I hate sequels. They’re never as good as the first book.
– Connie Willis
Can I just start by saying that I absolutely do not agree with this idea (even though I love Connie Willis and think she’s a brilliant writer)? I’m more on the side of “but I love these characters and I want the author to write as many good pages about them as is humanly possible…and when he or she is worn out, the fans can take over.” I can think of very few exceptions this rule, and it’s unusual for me to read a book and refuse to finish the series. The Maze Runner, which I reviewed earlier this year, is on that short list, but not because James Dashner lacked talent or huge potential for more story. No, it was because that book scared the bejeesus out of me, and when I read the first chapter of the second book, I couldn’t sleep for a week. (If you, however, know of a teenager who hates to read but doesn’t mind violence, that is the trilogy I recommend.)
Part of the reason I love sequels so much is because as a writer, my favorite part of any story is the characters. A good plot is certainly important, but the characters are my obsession. This was true even when I was a kid and storming our tiny library weekly. Mostly what I could find that was relatively age appropriate for an elementary school book-worm were things like Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club. While they weren’t exactly gripping stories, they did open me up to the vast potential of multi-book character development, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I remember when I friend introduced me to the Xanth and Pern books in the fifth grade, and I could feel myself moving slowly up the ladder toward authors who would love their characters as much as I did.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy stand-alone novels, because I do. They are carefully crafted, beautiful, self-contained experiences, and I wouldn’t want to lose that ache I feel at the end of a good book that’s just…over. It’s that sometimes, a good sequel, or trilogy, or series hits the spot. And I’m a little sad that many of the ones I have loved best have been published since I was in my teens (mainly because I would have loved to have more options as a child). There has been, in recent years, a wonderful resurgence of authors interested in telling multi-volume stories, and I’m thrilled about that. It requires a different tactic than the one-off, and the more authors interested in refining the necessary skills to do this well, the better the books become for us.
That being said, an area of sequels exists that’s a little murky – the continuation with a different set of protagonists. This is where The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group falls, and it suffered because of it. In fact, I was about halfway through the book before I began to engage at all with the new characters, and incidentally, that’s when Jinks began introducing the newbies to the vampires from the first book. Once she brought these people together, everything began to fall into place. The pace of the plot picked up, the protagonist became more likable, and the stakes were raised; we got back into the territory where Jinks really shines. The first half of the book spent too much time on the build-up, when what we wanted to know – what even the author cared most about – was when will the fighting start?! I suspect, at least, that it’s what she cares about because when she gets there, she writes a damn good story. Just like she did with Vampires. She probably should have left the beginning to somebody like me, who’s less interested in moving the story forward than in making the reader want to bleed for the characters, heroes and villains alike.
(Seriously though. Where’s my author counterpart? The one with the grand plan, the subplots and disaster? I need to find that person and hang on for dear life, so that I can get away with just writing emotionally wrenching/adorable fluff…)
I have to admit I’m curious now to read one of her other popular titles, Evil Genius, just to compare her storytelling technique. I suspect she does her best work on books that could be stand-alone novels (although she often has written sequels for them), but I’ll have to explore further before I know for sure. I hope it’s true because when she’s on the ball, she is really on it, and I’m looking forward to more of what she does best.
Check out Catherine Jinks’ huge collection of books over here.
As a side note: I’m heading out on a two-week trip to the other side of the world, so my posts will probably be a little irregular while I’m away. I still plan to post on Mondays and Thursdays, but I don’t know yet whether I’ll be writing about vacation reading, short stories, or lazily posting quotes or links I think fellow readers may be interested in. At the very least, I can almost guarantee they’ll be shorter than normal. Consider it a test run for November when I’ll be juggling reviews with completing book contract due December 1st and my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.