As a reader, I’ve never been one to devour whole book series at a time. Even in a world where Netflix binges are part of a person’s regular repertoire, I patiently sift through series one episode at a time, over the course of several months. I know that would drive a lot of people crazy but… I’m patient. I have time. I prefer to savor the experience.
Up until recently, it felt like every new book was part of a trilogy. If not a trilogy, then an extended series. Or it was a spinoff of something else written by the author. As a reader, I have mixed feeling about this. When I am absolutely in love with the characters and the story, I’m thirsty for more. But sometimes, the weight of all those books we have to read can be overwhelming. Personally, I’m in the middle of over 200 series.
That’s a lot of books to read in order to just finish the story. And like binge-watching television shows, I’m not in a rush. If I’m ravenous for a series, I bump its next book closer to the top of my TBR (I did like with The Dream Thieves). Otherwise, I’m patient. It’s exciting when book two appears a couple years later. Or, sometimes, it’s disappointing and I put it down and stop reading the series (this happened with The Nightmare Garden, book two after The Iron Thorn).
I admit that when I hear something is going to be a series or going to be a trilogy, it doesn’t really phase me anymore. While standalones are less rare than they used to be, they are still uncommon. For me, standalones are a breath of fresh air. I know, going into that book, I will have a full story from start to finish. If I love the characters, there may be a spinoff if I’m lucky, but also… I’ll have closure with them. That can be satisfying.
I believe that if there’s a long story that genuinely fills three books, then it makes sense to have those stories spread across multiple volumes. When J. R. R. Tolkien presented The Lord of the Rings, it was presented as a single, coherent story. Within the manuscript, there is six books – each volume we know today contains two books. That is a true series – from start to finish, The Lord of the Rings is one story. There’s no “filler” book two – The Two Towers contains essential events for the course of the war, for Aragorn’s ascension, and Frodo’s struggling journey.
Not to mention some excellent character moments. Which are really just a perk.
While I don’t actually have anything against series or trilogies, I’m not a big fan of “filler” books, which are common in trilogies. Most recently, I’ve been disappointed by Children of Virtue and Vengeance, which was a long awaited sequel to a truly wonderful book… but didn’t really go anywhere and was 404 pages illustrating a schism we already knew existed and delving the depths of Zélie’s grief. It felt like a novella – a side story for those who need more world content, in this case – than an important installation in the actual story. We won’t know until the third installment releases, but I’m comfortable saying that Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a bridge between books one and three, serving no necessary job itself.
You get books like this frequently in longer series. In Artemis Fowl, The Atlantis Complex has the same “why does this book exist?” feel. It serves no purpose to the overall advancement of the story. Filler books and bridge books drive me crazy in trilogies and series, and they’re the things that make me want to pile up standalones. The satisfaction of having a full story is worth a lot sometimes, and trying to keep up with all the hyped books and their spinoffs and unexpected new installments can be… exhausting.
But, if you’re in love with the characters and just need more… trilogies and series can be amazing. When it came to Daughter of the Burning City, I want not satisfied with the end of the book and I wanted more stories in Gomorrah… but there is no more to be had. So there are times where standalones can be a bummer, too.
Of course, I think it depends on the story. What about you?
Do you prefer series or standalones? Do you like one or the other as a rule, or does it depend? And if you start a series and don’t like it, do you keep going anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments!