes, and I found out a few months ago that the author had read Pratchett and was inspired by him.
Excerpt from Amulet of Samarkand footnote:
Heddleham Hall was a great rectangular pile with plenty of tall arched windows, two storeys, ornate tracery that amounted to the Baroque, faux-battlements, high vaulted ceilings (heavily groined), sundry gargoyles (likewise) and all constructed from a creamy-brown stone that looked attractive in moderation but en masse made everything blur like a big block of melting fudge.
Give it a try if you think it sounds interesting, and also the spinoff book The Ring of Solomon comes out in a few months.