One of the hardest tricks for an author to pull off is the series, and before you pull me up on that I know what your thinking as you read that, almost everyone writes in series… But that doesn’t stop it from being a problem I have found with the works of many a writer, because what I am talking about is writing a good series. A real series which continues to grow and expand with each new novel.
Anyone, (within reason, as the anyone I am talking about here is anyone who can write) can write a series of books. All you have to do is leave an open enough ending to do so, which often comes down to don’t kill off your protagonist, and let your antagonists get away, or be mere pawns for a greater antagonist. Depending on the genre, you don’t even need to do that, just having a few common threads running through your novels is enough to write a series of detective Ricardo Random novels. A few little links to the greater chain and your away.
With sci-fi and fantasy novels, more than other genres, a series tends to be a sum greater than its parts, or at least that’s what writers tend to be trying to achieve. It is also something of a norm for such genre’s. Readers like a series, they like something akin to the epic, something they know will grow around them, often as the world seems to grow around the protagonists getting ever more complex. It is also, all too often where for me as a reader they fail.
To pick a reasonably random example, mainly because I was discussing the books recently with a colleague at work who had them recommended to him, Robin Hobbs ‘Farseer trilogy’ is a series of novels I found disappointing. Despite the first novel of the series ‘Assasins Apprentice’ being one of the best fantasy books I read the year it came out. The problem was each of the sequels seemed less accomplished, though they were equally well written. Hobbs later novels set in the same world followed a similar pattern, and I can’t explain exactly why I felt this, but the first novel of each trilogy was easily the best, and then each trilogy seemed to lose that vital spark which had made the first book so compelling. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Hobb is a great writer, and her books are extremely good, they just don’t quite work as trilogies for me, there is something about her sequels that always seem to be a letdown.
Hobb is far from the only example, its a criticism I could and occasionally have leveled at many writers, and it is one I am making purely as a reader, so perhaps that’s just me. It doesn’t harm Robin Hobbs book sales, and she has a whole lot of fans out there so what do I know?
One of the problems is often sequels fail to have the same momentum, or they retrace the successful formula of the earlier books in the series. Take Harry Potter, while I loved the first couple of books, by the third my enjoyment of them started to wane. The rinse and repeat to the plots were a problem for me, which was to an extent was bound to happen given the formula to which they were written, but Harry goes to school, Harry falls out with everyone, everyone believes Harry is a liar, Harry saves the day and is a hero again started to grind on me. And yes, I dare say Miss Rowlings is not going to be too worried by my opinion, but its just that, an opinion.
Harry Potter is also not really a great example of my main problem with series, because Harry Potter was written with a clear end in mind. My main problem with series is better expressed by Robert Jordans ‘The Wheel of Time’ novels, an epic series of novels that grew to 14 books, three of them completed after the author’s death. This was despite the original plan been for three novels and you can see the point in the middle of book three where Robert Jordan’s publishers told him how well the book sales were going for the first novel… Suddenly halfway through book three, the big bad everything was building towards became a minor antagonist and the series was redrawn to its eventual epic scope. Which would not bother me as a reader at all had not the later books slowed down enormously, take on a ponderous aspect and basically drag out everything. The joys of the early novels were lost in this turgid swamp of new plot lines, new characters and less and less pace. By the time I gave up on the series around book eight the ‘Wheel’ was turning so slow it took a whole novel for a few weeks to pass in the main storyline. For me at least, the Wheel had virtually ground to a halt and I never went back to it.
So, if your paying attention to all that, you’re probably thinking, ‘ok, we get it, Mark, you don’t like series…’ Which isn’t true, I like a good series, in fact I love a great series, I just want one thing, one vital aspect which for me is the most important aspect of any series. The thing that makes a series great, is keeping that same vital undefinable spark that made me love the first book. Build on it, sure. Expand the stage, widen the ideas, bring more to the party, be better than the original, yes. Just don’t for the love of the fictional sky deity of your choice grind it down, don’t write it for the sake of writing it, and don’t just go through the motions. Robin Hobb’s novels (sorry to Mrs Hobb btw as I do really love her writing and recommend her books despite this opinion) would have been so much better if they were in pairs rather than trilogies. There is just something about the story arcs, the way they are written, and the stories themselves that would work so much better for me is they were across two books not, as it feels to me, with the second book stretched out into two to make them a trilogy because ‘trilogy’ is the standard form of the genre…
Okay, that’s my little rant out of the way. Why the rant? Well, that’s because with a degree of trepidation born mainly of my knowledge of how often I have been disappointed with later books in a series I sat down to read a new book by one of my favourite authors. The degree of trepidation was also greater than it would typically be when reading a novel in a series by one of my favourite authors for two reasons.
Firstly because I actually know the author personally and they are therefore not just an abstract figure who writes books I enjoy. (As opposed to Neil Gaiman for example whos books I also love, but I have never met him, I don’t have his email address and I don’t talk to him on a semi-regular basis over a pint and if I dislike his latest book for any reason I wouldn’t feel overly upset for him as I wouldn’t be likely to speak to him about it at any point.)
Secondly, despite some minor protestations on my part because I like to support other authors by buying their books, I was given a copy of this one by the author herself. (As opposed to Neil Gaiman who has never seen fit to send me a copy of his latest novel.)
As this particular book is the seventh book in a series, and I know how series often begin to chafe at me after a while, well if you have not got the gist of why I sat down to read this novel with a certain and definitely quantifiable degree of trepidation then you really have not been paying attention to the top half of this post… So all that said read it I must, not least because I was also looking forward to it and have been since I was sent a tiny bookette with an earlier draft of the first chapter of the novel back in September last year which the author had had printed for ComicCon… ( see this post on that subject last year if you haven’t before... which also explains all too much about me I suspect.)
Darkest Fears is as I said the seventh book of C.G.Hattons series set in her Thieves Guild universe. Its also, depending on how you count them either book 5 of the main series, or book 1 of the second series, books five and six been YA prequels to the main series… (And if you care for my own recommendation it’s read them in the order they were written, and if you have never read any of them do so…) So all that’s in mind it definitely falls into the epic series category,, so trepidation….
Also, bear in mind I don’t post bad reviews, ever, because if I don’t like a book I put it in the category of ‘it’s not for me‘ and move on. I won’t lie or sugar coat a review and I prefer to say nothing about the sliver of an authors soul they are putting out into the world if I don’t enjoy it myself because I would rather write ‘read this book it’s awesome‘ and encourage someone to read something I loved, than in any way undermine something that I didn’t enjoy that someone else probably will. (yes I know I have been less than nice about several authors earlier in this post, but they are big authors with broad shoulders, its not the same as me reviewing an indie author’s novel, and it’s purely my opinion on their novels, god knows given their sales my opinion is utterly irrelevant. I also have never reviewed their books on Amazon or elsewhere) So again as this is a book written by someone I know and who is probably what people less neurotic than I would just call a friend… So trepidation…
Anyway, what follows is the review, which is as ever utterly honest, from the heart and not in any way sugar coated that I will post on Amazon later today. (spoiler alert, clearly I liked it or I would not be posting a review. But if you’re paying any attention at all you probably figured that out by now as I would not have written this post at all if I didn’t.)
Darkest Fears By C.G.Hatton
This novel grabs you from the first paragraph and never lets go. The old cliche is ‘Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down’. Darkest fears is not a book you can’t put down, it’s a book that won’t let you put it down. It takes hold of you and drags you along, the action starts with the first sentence and never lets up. A joyous torrent of a story that sweeps along.
Like all C.G. Hattons books, it is incredibly well written, with an unending pace, a twisting gordian knot of a plot that turns here and there and back on itself yet never loses the reader, keeps surprising you, keeps you guessing, and always constantly enthralled as it pulls you ever deeper into the rich, expansive wonder of the thieves guild universe and those who inhabit its darkest corners and brightest stars…
Be warned, this book drives off the demons of sleep and if you read it at night you will find yourself still awake come dawn as the first rays of the sun great you as you finally read the end, exhausted, exhilarated and begging for the next book in the series…
Some series disappoint, Hattons Thieves guild novels never do…
Don’t take my word for it; you can read a little of it for free here
In case your in any doubt after that btw, all my trepidation when I sat down to read Darkest Fears, were blown away before I got to the second chapter. As I said at the start of this post, which may seem like a long time ago now. ‘One of the hardest tricks for an author to pull off is the series.’ C.G. pulls off the trick and then some. I really can’t recommend her novels enough, and god knows I have tried in the past as I seem to review one every year ( odd that, its almost as if she writes one a year… )
On a side note do you know how hard it is to avoid spoilers when you’re writing about the seventh book in a series so you have to avoid talking too much about anything that would spoiler the earlier books? I am reduced to writing superlatives and damn it I am running out of superlatives for these novels …
If she will insist on giving me free copies of her books then I’ll continue to tie myself in knots of trepidation, but I have come to the conclusion she is not going to start disappointing me as a reader any time soon ( I wrote about that last time I reviewed one of her books, there is a full list at the bottom of this post BTW) . If anything all that happens is her books keep getting better and upping the damn bar from the last one.
So if you have not tried C.G.Hattons novels before, why the hell not? Get a grip, will you! How many glowing reviews from me does it take?
The first four are for reasons that escape me completely are only £2.99 on Amazon, because frankly they should not be so cheap and the first one is free… LINK HERE
My other reviews of C.G.Hattons books can be found at the links below (and yes they all seem to have a lot of me waffling on about this that or the other before it gets to the actual review, sorry about that but if your in the least bit surprised by that you have never read my blog before…)
Residual Belligerence (the first novel in the series)