Serial Killers: The Pros and Cons of Book Series

As a kid, most of what I read was part of a series. And did it ever suck when the library was missing some of the books. Now, for whatever reason, I don’t read as many series. There are extensive series–particularly in the fantasy genre, it seems–yet most of the books that appeal to me and that I end up reading are stand-alones. I don’t feel the need to get into a series as much as I did when I was younger.

Part of the reason for that is as a kid I didn’t like looking for new books. It seemed like a lot of work, and could be a discouraging waste of time when I read something and didn’t like it. Whereas if you find a book you like and there are more in the series, you don’t have to look around for another book for a long time. Also, I had a very slowly growing awareness of the concept of authorship–I understood that usually one author wrote a series, but it didn’t occur to me that if I found one book by an author I liked, another book by them, even totally unrelated, had a good chance of being something I would like, too.

Now, having more experience reading extensively, I know it doesn’t always follow that liking one book by an author gaurantees liking another book by them, any more than liking the first book in a series gaurantees liking the rest, but it’s a good place to start. Also, having practiced and enjoyed looking for books, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal if I have to look for several stand-alones to keep me busy rather than a large series. But there are a couple of series I’ve been reading that I just recently borrowed the next installments in: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, book 9 of the Flavia de Luce series by Canadian author Alan Bradley; and The Lost Plot, book 4 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman.

I enjoy both of these series, but admittedly, there can be drawbacks to reading serially. Reading multiple books in a series can lead to a feeling of repetition if they have too similar plots (a mystery series, for instance). Flavia de Luce is one such mystery series, specifically with a murder plot in every volume. Admittedly, having read 8 of the books previously, I wasn’t in a hurry to continue the series even though I enjoy it. I had the misfortune of listening to the 8th book, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed, on audiobook and found the pace far too dragging for audio, although it hadn’t been too slow for reading. But then the 10th and, reportedly, final book came out and I realised I hadn’t kept up with the series. I like the characters and writing well enough to read more, and I’ve taken a long enough break since suffering through the audiobook that I’m going to catch up and finish the series this summer.

One way to keep from getting tired of even the best book series is spacing the readings far enough apart that they don’t blend into one another in a blur of sameness. If reading a series that is in the process of being written, the hiatus may be forced upon you in the form of waiting for the release of the next book. But that can also lead to frustration if the spacing of the books is too long. Which feeds into another problem: waiting so long to read the next one that you forget what’s happened in prior books. Fortunately, there are only a couple of times that’s happened to me, but it was frustrating enough.

As with Flavia de Luce, I also spaced out my reading of the Invisible Library series. I read the first book last year, really enjoyed it, and successively borrowed the second book. Reading two in a row wasn’t too bad, but I decided to take a break because the nature of the stories was such that they might begin to become repetitive and lose their magic. So I took a year off, and borrrowed the third book in the early spring of this year. It was just long enough that I hadn’t altogether forgotten what happened in the previous books, but I could come into it with a fresh perspective. Now, a couple months later, I’m reading the 4th book (which is also the last book my library has: I’ll have to check if there are more in the series. <After googling> A 5th book came out last fall–the library will have to get on that).

However, series can also open the door for reader disappointment if the later books in the series don’t live up to or maintain the qualities that the reader enjoyed in the first books. I’m about halfway through The Lost Plot, and so far I’m a bit disappointed–one of my favourite characters hasn’t made an appearance but has only been mentioned… make that two of my favourite characters (admittedly, the second one is just a minor character, but still…). Since the major character that hasn’t appeared got a fairly extensive development in the last book, The Burning Page, I’m wondering where all that will lead to, but so far, the author has given me nothing. But, I withhold final judgement until I finish the book–then, if he still hasn’t appeared or been more than mentioned, I will complain long and loudly to anyone who has the misfortune to be in my vicinity for the days to follow. And then I’ll probably hunt down the last book to see if he’s done justice to in that one.

Series can be a wise marketing scheme, even in cases such as the one I’ve complained of where a character gets almost entirely omitted from one book. That also happened to me reading the Inheritance Cycle–Murtagh disappeared at the beginning of book 2, Eldest (or was it the end of book 1? I can never remember. It was like Boromir dying at the beginning of The Two Towers in the books, but at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring in the movies–just confusing), yet I slugged through that monolith of a series in the hopes of seeing him again. Readers will attach themselves to a character, not necessarily even your main character, and they will put up with a lot of filler plots and main-questline-style shenanigans just for the hope of seeing said character again somewhere along the road. An upside to disappointing readers in one book of a series, whether by omitting a beloved character or some other skulduggery, is that you have plenty of chances to rectify the negligence in the next one–unless you kill the character or it’s the final installment, in which case, at least your readers are mad enough to complain about it and give you lots of free publicity in the form of outrage.

Book series–as I realised when I was younger–can provide ample entertainment in a form you like, exploring the world and maintaining a fairly consistent quality of literature throughout. You usually don’t have to be reintroduced to the characters every time, though new characters will of course enter the story at some point, and the setting is largely established so it feels familiar throughout each successive book. Series come in many different forms. Not only in quantity–ranging from duologies to tens of books–but in connectedness and authorship. Some book series are so designated because of their themes–like a historical series with each book taking place in a different place and time period–and may have each individual volume written by different authors. Some book series take the perspective of a different character in each book: a secondary character from the first book becomes a main character in the second, and so on. Series can branch off of one another, prequel or sequel a different series, and generally encompass a whole realm of interconnected books. Thinking about it, I may have to hunt down some more series to get into once I’m done these two I’m working on.

What are some of your favourite book series? Have you encountered some of the issues I’ve mentioned while reading them?

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