I understand the desire by both authors and readers for book series. Indeed, they’re so prevalent, especially in YA, science fiction and fantasy, that my kids will ask me which book I’m on; near shock ensues when I tell them there’s only one book, no series. Readers are drawn to them through a more develop story and characters as well as the relative safety of knowing what they’re getting into. Like restaurant chains, book series reduce risk of our time and money on a less than a good read. Publishers love them because a good fan-base fuel sales and provide a built-in audience for the next book. Authors love them because they allow for richer storylines and more complex characters; they also provide a basis for the ever-pressured next book.
That’s not to say the safe path leads to mediocrity; there are great books in some series. One of my pet peeves, however, is when a book in a series really can’t stand on its own, by which I mean that it doesn’t have enough resolution and storyline to be satisfying without the other books in the series. For example, each of the book in the Narnia series could live on its own. The books in Ender’s Saga can as well (indeed, as much as I love Orson Scott Card, some of the later books could be avoided completely without major loss of the overall storyline. Today, I finished a good book, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
I’ll more fully review it later, but it has all that delights: well-developed characters, compelling storyline and detailed settings including a fantasy world that doesn’t match every other world in the genre. He presents this with reasonably good word smithing. This book, however, would be a major disappointment if you didn’t continue reading the series. Aha! you say – exactly what the writer and publisher desire. You need to buy the next one. I believe that’s bad book economics. I should want to buy the next one because I loved the first. Where I miss my characters and want to walk and talk with them again, not because I have a massively unresolved storyline. A cliffhanger is somewhat OK, Fellowship of the Ring does that (not quite a series since the trilogy was intended as one book) but still wraps up the first leg of the journey quite well. The Name of the Wind just ends. (The epilogue at the end doesn’t a wrap-up make). Do I need everything wrapped in a beautiful bow, of course not. Life is messy and none of us knows the details of our story’s end. But it shouldn’t be an incomplete work either. The Name of the Wind is just that, incomplete (at 762 “pages”!) Now, I will grant that the sub-title provides a hint with “The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One”. Clearly, Day Two is coming, but even days have endings.
So a plea to our wonderful universe of authors: don’t just end – bring the book to completion even when there is another in the wings. We will buy the next one without that incentive (as long as we love the first). By the by, I will read The Wise Man’s Fear (Day Two) but I’m not inclined to start a new series of Rothfuss. Like I said, compelling through incompleteness is bad, long-term book economics.