Friday, April 4, 2014

On Not Reading the Final Book in a Trilogy: Understandable or Incomprehensible?

by Sara N.

We here at Stellar Four don't always finish what we start. Earlier this year, Megan 'fessed up to bailing on my beloved Harry Dresden. And I, too, have stopped reading long-running series when the sequels kept diminishing in quality and there was no end in sight. (In other words, see ya, Sookie Stackhouse. Stop calling, Sandman Slim. It's not me, it's you, Anita Blake.)

This is a very good trilogy. The ones I'm about to discuss are not.
That said, only a masochist wouldn't bother to pick up the final book of a trilogy, right? I mean, you've put all of that time and emotional energy into reading the first two installments, and the final book of the series is going to wrap up all of those dangling plots and put a THE END on the story and its characters. You'd have to be nuts not to find out how the story all pulls together, obviously.

Yeah, that's what I always thought, too. Yet a number of trilogy enders are being published this year, and I just don't care enough to read the final installments. Let's run down why.

The first reason is disappointing reviews for book 3. I quite liked Veronica Roth's first two books in the Divergent series, but I couldn't ignore the shockingly low star rating on Amazon. Then, in reading a few of the reviews, I stumbled across enough spoilers that I concluded that I could happily live without experiencing the actual resolution of Tris' story. It wasn't the specific SPOILER that turned me away — although that was a huge turnoff, I'll admit — but it was the repeated complaints about the shoddy writing, the uninspired shifts in narration, and the generally confused storytelling that convinced me to stay away. (I'm even less enthused about the movie series now that I know how the story will end. Wonder if anyone else stayed away for that reason?)

The second reason is lack of enthusiasm for the trilogy as a whole. I forced myself to power through the first two books in Glen Duncan's Last Werewolf series, neither of which I really enjoyed but which had occasional bursts of wickedly clever writing and enough brutal action scenes to keep me interested. I hated all of the characters, but I plodded through. However, the thought of picking up book 3 and spending more time with all of those horrible people? I couldn't do it, you guys. I just couldn't.

The third reason is that morbid curiosity isn't enough, and life is too short. So hey, the final book in Deborah Harkness's Discovery of Witches series comes out in July. Guess what I won't be reading! I slogged through Harkness's terribly overhyped, terribly boring first book. Her second one was better, but it wasn't good by any stretch. (So why did I even bother reading her second one in the first place? SPOILER for a three-year old book: Book 1 ends with our heroes traveling back in time, and I will read pretty much anything with time travel.) This bafflingly acclaimed series never captured my imagination or sparked any real passion in me, but I kept reading it to try to understand why reputable literary critics were losing their minds over it. The prospect of book 3, which is already No. 1 on the Amazon occult fiction list (ugh, why?), leaves me cold. Worse, these books are long, which makes skipping the last one even easier. I can find better uses of almost 600 pages' worth of time.

Please note that I'm not a serial trilogy non-finisher. I'm already bouncing in my chair in anticipation of the final books in Lev Grossman's Magicians series and Laini Tayler's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Whether I read the third book in Justin Cronin's Passage series will heavily depend on the reviews and whether the third book recaptures the heart-pounding sweep of the first. Oh, and I would punch your grandmother in the face if it meant I could get my hands on Patrick Rothfuss' yet-to-be-completed final book in the Kingkiller Chronicles sometime soon. (OK, I wouldn't do that; your grandma's a nice lady.)

So have you had a trilogy you bailed on in the final act? Or do you force yourself to finish book 3, no matter what?
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  1. Understandable, so long that you aren't enjoying the previous novels. I still slog through at some point (Ken Scholes Psalms of Isaak) out of raw curiosity, but that's where curiosity wins out over my disappointment with the series.

    Those instances where I flat out don't care - I'm out, I'm done. I'm perfectly happy not finishing a book (which, I believe, is even more anathema to others)

    1. I've gotten a lot better about putting down a book I'm not enjoying. I still haven't gotten through Super Sad True Love Story, despite three attempts.

  2. First off, thanks for posting a link to that Allegiant review. I couldn't get past the world building plot holes of the first book and now feel justified in not continuing.

    I used to finish a series - and a book for that matter - whether I liked it or not. Now I just don't have time for that. In addition to the reasons you mentioned, my biggest reason for not completing a series is that by the time the third book comes out I don't remember what happened in books 1 and 2 anymore. When I was young I had time to reread books, but I don't really have time for that now. So I either skim the previous books or try to figure out what happened while reading the third (which has mixed results depending on how much backstory the author includes in the first few chapters). Raymond E. Feist did a fantastic thing with the first series of his Riftwar saga (and maybe the others, I stopped reading them after a while), where for each book he included a quick summary of the previous books. I REALLY wish all series books had one of those so I could just jump right in to the next book.

    It's so disappointing when the first book in a series is fantastic and later ones just can't hold up though.

    1. Oh, that's a good one, too! If the series didn't make enough of an impression on me that I can't remember the first two books after a year or two, why pick up No. 3?

    2. Or, worse. When the author takes 5, 10, 15 years between books. It is really easy to not pick up the concluding volume.

  3. I usually go ahead and read the third book in a trilogy if I got through books 1 and 2. That said, if a series goes past the book 4 or 5 mark, I usually don't continue on because I feel like that author is taking time away from the gazillion other authors I'd like to read.