When my husband insisted upon seeing Saw VI, I knew we were in trouble. Saw I was great, the second installment okay, the rest dark vortices of wasted time and money.
Hollywood’s preference for trite, poorly-written sequels over original material has grown to sickening proportions. Why risk producing something unique when millions will line up to see Part II of an already trashy movie? Perhaps this is because audiences (myself included, I’m ashamed to say) continue to reward their cowardice.
Could something equally insidious be happening with books?
One of my favorite books of 2011 was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and I eagerly awaited the squeal. Released this July, book two, Shadow of Night, proved disappointing, however. The author made too many references to the first book without refreshing the reader’s memory of the plot. Worse, she flung her brilliant, dynamic, stalwart protagonist into circumstances that downplayed all her admirable qualities. I found myself unattached and annoyed. Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath for book three.
There have been many series in which I have liked subsequent books better than the first – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Flowers in the Attic. But for me, what I loved in those sequels (and prequels!) was the opportunity to reunite with the characters, not necessarily a compulsion to continue on with the plot. A good novel must stand on it’s own, come to a natural stop (or at least a substantial pause). Series should grow organically not be artificially constructed to insure future revenue.
Perhaps I’m not being fair to authors (or Hollywood, for that matter). We all need to eat. But in the end, quality and originality is owed the reader, owed the audience. An author friend of mine was turned away by a major publishing house because they saw no means of stretching her novel into a series. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also an art form—to forget that is to diminish its potential.
In true Pavlovian fashion, we’ve all gone to movies just because we saw the first, compelled, even against the current of reason, to see the series through to its end. (Thank goodness most movie franchises don’t make it through six installments!) Sometimes brilliance rewards the faithful; most of the time it does not.
Sadly, the same can be true books too. Shadow of Night stands out as my most recent letdown, but it was not my first, not the greatest, and surely will not be the last. I only hope it’s not indicative of what’s to come.
What sequel was most anticlimactic for you?