While most Kindle Unlimited authors are independent authors, there are a lot of wonderful traditionally published writers too. Susan Ee is another example of an author publishing through one of Amazon’s publishers and working with the Kindle Unlimited system to create a maximum audience.
Susan Ee’s work is marketed to young adults but the horror elements combined with griping story beats entertain all ages. The story told in the Angelfall series isn’t unique. I’ve read variations. The beats didn’t surprise me as they may have surprised the younger audience. But Ee creates full fledged characters readers can invest in. Even if we know the story, we don’t know how these characters will handle it, and that’s what will keep adult readers engaged.
Take Aways from Susan Ee’s Success:
1. Dark horror and the grotesque is for young adults too. Ee’s books do not hold back in exploring the darkness in humanity. She pushes body horror and explores all the ways people can be used. Neither the “good guys” nor the “bad guys” flinch from acting in inhuman ways. If “Angelfall” was a show or a movie series, I don’t know how it could get around an R rating.
2. Creating relatable personalities and rounded characters is more than good writing, it will broadens a novel’s appeal. Don’t shy away from differently abled characters either. Much of the story’s conflicts come from the characters’ physical and mental disabilities and how that impacts them.
3. This a great example of a book series with a strong first book but better follow-ups. Ee never faltered in her vision for “Angelfall” (or is she did, it doesn’t show in the final products). Writer’s fatigue or a series decline in quality is not a constant fact of life! The direction, pacing, and sense of stakes remains strong in each of Ee’s books.
Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol, Sara C. Roethle, T. A. White, Charlie N. Holmberg, and Meg Elison.
Along my reading, I picked up Amy A. Bartol’sSecondborn. Even as someone who thrives on the drama of a YA post apocalypse world, I didn’t expect to like this book. I’d just been burned by the likes of Death Thieves and The Hundredth Queen. All three YA books trying to take advantage of my love of The Hunger Games and all three of books have 4 star reviews in Amazon and Goodreads. When will these writers get that what made Hunger Games amazing wasn’t just the kids fighting in the arena? So, curious despite myself, I picked up Secondborn expecting it to either disappoint or be a guilty pleasure.
Instead Secondborn and it’s sequel Traitor Born were a joy read and touch on larger conversations we need to have in today’s world. Bartol focuses on the heart of what’s great in post apocalypse YA: the transformation of the main character and their perception of the world around them. First, I appreciated Roselle as a savvy character who avoids the “ignorant for the sake of exposition” trope. From the beginning, Roselle shows she is a smart character aware of differing undercurrents even if she’s not sure of how deep those waters flow. Her thoughts and feelings change as she has new experiences and uncovers more schemes in the world around her.
Through Roselle the reader learns to empathize with many perspectives. By the time I finished the second book, Traitor Born, I was no longer sure there was a “good side” or “bad side”. It’s a rare risk for a writer to twist the bad characters into ones we might understand and to muddy the water so we despite the good characters. I read plenty ambiguous characters or where one “side” transforms into not the villain/not the hero, but leaving a reader with no character to trust or side with is bold and exciting. Even as I can’t “support” or “root” for any one outcome, I empathize with them. I want relief for these characters, but it’s not to accomplish their goals.
Amid this shifting terrain, Roselle sinks, struggling with PTSD, and a series of complicated interpersonal relationships. Her flashbacks, the way she falls to pieces in key moments and rises in others, and how she struggles with drugs feels authentic and relevant. I thought I’d decided about who I wanted with Roselle as allies or friends, who Roselle should work with and who she should keep at arm’s length, but Traitorborn makes me question the decisions I made. There’re dangerous edges on everyone and redeeming qualities. I resented my favorite ally from the last book, forgot how evil/distasteful another character was because he has these moments of genuine connection, and I thought someone who was once a snake in the grass might become a true ally.
And I haven’t even gotten to the science fiction. Unlike The Giver or The Hunger Games, that keep technology vague and only available to isolated pockets of society, Secondborn distributes the technology to everyone. The gadgets themselves aren’t innovative, chips in webbing or right hands to track and grant access, hover vehicles and airships, robots who are servants/guards/trackers/medics, and a weapon that seems a cross between a light sabre and a plasma gun. All ideas I’ve seen before right? Bartol re-images these ideas to give a fresh unique society. The world and the devices of it feel lived in and true. Beyond the existing tech, Bartol continues to introduce upgrades and improvements to her tech. It starts in one spot with these flaws and then a patch comes out. The upgrades make her world feel more real and provide new challenges for her characters to overcome.
I’m glad I read the first two books (even if both endings are cliffhangers) and am looking forward to the third installment. If you like a future society where teens and young adults have to fight for their lives, you will enjoy this series. While a simple premise, the layers of nuance make it enjoyable and thought provoking to many age groups.
Take Aways From Bartol’s Success:
1. Don’t be afraid to market an idea another book/work made famous just BRING VALUE, don’t expect other’s success to sell a sub par work
2. Have complicated dynamic characters and don’t limit quantity. Readers can keep up with you as long at each character has a personality-and embrace the baggage being in traumatic situations leaves these characters. Let them have flashbacks, PTSD, aggressive or tearful reactions to simple daily events.
3. Don’t shy away from near future tech in your science fiction. Embrace the evolution of these systems to make them feel real and dynamic within your world.
4. Female leads can be emotional and strong/combat oriented. Roselle is a great balance of action/battle training and intelligent emotional thinking.
5. Have a kick-ass looking personal website. Just look at Bartol’s website, the graphics and layout make me want to read her work more than her covers! She’s inviting her readers’ imagination to tackle fan fiction for her characters, and through their fannish excitement, spread her work to new audiences.