When Sequels Disappoint + Mini-review of Queen of Shadows

sequels foto (2)

Earlier this year, I started the popular book series Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and I was really excited about it because it had an awesome heroine, cool secondary characters, interesting world building, and a plot to make you speed-turn every page. So I did speed-read the first books, Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, but then the third, Heir of Fire, started to be a bit off. However, I just thought of that as being because the awesome characters were apart and that it would heat back up in the fourth book, Queen of Shadows (QoS). You know, like The Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings-trilogy, where things are slowly moving forward until the greater showdown in The Return of the King, and you don’t mind since you know the plot is evolving. That’s what I hoped for while reading Heir of Fire, perhaps making my expectations grow even larger for Queen of Shadows. Sadly, it felt like a huge let down when I finished that a couple of weeks ago.

I have actually been angry at how it deteriorated because of its enormous potential. If you follow my Instagram you could see my post when I got the book and how excited I was. You know what? I was not just angry, I was actually pissed off and I am not even 100% sure that I will read Empire of Storms (EoS) coming this autumn, or at least not with any great enthusiasm. My problem? What started out as an awesome heroine with a semi-realistic love life (it’s YA fantasy so never going to be really realistic) became full-fletched in Queen of Shadows a cringe-worthy spectacle of a potentially very unhealthy symbiotic relationship. I have not read Twilight but from what I have read about that trilogy, the evolving relationship between Celeana/Aelin and Rowan echoes Bella and Edward’s. It was disturbing to read, and maybe I am showing my age, but I am worried about how adolescents will view this given how awesome and inspirational Celeana was previously. And given this was a 600+ page novel, I expected more than cliché sexual tension between two people who don’t see each other that clearly and my toes being in pain because of it.

Let me be clear and precise, I am firmly AGAINST censorship of books (or anything at all); however, I do think writers for younger age groups have a certain responsibility with what they present to their readers. Celeana started out with flaws and strength. She evoked inspiration and pride in being a survivor and a young woman. We wished her happiness and ways to overcome her flaws. While the first at a glance may be coming for her in QoS and EoS, her flaws have intensified. The only character left to challenge her is her ex but Maas completely writes him off as being jealous and unsupportive of her (now Aelin) newfound powers despite spending the previous three books making him the voice of honour and reason as well as a well-matched romantic partner for her. So Aelin’s flaws are not checked and she doesn’t grow as a person, only whines, to which she has gained two new subjects who don’t question her – at all. Chaol is right when he fears that she could become as big a tyrant and a monster like the King of Ardalan because she shows many signs of becoming just that. That pains me because I would hate to see such a promising female character turning into an Evil Queen-trope with a pathetic love life to boot and to have that presented as a great relationship goal to young readers which I can already see happening on social media.

Thankfully, if rounding up this mini-review of QoS, the story lines of Lysandra and Manon kept the story going despite Maas butchering what I personally loved in the first books. They are the reasons I gave QoS three stars on Goodreads and I was feeling very generous and still a little optimistic for EoS. If I do read EoS, these are the characters I am interested in, not the unhealthy and cringing Aelin/Rowan plot.

With this mini-rant over, I started to think about when sequels and books in series disappoint. As mentioned in the beginning, The Two Towers never really is that interesting despite the Ents, Gollum, and the Rohan characters coming along. You only read on for the epic ending you know will come. You read to spot the foreshadowing but I personally wasn’t that involved. Dealing with fantasy trilogies, it is perhaps a common problem and one overlooked because we know the end is coming soon, so we continue the series and read the next book regardless. This is much harder with longer series and what the Throne of Glass-series is starting to suffer from (according to Maas the series will end with book six sometime next year). The longer series, the more pay-off we want for the time we spend on each novel. Ironically, the more pages in a series the less room for mistakes there is. The pages start to count and what is happening on them is pivotal. I have a couple of other in my opinion not-so-good follow-up books in book series showing one where I haven’t continued the series and one where I did.

Lars-Henrik Olsen’s viking fantasy trilogy of Erik Menneskesøn started out as an amazing adventure but fell flat in the sequel, Kampen om sværdet. The narrative devise of describing the battle scenes from the point of view from the modern-day girlfriend back home was just plain boring to me. A Danish living room from the 1990s was not that fascinating to read about. We lived in a house with one – that was enough. I wanted the adventure of the Norse gods like in the first book and actually felt betrayed because I was denied that. To me it was such a huge let down that I haven’t yet read the last book despite owning the trilogy. I might attempt the series again because the first book was my childhood dream and with all the interest in Norse mythology going on abroad and here in Denmark in recent years, I could perhaps hold through the shortest book of the trilogy and finish it. However, I do think you can read the first book as a stand-alone novel.

The second book, which came to mind was the fourth book (plot-wise not release date) in the Anne of Green Gables-series, Anne of Windy Poplars. I have since read that it was written long after the original books and I think that shows. The narrative structure and overall voice is slightly different compared to the original books and I actually think you could skip it if you want to along with the seventh book, which I also think was written long after. It is not like they are boring but they are clearly ‘fillers’, filling up the time gaps from the end of Anne of the Island (3) to Anne’s House of Dreams (5) and Anne of Ingleside (6) to Rilla of Ingleside (8). This series I did continue and loved it, so I do recommend muddling through this fourth just in case you feel as I did.

I know many find the second book in the Harry Potter-series, Chamber of Secrets, to be the worst. I actually hold that quite dear myself, as I find that the much larger plot really starts there and our main characters and important secondary ditto make pivotal choices, which affect the rest of the series as well as maintain the charm, which captivated us in the first book. It has been many years since I read the later books but I have a vague memory of finding the fifth and the last one, Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows, to be less engaging than the others. Maybe it was the dragging on with finding the deathly hallows and really getting to the showdown but I did find these books longer than necessary.

Speaking of being longer than necessary, some will undoubtedly find several of George R.R. Martin’s books in A Song of Ice and Fire way too long. I admit that for once I love the astonishing attention to detail and that all the senses are invoked. That said, A Dance With Dragons was long without that much plot evolving. In this particular series, I am more on the fence regarding certain POV-characters than whole books. For instance, I was bored stiff with Ned Stark’s chapters in the first book and several of Caitlyn’s too. On the other hand, I absolutely adore Bran, Sansa, and Theon Grejoy/Reek’s chapters. That shit is good writing!

So as with most things, it is timing, outside circumstances, age, experience etc, which decide what you like in a book and what make you continue with a series. I have also read series with installments, which I felt were equally good (e.g. The Hunger Games), equally mediocre (e.g. Daughter of Smoke & Bone), and read firsts, which was just ‘meh’ (e.g. City of Bones). I acknowledge that it is incredibly hard to write, and to write book after book about the same characters in the same world, especially if the previous books were hyped, must be even more difficult. But wouldn’t it perhaps have been better with shorter series or just one really awesome stand-alone novel? Based on that I would love if some readers could try to answer the question below.

Q: What makes you continue or decide to stop reading a book-series if a sequel or follow-up falls short of your expectations?

And one for the possible writers: What makes you continue writing a series or decide to stop?


DANSK:

Jeg har læst og elsket de første tre bøger i Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass-serie, men hold da op hvor blev jeg skuffet over den fjerde, Queen of Shadows! Faktisk var jeg direkte sur over at det mest lignede en Twilight-fortælling mellem Celeana/Aelin og hendes fae-prins Rowan. Det synes jeg ikke er godt nok på så lang en bog og i en allerede lang serie. Egentlig er jeg ikke helt sikker på om jeg gider læse den næste i serien, som udkommer på engelsk til efteråret. Jeg gav QoS tre stjerner på Goodreads men det var af stor velvilje overfor de foregående bøger og så Lysandra og Manons historier. De giver mig lidt håb for de to sidste bøger.

Dog begyndte jeg i stedet at tænke over hvilke andre serier, jeg har været mere eller mindre skuffet over nogle af de efterfølgende bøger og der var især tre, som sprang frem. Den første er bind to af Lars-Henrik Olsen om Erik Menneskesøn, Kampen om sværdet. Jeg var så vild med etteren og blev så skuffet over den måde toeren blev fortalt på. I stedet for at være på første række til de seje vikingegudeslag, så fulgte vi bare en eller anden pige i tordenvejr. ØV! Den skuffede mig så meget, at jeg aldrig læste tredje bog, Kvasers blod, men måske kunne jeg blive fristet da jeg har serien på hylden.

Den anden bog jeg kom til at tænke på var den fjerde bog om Anne fra Grønnebakken, Anne på egne ben. Jeg har siden fundet ud af, at den er skrevet og udgivet længe efter de originale bøger om hende og det synes jeg godt man kan mærke på indholdet og fortællerstemmen. Den er stadig charmerende, men den er også tydeligt ‘fyld’ mellem bog tre og fem. Faktisk mener jeg godt den uden problemer kan skippes. Dog har jeg læst hele Anne-serien og holder ekstremt meget af den, så der kan jeg kun anbefale at læse videre.

Den mest kendte toer er måske Tolkiens De to tårne fra Ringenes herre, som for mig aldrig blev helt medrivende på trods af enter, Rohans riddere og Gollum. Dog vidste jeg at den var en mellemstation til det helt store sus i tredje og sidste bog, Kongen vender tilbage, så det var bare at holde ud. Måske er det et særligt problem i fantasy-trilogier, for jeg synes ofte man ser tendenser til at nogle efterfølgende bøger ikke er helt så gode som start- og slutbogen.

Jeg ved at en del synes Hemmelighedernes kammer i Harry Potter-sagaen er den kedeligste, men der tilhører jeg mindretalet, for jeg synes netop den er en af de bedste. Den er brydningspunktet mellem alle de vigtigste karakterers fremtid og de valg, de tager heri bliver skelsættende. Samtidig har den stadig charmen og det forunderlige vi blev så overvældet af i De vises sten. For mig var Fønixordenen og Dødsregalierne mere kedelige og jeg synes, at de var for lange. Det skal dog nævnes at det er mange år siden jeg har læst de sidste tre-fire bøger, så måske har jeg misset en del (jeg har heller ikke set de sidste fire film).

Med hensyn til at skrive for langt, så vil nogen nok sige, at George R.R. Martins uendelige saga om Game of Thrones er for lang. Men jeg elsker alle detaljerne deri og det at alle sanserne bliver forkælet. Okay, måske er Dansen med drager en smule for lang i forhold til hvor lidt det overordnede plot udvikler sig, men jeg er mere utålmodig med visse fortællere end selve bøgerne. Ned Stark og Caitlyns kapitler var lidt kedelige men jeg kan se de var nødvendige for plottet. Til gengæld er jeg helt oppe og ringe over Bran, Sansa og Theons!

Der er selvfølgelig mange ting, som gør sig gældende med hvad der får en til at holde af en bog eller ej, men jeg er faktisk meget interesseret i hvad der får andre til at læse videre i en serie hvor en bog har skuffet eller hvorfor man måske vælger at stoppe?

 

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About Ann-Cathrine 38 Articles
Established 1987 in Aarhus, Denmark. MA degree in English and Art History from Aarhus University, Denmark. Loves books, art, writing, coffee, dandelions, paper dolls, and haute couture.