Jilly: End of Series Anxiety

End of Series AnxietyDo you enjoy reading series? If so, do you suffer from End of Series Anxiety?

Sometimes when I’m reading a book by a new-to-me author, if the writing is stunningly good and the plot is ratcheting up nicely, in the middle of my enjoyment I’ll hear a voice at the back of my head warning me not to get too carried away, because however smart the author is, there’s always a risk that the way she chooses to resolve the story might not work for me.

Funny thing, but even after I’ve settled down to a harmonious relationship with an author and built up a level of trust that their story choices are likely to make me happy, I’ll still look at an upcoming release, close my eyes and hope it’s going to be all right. That’s most likely to happen in the final book of a series, because confidence in the author + emotional investment over multiple books + increasing story stakes + ever-higher expectations -> nose-bleed high risk.

So no pressure, then, Julie Anne Long, whose eleventh and final Pennyroyal Green historical romance, The Legend of Lyon Redmond, is released on 29th September. I love this series about two wealthy, influential and socially ambitious families living in the same idyllic Sussex village and locked in a generations-old feud. To borrow a test from Michaeline (in the comments to this post by Elizabeth), the Pennyroyal Green books give me the strong feeling that the author likes human beings and can sympathize with their foibles. The stories are peopled with fascinating, flawed, likable characters and because the families aren’t blue-blooded, the settings are as likely to be about trade, power and influence as they are about horses and house parties. They touch on high society but they also dip into social issues and the seamy side of life. They strike a clever balance between period flavor and modern attitude, and sometimes steer deliciously close to crazysauce/fairy tale territory (pirates!). In short, they’re huge fun.

The final book in the series is the love story which has been trailed, gossiped about and speculated upon in every single one of the previous ten books, the tale of the legendary curse: once in a generation, a Redmond and an Eversea are fated to fall disastrously in love. Our Hero, his family’s beloved heir, has been missing since Book 1 (though we now have some clues about where he’s been and why), and Our Heroine has finally decided to marry someone else, so this book has the potential to bring the series to a spectacular and satisfying conclusion.

At least I’m pretty confident the right characters will end up together, so I know I’m not destined for the extreme book fury vented by readers who felt betrayed by the heroine’s choice of HEA in Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris’s final Sookie Stackhouse novel. Has a book ever made you that angry?

Gemini, the final book of Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series, remains the only book I’ve physically slung across the room in a white-hot rage. I’d just read and loved her Lymond Chronicles and I carried over boatloads of emotional investment and over-expectation into the new series. Eight roller-coaster books later I felt beyond cheated by the big reveal at the end.

Breaking Dawn finished me for the Twilight series. I read the books one after the other during a holiday in Australia and I was driving my husband nuts adding book-bricks to our suitcases until Book 4 solved the problem and they all hit the hotel waste basket – not because Bella ended up married to Edward (though I was Team Jacob all the way), but because Bella found her Destiny by Plot Device, which I thought was a three-way cop-out, and also because the way the love triangle with Jacob was resolved squicked me out.

I remember feeling worried about how Sherrilyn Kenyon would write Acheron, her book about the mysterious boss of the Dark-Hunters, and I have a clear memory of feeling mostly relieved that she made it work. The only problem was that book finished the Dark-Hunters story in my mind, so I didn’t engage with subsequent books in the series, of which I believe there have been many.

I’m hearing lots of Good Book Noise for The Lure of the Moonflower, the thirteenth and final book in Lauren Willig’s Secret History of the Pink Carnation. This series has been on my radar for ages (regular 8LW visitor Rachel Beecroft is a big fan) and now I’m even more tempted.

In the meantime I’m going to treat myself to a re-read of my favorite Pennyroyal Green books to get myself in the mood for Lyon and Olivia. If it’s half as good as I’m hoping, it’ll be fabulous.

Do you suffer from series anxiety? Which series delivered for you? Or didn’t? Why?

8 thoughts on “Jilly: End of Series Anxiety

  1. I’ve given a lot (read: endless) thought to what makes individual books satisfying, but I don’t know that I’ve thought much about the expectations generated by series. Since I’m setting out to write one, these are good things to think about, so thanks for the heads up. (Less thanks for the increased pressure when I’m already struggling to figure out my heroine’s inner character arc.)

    Re: Breaking Dawn. In her Chat With Nora session in New York, Nora Roberts said, “Everyone could use a good editor.” No kidding. In addition to all the stuff you mentioned, I had a huge issue with the fact that the final confrontation was supposed to be vampire Armageddon and NO ONE DIED. If the stakes were really the life and death of the world, someone, probably multiple someones, needed to be sacrificed. J.K. Rowling did a much better job with that.

    • You’re welcome, and sorry about the increased pressure 🙂 .

      I’m currently writing the second of three stand-alone books set in the same world and I’ve been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of it. My series through line is the development of secondary characters and the changes in the world itself; I don’t have an over-arching plot. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of series like this and if you want to write an open-ended story it’s easier to switch direction and introduce new characters (Suzanne Brockmann went from Seals to Troubleshooters, Elizabeth Lowell from Donovans to Rarities International), but when I move in to the second set of three books I like the idea of having some kind of umbrella story.

  2. I don’t get that invested in series; I’m not sure why. Growing up, I read all the Nancy Drews and Trixie Beldons, but as an adult, I tend to wander away, no matter how much I enjoyed any one particular book. I did read all the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse books, and was amazed to see all the fury about the last book. If it had been me writing the last book, I’d have ended with Sookie being alone, but Harris had pointed the way to that specific ending for at least three books—and I think since the very beginning of the series—so I didn’t see how anyone could be surprised or upset. But of course they were.

    Otherwise, I think my tendency not to follow series much might be rooted in my commitment to reading from the library: you can request stuff, of course, but I’m lazy and I travel a lot, so I don’t request or the request times out. So I just move on. But from the Charlaine Harris experience, as a writer, I can definitely see the pluses and minuses of readers investing heavily in your series. It would be exhilarating and terrifying both. 🙂

    • I wandered away from Sookie Stackhouse but from the ones I read, I was invested in the guy who did not get the HEA with Sookie and I think that’s what upset a lot of readers. I’m interested to read that you thought the ending was signaled for the last three or more books – I’ll bet readers who did not want that outcome were ignoring those clues and hoping they’d go away – like when a friend gets serious with the wrong guy and you can’t say anything because it’s her choice so you close your eyes and hope 😉 . I suspect I drifted away for this reason – I like to know who to root for. The H&H should be The One and if she’s dithering over the Hottie du Jour, that’s no fun and I’m gone.

      What you said about readers investing heavily in the characters. Exhilarating and terrifying.

  3. I’ve been thinking about series, too, after watching another TV series where I’m ready to give up after one season. There’s a gravy train problem, which isn’t with the story, per se, but with the fact that nobody wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, and that becomes a story problem in that the arc can never be resolved until the series gets a definite cancellation notice (or everyone decides it’s time to quit).

    I can see why artists would want to do this — there is no guarantee that someone is going to pick up the next series, so one probably should milk it until the kids’ college tuitions and one’s own retirement fund is properly paid for.

    In addition, some fans seem to love being kept on the teetering edge of a cliff, or lost in a forest of unresolved chords. When you resolve those chords, it often signals The End.

    Sometimes, though, fan demand and the golden ticket means the show goes on. Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock and end the series, but the man could not stay dead. Bujold also wrote a perfectly grand ending to the Vorkosigan series . . . but those characters weren’t done with her yet, and I think there’s at least three books and a novella that came after A Civil Campaign (and very good books, too. With definite nods to the fans, resolving loose threads from stories past.)

    I was very lucky that I stopped watching the Mentalist the first time the bad guy “died.” It was a fulfilling ending, and I had had enough of bloody, nasty evilness. If I wanted more of the lovely trickery of cold-reading and the characters, I could go back to season one and start over. I’ve heard from trusted sources that nothing really developed past that series.

    • I think this must be very tempting. I was impressed to read recently that Ilona Andrews said their phenomenally successful Kate Daniels series would have (I think) two more books. They said there comes a point at which Kate has earned her HEA and it’s time to move on. So they’ve released the first book of a new series now and I’m hooked already. By the time Kate and Curran settle down to book bliss, I’ll be totally invested in the new series. That’s very smart and fair to the reader.

  4. I’m just about to sit down and read the Lure of the Moonflower, so I’ll let you know if it lives up to end of series expectations!

    I’m also looking forward to the Julie Anne Long but I have to say that one of the disappointments, for me, of the series is how there has been almost no story arc of the Lyon and (I can’t remember her name) story throughout the series. I would have liked to have seen a really slow build up of clues and hints as to what happened come out over the course of the previous books. We just had that one story (Olivia’s) when she was at sea – and yes, there is Lyon’s heroine about to get married – but beyond that, just it’s always just repeats of the same information.

    • Thanks, Rachel – I know how much you’ve enjoyed the Pink Carnation series so I’d love to know whether the final book hits the spot for you before I dive in!

      I agree with you about the lack of Lyon and Olivia arc over the Pennyroyal Green series. Not easy to do, I suppose, when the hero is missing the whole time, but Olivia could have changed and as you say, there could have been a really subtle build up of clues and hints without detracting from the other books. Hm. I think I’d like to revisit this question when I see what JAL does with the story.

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