With an ever-growing list of new books I want to read and new authors I want to sample, I’m often reluctant to put my ‘to read’ list on hold to plough through a series, especially a long one. As a result, it has to be a particularly brilliant, compelling or intriguing book to entice me to buy the sequels, let alone read them straight away.
There are plenty of books I’ve loved but have not read the sequels to simply because I didn’t feel they would be as good, because I wasn’t curious enough, or because I had other books I wanted to read more.
So I thought I’d look at a few first-in-a-series books that bucked this trend and roped me in for the long haul. I wanted to analyse what it was about the books and their endings that hooked me and made me continue. In the end, I narrowed it down to several types of endings.
I’ll try to avoid specifics so as not to give major spoilers for the books mentioned, but will necessarily give away the general type of ending, so if you don’t want to know that then proceed with caution!:
1. The Devastating Cliffhanger
Sometimes a book leaves me with a devastating gut-punch of an ending. I feel shocked and almost winded by the sudden unexpected conclusion. Often it’s a very negative one, so I’m immediately desperate to get my hands on the next book to see the characters overcome the bleak moment and get the happy ending I was denied. I can’t say I enjoy these kinds of endings, but they often have me lining up for the sequel.
Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go is a prime example of this type. The ending really came out of left field – I was so stunned and emotionally wound up by it that I had no choice but to buy the next book so I could see how it continued. Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone also has one of these endings, one that coincidentally fits into category 3 below too.
2. The Unresolved Main Plot
This is the kind of book where the main plot just sort of… stops. There’s a conclusion of some kind, but it’s far from satisfactory, and the main object of the story is left unfinished. If a book’s ending is too unresolved it can be dangerous, as I might just be annoyed by the lack of resolution and give up on the series. However, if it’s a brilliant book and it leaves vital questions unresolved, I once again become a helpless addict.
One classic and extreme example of this kind of ending can be found in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion. After taking you through a whirlwind of emotionally and intellectually spellbinding stories, and leading you up to the climax (and enemy) that all the characters have been working towards… it just ends. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to growl in frustration… but you’ll also want to buy the next book. Fortunately The Fall of Hyperion concludes the story satisfactorily, so I only had to wait one more book for the pay-off. Other books, like Cinder, have also enticed me to read on by leaving a lot of the main problems unresolved (though none left quite so much unresolved as Hyperion!).
3. The Unresolved Romance
I’m a sucker for an unresolved romance. Again, as much as I hate being denied the happily-ever-after-lovers-get-together ending, if I loved the book I’ll be hanging in to see what happens next. This is particularly the case if the lovers haven’t even kissed or declared their love yet (as opposed to a scenario where they have, but something has driven them apart, or where they just haven’t slept together yet).
My example for this one is Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood. It’s a very dark, very sexual fantasy romance full of tension, and it withholds the happy ending for the lovers… falling a little into the devastating cliffhanger category as well. I immediately downloaded the ebook of Heir to the Shadows once I’d finished the first book and continued. Cassandra Rose Clark’s YA fantasy romance The Assassin’s Curse also had an unresolved romance that made me finish the duology, and I’m sure there are others.
4. A Convergence of Characters
Some books, particularly epic fantasies with multiple point of view characters, spend the whole first book bringing the main characters together. They conclude with those story threads finally converging and the “assembled team” embarking on a new quest or adventure together. These are particularly tempting if you’ve enjoyed the book and come to love all the characters, because you want to see what all those characters will do now they are finally together.
Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades does this expertly, bringing two of its main characters together at the end. I just finished the audiobook of it… and immediately bought and started the sequel. Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself also does this well, but because I didn’t get as attached to the characters or as caught up in the story, I haven’t yet continued with the series.
5. The Awe-Inspiring Ending
These are endings that don’t necessarily leave a large amount unresolved (like in point 2), or provide an unhappy cliffhanger (like in point 1) but are simply so amazing, emotional or unexpected that they leave me with a great feeling… and that great feeling makes me want more.
I’d classify Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games as being in this category. Yes, in both there is still a suggestion of a greater foe or problem to be defeated at the end to make you want to read on, but both also finish on a dramatic, epic, and largely victorious note that in and of itself makes you want to see how the story continues and if future books can hit that note again.
6. Sheer General Brilliance
Then there are books that have decent endings which tie things up nicely and leave a few strings hanging, but in and of themselves might not have been enough to entice me to continue. What tips the balance, however, is the quality of the book as a whole. If I loved the world, loved the characters, loved the story, loved the emotions, and loved the ideas, then I’m likely to be up for more.
The classic example of this for me is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The ending is a very resolved and happy one, and the suggestion that Voldemort will likely return again at some point (who knows when or how) is hardly the most complex or tantalising enticement to read on… but I still wanted to dive back into that world, to spend more time with those characters, and to experience another great story.
Fire, by Kristin Cashore, provided a similar experience. It’s the second book in the Graceling Realm series and I adored it. Although the story was resolved, and I had heard some people say that the third book, Bitterblue, wasn’t as good, I continued with it as soon as I could… because I was happy to be back in that world and in the hands of a trusted author.
7. A Promise from a Trusted Friend
This is a more rare occurrence, but occasionally if I was underwhelmed by a first book or simply not enough in love with it to continue, a promise from a trusted a friend that “the second book is better” or “the series gets better and better” will be enough to entice me to read on… maybe not immediately, but at some point.
It’s hard to remember, but I think this was the case for me with A Wizard of Earthsea. A recommendation from a friend to continue gave me the push I needed to pick up the second book in the series – The Tombs of Atuan – which I enjoyed much more. I also loved the novel Graceling, but a friend’s assurance that they liked the second book even better made me pick up Fire extra quickly.
Those are the 7 kinds of endings that tend to entice me to pick up a sequel or continue with a series. Undoubtedly there are some I’ve forgotten, or simply haven’t encountered yet, so if you have more suggestions feel free to add them in the comments!