Personally, I love them if they’re well done. It can be like putting on your favourite pair of old shoes. You slip comfortably into a world you know and love and you get to revisit what feels like old friends. There’s less effort needed to acquaint yourself with a new environment and you can just sit back and enjoy.
There’s nothing more satisfying than to follow a group of characters through several volumes and at the end of the series, it all finishes exactly the way you wanted it to. Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series was like that for me. I think there were twenty books in all, but the final one ended with the kind of scene that just made you go “aaahh…” And although I was sad that there wouldn’t be any more, I was happy at the same time because it felt complete.
However, I prefer it if sequels can stand alone too. Each one should be able to be enjoyed on its own, without actually needing the others. Sure, it’s a bonus if you already know and love this world, but if you happen to pick up a book somewhere in the middle of a series, it should be possible to read that without getting confused.
For some years I organised a literary award, and the thing I received most complaints about were sequels. The readers said they couldn’t understand some of them because they hadn’t read the previous book. They were also sometimes left hanging, with a few of the plot strands left unresolved for the next novel in the series. That’s not very satisfying. It’s like being teased when you can’t retaliate for some reason.
I recently followed a drama series on TV for weeks on end, only to find that almost all the plot strands have been left unresolved and “there will be another series next year”. I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough! I felt cheated – I’d invested a lot of time in catching every episode, I deserved better. Readers of sequels do to.
We’ve discussed endings before on this blog, and I think we all agreed that it’s an author’s job to leave their readers satisfied (or viewers if you’re writing for the screen). Even if the ending of a book isn’t completely happy, it has to be satisfying. Being teased isn’t, that’s just annoying. I appreciate the fact that the author (and publisher) wants to sell more books. Fair enough. You want to keep the readers coming back for more. But there are ways of doing it so that it still feels right.
Take the recent Sherlock Holmes film, for instance (starring the lovely Robert Downey Jr). It ends with him saving the day, but then at the very last minute the viewers find out that the man he’s been chasing just got his hands on a vital invention and he’s called Moriarty. For any Sherlock Holmes fan, that’s a clear signal that Moriarty will be Holmes’s next opponent and although for the moment, Moriarty is not a threat, he will be at some time in the near future. In other words, there’s a sequel in the offing, but the ending of this film still felt good. I left the cinema content that Holmes had won the day. That’s how books should be too, I think.
Cliff-hangers are all well and good, but only at the end of a chapter, not the whole book, I think. How about you, do you mind being left hanging or is it just me being impatient?
Please come back on Sunday to see what Liz has to say.