Reviewing the Sequel

Happy Tuesday everyone.

I’ve fallen behind in my reviews, so I’m grouping my five recent reads into two groups and doing a broader analysis. Not sure if this is a format I’ll continue with in the future. We’ll see how these two go.

DISCLAIMER: Little to no spoilers follow. These are just views of my own, unpaid for, perhaps unnecessary. All photos and blurbs taken from Goodreads. 


Sequels are a tricky thing, aren’t they?

In a first novel, groundwork is laid for a world in which a protagonist exists and faces a challenge that must be overcome, all the while growing and shifting from one perspective to another. Sympathetic bonds are created and, depending on the genre, the novel ends with a nice resolution or leaves its characters dangling from a nasty cliff.

Then comes the second book. Where a new mission must be set before the story’s protagonist, where new antagonists and new allies are introduced. Some sequels excel at this, drawing readers back into the world they built in the first tome and delivering on the same energy, sometimes even exceeding expectations. Then there are those sequels that fail to meet expectations, that disappoint instead of delighting.

In the past two weeks, I’ve read three sequels. One was the last in a steampunk trilogy, one the second in a classic children’s fantasy quintet, and one the second in a crime fiction series. And each presented a different experience.

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The Prince of Lies (The Night’s Masque Vol. 3) by Anne Lyle

A whimpering finale in a trilogy that started with the promise of a captivating adventure. Ms. Lyle created an interesting premise and introduced characters and creatures who had the potential to become more than they ever did. With each sequel, the energy of the first dropped, the characters themselves becoming less sympathetic, the action becoming less engaging. An unfortunate circumstance, as elements of Tudor England, dream walkers and reincarnation were  hinted at, but never fully developed.

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A Wind at the Door (Time Quintet #2) by Madeleine L’Engle

In this sequel to the whimsical A Wrinkle in Time, Ms. L’Engle provides another fantastic story that blends magic and reason. It captures the same energy and thoughtful narrative of the first, while deftly pondering profound themes. Most importantly, its protagonists continue to elicit sympathy and pull on our heart strings with their sense of obligation to each other and to the world. Just magical. And exactly what a sequel should be, matching the excitement of its first with threatening antagonists and endearing with new characters.

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The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith

A follow-up to The Cuckoo’s Calling, Mr. Galbraith (aka Ms. Rowling) presents a different experience than the above two novels with this one. It does not disappoint. Nor does it read as an equal to the first. Rather, it exceeds expectations. Unlike its predecessor, which suffered from lags in action and failed to always stimulate and excite, this second novel detailing Strike’s investigative pursuits provides many more thrills and intriguing characters. What more, the narrative gives fan favourite Robin a chance to shine more than the first. While still not perfect, it was a diverting read and does well enough to improve on the problems of the first. As a sequel should.

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In my opinion, the success and failure of these three books relied a great deal on expectations that I went into them with. I’m not alone in this regard. Most readers base their enjoyment of a follow-up on the promises built in the novel that came before, which lays a great deal of onus on the shoulders of the writer. The strength of a debut can sometimes spell the doom of the novels to follow. The weakness of it can lead to possible redemption.

Being published means being held accountable by the reader who has certain ideas regarding what a story should present. In every book, there will always be a character that becomes a fan favourite, there will always be an element that creates the most intrigue. Readers latch on to specific moments, particular themes, and I believe that it is important for writers to be aware of these as they write each novel.

As an aspiring author with a series in mind, I understand that my story is my creation, but being published means that I am sharing it with others who are looking for something to be enjoyed, readers who deserve a story that can sweep them away, can make them feel. I am writing as much for them as for myself. I feel it is important to acknowledge those parts of the story that readers are most drawn to from the start, and take their opinions to mind without compromising the integrity of the narrative you’re trying to convey or the themes you need to set forth.

Writing a debut allows the room to create a story to delight readers, but once you’ve invited them to join your world, their minds begin to build their own expectations into it. FanFiction could not exist if this weren’t the case. We, as readers, crave worlds beyond our own. We delve into lives that are not our own and, even when the last page is turned and the last word is read, continue to inhabit them. Standalone novels leave a realm of possibility to be toyed with, to wonder at. Novels in a series have the added pressure of solidifying possibility into reality, to understand what a reader needs to enjoy the sequel as much as its predecessor.

It’s a tall order. Some authors stumble. Some succeed.

And we read on.


What’s your opinion on the sequel? What makes or breaks the follow-ups to so many promising debuts? Does the writer need to answer to the reader? Does the reader expect too much? Let me hear your thoughts! And get the debate going!

May inspiration flow like ink upon your quill,

Faith quill-ink

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6 thoughts on “Reviewing the Sequel

  1. I think the difficult thing about a sequel is that you have to give your audience enough of what they enjoyed about the predecessor without making the sequel exactly the same as the previous entry.

    The last book series I read (I’m not going to name it, out of respect for the author) was one that I tired of by the third book. The reason the series lost me is because all three books used the same exact formula in terms of something happens, add in some backstory, here’s a twist, a certain person is sought after for help, another twist, and here comes the ending. After the second book, I was ready for something different but the third book didn’t give me that. So I stopped reading the series.

    As I was writing my second novel (all of my novels are still work in progress, by the way), I found myself beginning to default to the same structure of my first novel. It was like I wanted to write the way I knew how to write because that worked for me last time. But since I didn’t want to revert to the same formula, I consciously changed the second novel as I was writing to make sure that it took a different track. I’m doing the same for the third novel.

    The point is that you’re right that there are expectations from readers. But I think you also have to make sure that you’re not playing it too safe. If you’re not careful — or actually, if you are careful — people may get tired of the formula and decide the series isn’t worth their time anymore. That said, I think pieces of that formula should be there in the sequel if only to add some level of familiarity.

    But this is just my opinion. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree with everything you said. Like I mentioned, I think it’s important to be aware of favorable elements, but never risk the heart of your story. There’s a balance (like anything in life). Finding it is always hard.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your opinion! You have great insight!
      Best of luck with your WIPs! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, Faith. I think readers do have expectations for sequels. It’s no easy task for an author, though, but if they’ve planned out their sequels well enough beforehand, chances for a good sequel are higher. What helps me is viewing my series as a set of movies coming together to tell one story. Like what LOTRs did. Each movie is a piece in the series puzzle, carrying the characters and story forward.

    Liked by 1 person

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