While I am away on vacation I am pleased to welcome Andrew Reid to my humble blog! I hope he looks after it in my absence *grin*. Andrew has a blog My God, It's Raining and can be found loitering on Twitter as @mygoditsraining.
Just to warn you right off the bat, this post isn’t going to be a book review. Instead, I thought it’d be interesting to bring up something I’ve started noticing in my reading habits: something I’ve noticed, and have been wondering if it happens to anyone else.
I’d like to call it Third Book Ennui.
People have a thing for threes, especially when it comes to stories. The three-act structure of narrative (setup, confrontation, denouement) intuitively makes sense to us, and is easy to express and understand. Likewise the format of a trilogy – in fantasy literature a triumvirate of books is a fairly commonplace phenomenon. I’ll not say it’s the template; there are many excellent standalone fantasy books out there as well as series that run beyond even the author’s original expectations. Nevertheless, there are a lot of trilogies.
What I’ve discovered over the past year or so of reading is that more and more often I’m just not motivated to finish reading them. I pick up the first volume in a set of three, read it, enjoy it immensely and then either rush out to buy the second or check to see when the release date is. Then, when I read the second book, something odd happens; I lose interest. The motivations and goals of the main characters seem to sag, to lose momentum, and with that my investment in them fades. I no longer want to know what happens at the end because I no longer care about what’s happening to them right there and then.
Now that would be fine if it was with just one series. If that was the case I could blame the author and claim that their skills were not worthy, or myself for being incapable of seeing into the heart of the text. Unfortunately it seems to be happening more often than not.
To give an example; while reading the Engineer Trilogy by KJ Parker, I could put my finger straightaway on the problem that, for me, killed the second book for. The titular engineer of the series, Vaatzes, is a man with a plan – a plan that requires a lot of people to die for the sake of his revenge. Now that’s fine in the first book, because he makes a plausible offer to the people he will use as pawns in his machinations, and they, quite reasonably in the circumstances, take him up on it. In the second book, though, everyone has reason to be wary of him, primarily because he’s just got a lot of people killed (albeit indirectly). Even the author knows this, and hangs a terrific lampshade off the fact by having characters muse in dialogue to one another and him that wow, this sure is a great opportunity to orchestrate events and the doom of a whole country to satisfy his own ends. Instead of yanking his intestines out with a hook, the supporting cast plod along like simpletons, happy to feed themselves into the wood chipper of his destiny.
Just looking quickly at the incomplete trilogies on my bookshelves, I have the following: two books of The Quickening Trilogy by Fiona McIntosh, two books of the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, two books of the Dark Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan...I was going to say two books of the Twilight Reign by Tom Lloyd but a quick check on Amazon tells me it’s now four books.
I won’t go into the particulars of each case, because this isn’t intended as a review of them; it’s just an observation of my reading habits and a growing sense that the trilogy seems to be failing me as a reader. What is it about them that means I can’t bring myself to finish?
Perhaps it’s just me being fickle and over-analytical. Long gone are the days when I could read Polgara the Sorceress and actually enjoy the story as opposed to sitting grinding my teeth at how mind-buggeringly smug the eponymous enchantress is. That said, I still endure the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year or so with nary a grumbled word about the time Sam and Frodo spend plodding past pools of polluted water on their way to Mount Doom – although I do skip the songs.
Thankfully, though, it’s not as bad as it could be. Fantasy trilogies have yet to go the way of Hollywood, where a successful standalone title results in a trilogy spawning out to “satisfy demand” – although whether satisfaction is intended for the fans or the investors is hard to define. There are a couple of examples of this in speculative fiction (*cough* Ender’s Game *cough*) but they are sufficiently few and far between for me to rest easy about it.
For the moment, at least.
Enormous thanks for that Andrew! Please give Andrew lots of lovely comments - do you agree? Disagree? Which trilogies have you not managed to finish thanks to general apathy?