Kernels of Nonsense, #14: The Sophomore Slump

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bi-monthly feature on my blog where I discuss various bookish topics. Today’s topic is the sophomore slump. This is my personal opinion, so please don’t take it too hard if I point out a book I didn’t like that you happened to love. We are all entitled to our own opinions.

*Please note that this post contains minor spoilers for Kathleen Peacock’s Thornhill (Hemlock, #2) and Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2).

A sophomore slump in a book series occurs when the second book doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of the first book in the series. The second release often works as a transitional piece, a placeholder, until the conclusion of a series is released. Often these middle books are regarded as the weakest in a trilogy(e.g., Catching Fire).

A sophomore release can be plagued by a myriad of problems. Lack of character development for characters in the second installment can feel like a story has stalled, this is especially true if a reader is given hints about a character’s past that isn’t paid out in the subsequent book. Character regression is another issue I sometimes see: when the lessons learned in the first book are forgotten in an effort to recreate the conflict that took place in the previous book.

Recycled storylines can also put a damper on a story. This is a complaint I’ve heard all too often when it comes to Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire. Even I felt that I wanted something different while reading this book when its characters had to once again go into the arena. A weak villain becomes hard to ignore while reading a sophomore release. In the first book, one may be able to get away with it as readers are just getting introduced to the story and characters, but if this antagonist turns out to be less than promised, it’s too hard to ignore. Ideally, an author ought to build on what she or he has already created in the first book, but not rely solely upon it.

I tend to think sophomore slumps can sometimes be caused by the excess of trilogies. Not every story needs three books, so as a result the second book sometimes feels forced. One kind of series that I don’t see too often but would work better for these stories is a duology. Unfortunately, this is not often the case and it’s sad to say that there are some sophomore releases so bad that I’ve given up on the series.

There are a couple of series that I am currently contemplating giving up on because of their sophomore releases. In one case the book lacked the first installment’s charm and failed to really add to the story as a whole (Mindee Arnett’s The Nightmare’s Dilemma, The Arkwell Academy #2). Another series I might not finish is Kathleen Peackock’s Hemlock trilogy. I absolutely adored the first book, but the second book revived a love-triangle by having the protagonist kiss someone else, not because her feelings for said person had evolved into something else but because they were close to death, so a kiss somehow logically followed. And at this point I’m not sure I can stomach another book dedicated to resolving this love-triangle. If I could make a book law, it would be to prohibit the love triangle living past the first book.

There are some sophomore releases that turn out to be even better than the first book, these often make my love for a series increase and guarantee that I will pick up any books that follow. Some of my favorites are Rae Carson’s Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2) and Sarah J. Maas’s Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2). Both these sequels took really good books and expanded their universes and characters. Unfortunately not every series is able to improve with its sophomore release and what results is a sophomore slump.

What are your thoughts on the sophomore slump? Does a lackluster second-intallment ever make you give up on a series? What are your least favorite sophomore efforts? What about your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Kernels of Nonsense, #14: The Sophomore Slump

  1. I agree that the 2nd book in a series is usually not very good. (I don’t agree with you on Catching Fire, but I can get where you’re coming from.) I like that I’m seeing more duologies instead of trilogies and I hope they become even more prevalent. So many stories just don’t need three (or more) books and I’d rather have one or two really great books than one great book and one or two so-so books tacked on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this formulaic platform wouldn’t be too much of an issue for a standalone novel. I’m always apprehensive about my own enthusiasm when it comes to sequels, so I try to keep in mind I am reading a transitional book when I pick up the second book in a series.

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