Ever since they changed around my thyroid medication at the beginning of the year, I have had a hard time falling asleep (unfortunately, I also have a very hard time waking up, too... It's sort of a lose-lose situation). To combat my initial insomnia, I started a practice I like to call "Reading Books I Wouldn't Normally Read (BIWNNR)." This is most-assuredly financed by Amazon, as all of the BIWNNR come straight from their Free Book Collection (a list is made available by ereadernewstoday.com; if you have a Kindle and have not made use of this amazing website, you need to get on it ASAP). I have a rather large collection of BIWNNR, now, and I'm not going to lie... I really won't read some of these. There have been a few I have started, gotten four pages into and said "No. Just... no." But, because I am not out anything, it's all good. Most of the time, the BIWNNR are decent, but because they are not my normal fare, they tend to help me fall asleep because I lose interest in warring robots or middle-aged women angsting over their recent divorce.
The Wretched of Muirwood Trilogy by Jeff Wheeler. It started off kind of slow, but by the time I was on book 2, I was hooked (I read the second and third books in 18 hours... I didn't go to sleep until 4 am, and I had to be up by 7. Thus the reason my eyes are protesting their sockets).
The trilogy is definitely of the fantasy genre, though I picked up on some strong allegorical themes. I'm not sure if those themes were intentional or if I was imagining them, but I think you could make a safe argument for either. The setting is a fictional country in a fictional world, in which the monarchy is systematically killing off all of those who have taken a sort of "religious"/educational vow (I say religious loosely because it's not really a religion. Or it is. Allegory is weird that way). Only those who pass a test are allowed to take the vow, and they take the test after years of study. For the most part, those who attend the institutions (or Abbeys) are nobles or of the middle class, though not all who attend take the vows.The lowest caste, the wretcheds, are orphaned children who work in the Abbeys, and are forbidden to read or write. That, of course, is where the story begins--with a wretched (as if that wasn't obvious from the title...)
This is one of those stories that I think has the ability to really speak to a lot of "ages." The main character, Lia, is in her young-to-mid teens most of the trilogy. You meet her for the first time at nine, but that is a brief encounter. The Wretched of Muirwood sees her mostly at thirteen, and she's kind of an immature thirteen, but blossoms and matures a lot in the second two books, The Blight of Muirwood and The Scourge of Muirwood, as she makes it to her sixteenth/seventeenth year. Her age is rarely an issue, though, as she's a very strong, likable character, and one with whom I think male readers could also relate. Her one desire is to learn how to read and write, a luxury that is denied her due to the unknown circumstances of her birth. Because she has no family, she lives and works for one of the religious/educational institutes in the kitchen. But she is bright, resourceful, precocious, and most importantly, loyal. The other characters are all very likable, even through their faults (her best friend is timid and a heavy sleeper, her new friend is very stern and unfriendly, etc); and I even found myself loving to hate the antagonists.
I'm not going to go into the plot lines--you can read those on Amazon. But what I will say is that I highly recommend these books. I mean, what's a better recommendation than: "I got the first book for free, and then paid $3 for each of the subsequent books because they were that good?" And this coming from someone who has unabashedly told you she gets most of her books off the free lists.
I really had no idea what to expect up until the very end. There were so many twists in the final book that I was preparing myself to be mad at the author for a variety of reasons. In fact, I had a pit in my stomach (at 2 in the morning) when I knew for sure there was no way he could make it all work out in such a way that I wasn't screaming or yelling or crying over what happened... But he somehow managed to make it work (though not for everyone or everything... so don't go thinking this is a Stephenie Meyer ending).
Okay. I've said too much. Someone go read these (now!) so I can revel in the glory of knowing I found a truly awesome trilogy... Or something.