Series vs. Standalones: Which Do You Prefer?

Posted March 10, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things, Reading / 8 Comments

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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.

Yeah.  Two-hundred.

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?

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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!

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8 responses to “Series vs. Standalones: Which Do You Prefer?

  1. Oh hey! I never thought I’d find someone else who prefers to watch shows over an extended period of time!
    I do like series often, but I agree with you: it’s such a relief to find stand-alones, and often the fact that I can read them by themselves moves them up higher on my TBR. It can be exhausting to have so many storylines going on in my head when reading so many different series, so it’s nice to start and end one over the course of a single novel. This is actually a reason why I like duologies too! Fewer books to finish the story! Although with some I do wish they’d just written one really long book instead.
    Anyway, long comment to say that I feel you! And I hope stand-alone books become a thing again!

    • Amber

      Ahhhh non-bingers unite! It’s such a thing lately, I feel so excluded from pop culture conversations sometimes. 😛 I just don’t have the patience to sit down and watch the entire third series of Stranger Things in one go! Or anything, really. 😛

      Here’s to self-contained, standalone books that leave you feeling complete! *raises glass*

  2. I agree. I like good stories. Stories that resonate—single or series. And when either form fails to do that, it is disappointing. It is just more disappointing when you’ve invested more into the story. If you get one or two books into a story and it flounders, you mourn for the loss of potential you saw in the story, world, and characters.

  3. I tend to find standalones a lot less daunting than series, but there’s also something magical about immersing yourself in a good series. I think duologies tend to be my favourite, because they’re a nice middle ground, but I love a good long series or standalone too. Really it just depends on what works best for the book!

    • Amber

      You’ve got the key word there for sure: a *good* series. Most authors, especially seasoned ones, will have a feel for the proper length and I think that helps as well! Different stories do seem to call for more or less content. 😊 And it’s so difficult when you’re immersed and the book ends and… that’s… all!

  4. For me personally, I used to love a long series, and sometimes I still do if it really pulls me in. Sometimes if a series is longer than three books (maybe four) I get overwhelmed and don’t even want to attempt to start reading it. I’m also in the middle of so many series and I am a rare being that like…can’t binge watch TV shows. But sometimes I can sit on the couch and either watch three seasons in a row or an entire series. I think it really just matters what’s in the books. Like you said, filler books give a weird feeling.

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    • Amber

      Filler books are so weird. I like filler in TV (sometimes) but books don’t work quite the same way, and I’m always left feeling empty afterward. I think that manga can use filler storylines pretty successfully though, so I suppose that doesn’t apply everywhere? Still. You’re right about long series – they can be overwhelming. That last book in the Throne of Glass series? If the length of the series wasn’t already a lot, the thousand page Kingdom of Ash certainly is! XD