Kernels of Nonsense: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a bimonthly discussion feature where I rant and rave about various book and blogging related topics. This week I want to discuss whether authors writing various series within the same universe is a good or bad thing.

Just this past week Cassandra Clare’s newest novel Lady Midnight was released. I didn’t know too much about it, so I hopped on over to read the synopsis on Goodreads because everyone on Twitter was excited about it. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this new series is a sequel to her immensely popular Mortal Instruments series.

I read the first three books in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series a few years back and overall, I really enjoyed them. When Clockwork Angel, the first in her Infernal Devices series, was published, I was really excited to read it. I ended up feeling more and more underwhelmed as the series went on for various reasons. While this new series was being released, Clare was also working on three more books for her Mortal Instruments series. I never bothered to pick them up because I felt City of Glass was a satisfying conclusion and truth be told, my enthusiasm for the series had begun to dwindle.

Since finishing her Infernel Devices series, I haven’t picked up another Cassandra Clare book. This has less to do with whether I feel that the kind of books she writes no longer fit the type I’m looking for and more to do with the fact that every one of her books seem to take place within the Shadowhunter universe. I’ve grown rather tired of seeing more and more of these books, and am wondering if there will ever be a time where she stops writing Shadowhunter books. Aside from the Mortal Instruments and the Infernel Devices, Clare has also written/contributed to the Bane Chronicles, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, and just recently released the first book in her Dark Artifices series. She also has a future series called The Last Hours, the first of which doesn’t have an official release date but will most likely be released later this year. What do all of these books and series have in common? They all take place within the Shadowhunter universe.

I know for superfans, having an author write several series within the same universe is like a dream come true. If I’m being perfectly honest, I’d be over the moon if J.K. Rowling decided to write a prequel and sequel series to Harry Potter. But I’m not a Cassandra Clare superfan, and I’m of the opinion that any author who sticks to one universe can unintentionally alienated potential readers who may be interested in their works but are not a part of that particular fandom.

I would love to pick up another Cassandra Clare book because I would love to see what other worlds she could create, and read about other characters she could conjure up, but this is an impossible feat when all she writes is Shadowhunter books. I know the saying goes “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” but I can’t help but feel like I’d enjoy her more if she would write something outside of this universe.

There aren’t many authors who can get away with writing various novels that take place in the same world. Cassandra Clare is the first name that comes to mind, but I do know that Rick Riordan has many series in the same universe as well. I’m not as familiar with his works, having only read the first Percy Jackson book. I can’t say how I’ll feel about these other series once I finish Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but I do wonder if anyone feels the same way about him as I do about Cassandra Clare. Sometimes I feel that these various novels within the same universe are superfluous.

Leigh Bardugo and Jonathan Maberry are two other authors I know of who have written more than one series within the same universe. I haven’t finished Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, but I’m a huge fan of Six of Crows. Despite my love for the latter, I do hope that Bardugo writes something different in the future because I’m positive she could come up with another epic series that doesn’t take place in the Grisha universe. Maberry’s Benny Imura and Joe Ledger series are two separate zombie series that eventually intersect. I prefer the Benny Imura series and despite enjoying Patient Zero, the first Joe Ledger novel, I’ve never felt the need to finish it because I feel quite satisfied with the former.

Do you ever feel that an author writes too many books within the same universe? Are there any fictional worlds that you would love an author to continually write about? Have you read all of Cassandra Clare or Rick Riordan’s works? What other authors do you know of who have written multiple series that take place in the same universe? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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!