Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sequel Fatigue

So, I was reading James Dashner’s The Maze Runner and was having a pretty good time. (With his last name, how could Dashner write a book with anything but that title?) I pushed past some excessive jargon at the beginning, identifying with the protagonist’s need to know, and built up affection for a few supporting characters. Then, the action started racing along at a pretty good clip. I was along for the ride, but as the pages dwindled, I started getting suspicious: “There is very little room left to wrap up the story, this safety at the end seems very fishy…OHGOSHDARNIT. Not again!” It was then I realized that I had another series in my hands.*

You see, I have a few concerns when it comes to approaching a series of books:

1. I like to come into the reading experience fully aware. That way, I can prepare and manage my expectations. (Even better is when the entire series has already been published, so I can blaze through them.) When I pick up a book and don’t know it’s a sequel/part of a trilogy, I experience frustration level “ARGH!” at the end. It just feels like a trick when I’m only looking for a resolution, messy or otherwise.

2. With a series, there’s always the waiting. Trilogies are the worst. If there’s only one book published, I have to sweat out two more books. If the original and the sequel are out, I usually have a long wait for closure. During the wait, I have to keep up with the release dates and remember enough of the plot (maybe even reread) to get all there is out of the next books. ARGH.

3. The terrible truth of trilogies is that the finale can disappoint and casts a shadow over the rest of the series. (See: Mockingjay) When a series is popular, the pressure to publish is on. The author is writing as fast as they can, cramming in as much as possible and trying to resolve everything. The final installment can reek of panic, even if the author plotted. (That is not to say the opposite can’t be true. Some series get really bloated.) Sometimes, authors can use a little distance, a bit of breathing room to help them avoid wrapping with too much sentimentality or the “over-preach.” (See Megan Whalen Turner, whose four equally awesome books are spaced fourteen years apart.) Fast or slow though, it’s a lose-lose. Even the space can’t help with reader expectations. Harry Potter (which was masterfully plotted and perfect in my eyes) disappointed a ton of people, even if it contained seven books and was a series almost twenty years in the making.

4. Conversely, when you move beyond trilogy territory, you usually have to slog through a TON of books. When I was younger, I made it through most of Redwall before giving up. Ditto Mercedes Lackey and Ann McCaffrey. I simply couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of output and still read other things. Even now, though I really want to read them, eyeballing The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Sword of Truth series make me want to break out in hives.

I definitely understand the impulse to serialize, especially with fantasy. An author builds a whole world, but it may just “go to waste” if they only set one book there. Readers too grow attached, not wanting to leave the world or the characters an author lovingly crafts. (Oh my gosh, the second of The Kingkiller Chronicle is coming out so soon.) I also see it from a publishing perspective. Series make major money because there is a captive audience waiting to find out what’s next.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some series as much as the next gal. I adore Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. I devoured Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel trilogy. (Those books are how you write interesting vampires, n00bs.) Harry Potter, automatic duh. I am so fond of Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and (the jump-ahead sequel) Rose in Bloom. I also appreciate the art of the companion novel. They manage to get around some serious series pitfalls, giving the reader a new story while letting them visit someplace familiar (perhaps seeing a few familiar faces as well.) Graceling and its companion Fire by Kristin Cashore? Totally behind those and will wait happily for companion number three. Another longstanding favorite pair is Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and its “prequel” The Hero and the Crown.

I guess in the end, I do love the pain, even if I’m forced to be on my guard with all current YA literature. I will say this: I think it would be better for everyone involved if trilogies came with a warning label. Don’t just do it for me…Do it for the children.

*I want to be clear that this is not a post booing The Maze Runner. (In summary: Dashner describes the book on his blog as “ENDER'S GAME meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets HOLES, three of my favorite books. Throw in a little LOST, too.” Against those titles, The Maze Runner pales in comparison, but it does fairly well on its own.) While it wasn’t the best thing I ever read, I was engaged enough to want some daggone answers by the end! I was particularly drawn to the idea of keeping societal order in an impossible situation to stave off hopelessness. On more low-brow note, the slang was quite funny. Plus, it’s always nice to run across a male author in YA, even if his monsters were kind of lame.


  1. I found out Dumbledore died a book and a half early. ARGH!

  2. Oh noes! Number 5 on the list should totally be spoilers.

  3. I just found your blog via Angieville, and I can't wait to read more.

    Thanks, also, for confirming that I can probably continue my life without trying to read Maze Runner again!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Read the Book! There's always more where this came from. :)

  5. I felt this way about The Knife of Never Letting Go (Book 1 in the Chaos Walking series) by Patrick Ness. I didn't realize that was going to be a trilogy until right at the end (2 years ago) and AGONIZED waiting for books 2 & 3. Also, I've been reading the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan - now on book 9. It's starting to feel a little Redwall-esque, but I have to admit to loving each one just the same. At least I don't have to play catch-up!

  6. Rebecca, it's so funny that you mention that book now! I've been sniffing around Candlewick Press' catalog recently and ran across TKoNLG. I'll take your agonizing as a recommendation and add it to my BPL queue. :)