Friday, 14 June 2013

The Return of Sequelitis

In my last post, I examined what it was about sequels that frustrated me and turned me off from reading the next instalment. This week I want to share what I love about sequels and what keeps me entranced with a series.

If you study my book wall (see below), which is what I've named the stack of books in my bedroom which no longer fit in my existing bookcase, there is certainly a trend to be found. Aside from the fact that most books I read are YA Speculative Fiction, and for some reason: the majority have a black spine, they also tend to belong to a series. This started many years ago, when I struggled to find authors which I enjoyed reading. I purposely searched for novels in a series so that I could guarantee there would be at least two more books that I could buy from the same author and enjoy. Now it seems like the bulk of YA novels (especially in Spec Fic) are part of a series, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a stand-alone novel, which can be a good thing or bad thing—see previous post! Today, let's focus on the good.

More of what you love plus something you didn't expect:
A sequel is like a nice warm cup of coffee (or tea–your choice!) that you have each morning: it's familiar and comforting. It brings a sense of homecoming; the characters are welcomed and beloved, the writing style is reassuring and you can submerge into the world with ease. Yet sometimes you want a dash of spice with your coffee (or my favourite: peppermint). Great sequels do this, they maintain all the reasons you loved the first book but also add something that is different and unexpected, yet still fits within the world already established.

One of my favourite YA sequels is Kendare Blake's Girl of Nightmares sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood, which has to be one of the best book titles of all time! The sequel has all the gore and fantastic creepy detail from the first book, but also feels new and fresh by adding a layer of adventure that wasn't in Anna Dressed in Blood. I can't recommend that duology enough, go read it people!

Sequels flesh out the world:
World building is essential to good Speculative Fiction, so no matter how unbelievable your premise is, the reader can picture the world in their mind and are swept along for the ride. This takes time, you can't just cram the whole world's mythology down a reader's throat in the first few chapters, unless you want to commit the dreaded “info dump”. The more complex and different the world is to our own, the more time we need to spend discovering it as we turn each page.

Often there are ideas and concepts only hinted at in the first novel and sequels provide the opportunity to develop these into fully-fledged themes and plots. It's a wonderful pay-off for readers when they experience that light-bulb moment and pick up on a small detail that was mentioned in book one, which becomes paramount in the sequel. It's a great reward for those who stick with a series.

Characters become more interesting and detailed:
When you really love a book, you want nothing more than to spend additional time with the characters and see how they evolve. Whilst characters should always change in someway by the end of a novel, often it's not until the sequel that we can see the full extent in which the events of the first book has transformed their lives. It allows characters to feel more real and have greater depth. 

As mentioned in my previous post, if I don't care about the characters then I'm unlikely to return to the series. My favourite books are character-driven stories, it's their lives, plight and adventures that I am enraptured by. It's often said that in a good book you cannot separate plot and character, that one is fiercely intertwined with the other. Most of the series I have read follows this structure and are strongly focused on characters in addition to having a fantastical premise. With a series you have to keep developing the characters from book to book, they cannot remain stagnant, or the reader will become bored and find the story predictable.

That's not to say I don't read and enjoy stand-alone novels, but I always experience a feeling of dread as I near the final pages of an enjoyable book, at least with a series I know it's not over yet!

If you have any series recommendations please let me know.

Until next time,
My ever-growing book wall

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