The endless fantasy series

We’ve all been there. A great new start to a brand new series — fresh ideas, fresh characters, intriguing new plot line. Then the perfect follow-up. Tension ratcheted up, new compelling characters introduced, new lands, stakes are raised. And then. Well, and then. An OK third novel. Maybe the the dreaded “bridge book.” And soon we’re slogging on through, wondering how we’d gotten off the path. Where did that great storyline go? All those cool new characters?

Zombie Horde by GenghisKrahn on deviantartWelcome to the tenth circle of Dante’s Hell: the endless fantasy series. Like the guest that just won’t take the hints and leave, but keeps getting yet another soda/beer and settling down once again on the couch — you swear you can see the cushions molding into the shape of his butt, the author just won’t finish the damn thing and go home. Instead it’s book after book after book, no advancement of story or character, just more piled atop more, shambling forward like an encroaching zombie horde. You can actually feel your brain being eaten.

So which series does it for you? What series have you read that you wished the author would have realized really ended two, three, five books earlier than it did? Tell us what series dragged on too long, where you would have ended it had you the power to go back in time and stop the author before he/she wrote again. And again. And again.

Art: Zombie Horde by ~GenghisKrahn on deviantART

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. Wheel of Time. I’m not convinced it would have been finished if Robert Jordan hadn’t died, and even then it took Sanderson a trilogy to complete.

    • Great thread, since a few friends and I had been discussing this earlier in regards to Martin and Jordan.

      In the case of George R R Martin, it sounds like he should have made the first three a trilogy, as it seems to have represented the most complete thinking of the series.

      Having read none of it and only listening to the discussions of friends, it sounds like after the third book he started off a tangent significant enough to constitute a second trilogy. That might have eased the waiting angst; however, there is also the marketing department to keep happy ;p

      I got to book 8 in WOT, and will finish when I have the chance. Going even further back, I used to read the Redwall series, which was great but also became too sprawling (and perhaps I just grew out of the target audience for that series as I grew older).

      One point I kept making was that even Socrates had no tolerance for long speeches, and yet in our age that’s seems to be what we crave, even though we all complain about it.

  2. I never got past book 4 or 5 of Wheel of Time, but I think Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire -Game of Thrones as its now called after the HBO series- has done it for me. And the sad things is I know I’ll still read the next one.

    What goes hand and hand with the never-ending series is that wait between books. I totally get that authors have lives and it takes time to finish a book, but they also need to respect the fans who bought that book 1 in the first place. If you’re writing a series, you really need to get an installment out at least close to once a year.

    or maybe I’m just scared of commitment. :)

  3. sandyg265 /

    Yasmin Galenorn’s The Otherworld series. I enjoyed the first few books but after that it seemed like she kept writing more books without advancing the story. I finally gave up on the series.

  4. I still have not finished WOT. I have the last two books sitting on my shelf, but I lost interest during the long waits.

    Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Alvin Maker series both started off so well but I couldn’t finish them. I keep thinking I’ll go back to Ender…

  5. I think part of the problem is there are different types of series and its good not to mix them up. Roughly, there are two main types: (1) single stories spread over multiple volumes, and (2) serial stories involving the same characters/location/setting. The former are things like Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc., and are in many ways the most frustrating to me when they begin to drag on. The best examples of the latter are things like detective novels, where the same detective solves crimes in each book, but there is rarely a long-running plot that goes across the books. I’m not nearly as bothered if these keep going because if you quit reading them you aren’t losing the end of the story, since there was no over-arching story to begin with.

    Of course, these are not mutually exclusive and there are books/series which fall in between. Single story series which spawn additional series, which then begin to drag on endlessly. Serial books which later drop longer plots and trilogies into the mix (I think the Ender books by OSC is a good example of this).

    A lot depends on the author’s intent. Do they have a single story which is going to take multiple books? Did they plan this from the beginning or wander into it later? Is the whole thing planned out or is it just a vague plan to eventually get there?

    Raymond Feist’s Midkemia books started out as a fairly limited story to be told in just 1 book (which got split into 2 due to length), but he kept going back and writing more and more and eventually started putting longer and more complex plots into the broader story until he eventually wrote something like 30 books (which finally came to an end this year).

    I sincerely doubt Brust’s Vlad Taltos books had any grand underlying plan when he started writing them, and even now I’m not sure if he really has any grand plan at all, beyond some vague themes. The Dresden Files started out feeling more like one-shot books that turned into a grand story, although elements of the grand story were there from the start. The Hollows books by Kim Harrison also feel like they had less of a grand plot at the beginning and only turned into a broader story later on, although again there are hints and pieces of plot elements even in the first book which may indicate some grand planning (or luck). R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books started out as a one-shot, turned into a trilogy, then another trilogy, and has now become a never-ending serial of -ilogies of varying length, with no grand story across all of the books, rather “shorter” stories told over a few books at a time.

    Wheel of Time was meant to be a single story, but it just dragged on endlessly. I don’t think A Song of Ice and Fire is nearly as bad; although it has dragged on longer than planned, the biggest complaint most people have is the amount of time the books are taking to write rather than the number of books, which is really an entirely different issue.

    • Hi everyone: well, I agree with several of you. Wheel of Time and The Song of Ice and Fire did the same thing to me. I avoided the Wheel of Time forever until my son-in-law insisted that I read it. I loved the first 3 or 4 books, but then I found myself getting really aggravated with the writer because he was bringing in more and more characters and having less and less story about the 8 characters he started the story with. By the time he died (God bless him!) I was too tired of slogging through page after page after page of the rest of his series to get to Sanderson’s trilogy finish of Robert Jordan’s masterpiece. I hate to be so critical, but I believe the author took entirely too long to write a marvelous, unique, exciting book. If he had just concentrated on the main character, his foibles, his strengths, and all of his friends and the two people who got him involved in all this exciting and terrifying adventure (the witch of Tarvalon and her wonderful guard), he would not have lost me. I still can’t bring myself to read the final 3 books–because I’m so afraid of being disappointed.

      Unfortunately, George R. R. Martin did the same thing in his saga of Fire and Ice. I was going along nicely (if you can say something so inane about such a violent and terrifying series), loving the Starks, detesting the “Lions” of Lannister, and also loving the mother of Dragons and her cohorts. Then when I thought I’d finally see how the “Queen” and Mother of Dragons would finally bring it all together, Martin wrote a book that completely killed all my interest in the series altogether: “A Dance with Dragons”. So much filler, so little plot resolution. I felt during this book that the author was just pacifying me with gruel until he had time to really bring the ending of the story together. I don’t know if I will read the end to the story because I am so “cross” with this writer–I don’t know whether to chastise him or just mark it up to “ego”. Thank GOD that Patrick Rothfuss has not done this with his excellent series about the magician/king-slayer Quoth (sp). I’ve enjoyed his first two books so much and I cannot wait for the closing one. He could have taught something to Martin and Jordan–or maybe they should have read the “Lord of the Rings” again to see how not to pad your writing! I did not feel the way I do about Martin and Jordan when I read Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series or J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series–neither of these writers seem to be guilty of their foibles. Just my opinion–but some series should end in the 3rd book. Really!
      Deb Day

      Just to say a few things about Martin’s and Jordan’s caprices. Anytime a story begins to get muddled by too many characters and too much description, the authors should step back and take a critical look at their story–when you develop characters and make them come alive for your readers by making them complex and real–why ruin all that by adding so many more “extra” characters to the mix? If they don’t bring out your hero’s and heroine’s dept of character or add their story why bring them in just to add length to the book? These marvelous stories were ruined for many readers because the authors forgot to concentrate on their main characters and the story that brings out their humanity be it for the good or the bad or a mixture of both. It makes me sad when something I absolutely love and feel passionately about (the characters that make these stories awesome) is ruined by an author’s lack of insight and self-critical awareness. I may someday go back and just read the 3 or 4 books in the series that enhanced the stories of these characters, but I still feel as if I’ll never have closure because the author’s ruined the relationship that the reader has with him. They betrayed my trust–both Jordan and Martin (maybe not as bad as Jordan–but I still have some problems with my relationship with Martin). That’s a cardinal sin for writers, and I think they should pay more attention to it than they do.
      Deb Day

  6. Melanie Goldmund /

    I don’t know if Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books count as a series, but I stopped reading pretty much after Masterharper. Really enjoyed the original trilogy, and the Harper Hall trilogy, even Moreta, but then it all seemed to change somehow. Even though there was a time when I thought I could never get enough of Pern, I found that I suddenly lost interest and stopped caring.

  7. Jesslyn H /

    Two in particular that I stopped reading–although I think one has finally ground to a close. Sookie Stackhouse and (shudder) the Anita Blake series.

    I don’t mind long series–as long as there is an endgame. Thats probably why I never picked up the Dresden books. Nor do I care if the endgame is 15 books away. I read (somewhere) that Sanderson’s Stomlight Archive was planned for about 10 books. Fine by me since the endgame was envisioned at the start–I’m along for the ride if I live that long.

  8. Sandy Ferber /

    For me, it would have to be the “Dune” books. Frank Herbert should have been told to just let the sandworm dig under and call it quits after book 3. The first book is classic, the second a good follow-up, the third a bit of a slog, and the fourth…ugh. And then it just kept going and going and going….

  9. April V. /

    The only series I’ve run into to date that got old for me was Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and that only happened on a re-read of the entire series I did recently, I think the disconnect happened around book 15 or so and may have been exacerbated by my re-read. Mostly, I give up on series because I’m just not interested and that happens within the first couple of books. The Sookie Stackhouse series was one of those for me as after the second book I decided that I didn’t care about the characters and also with the Anita Blake series after book two.

    I’ve never truly been bothered by waiting for the next book – there is always something enjoyable to pass the time with while waiting. I started reading the WoT books when the first was publishe lo those eons ago and never sweated waiting for the next and have re-read them several times. I’m currently waiting for the latest Dresden Files book, the next Outlander, the latest Kate Daniels, the final Kingkiller Chronicle book and however many Discworld books The Pratchet happens to write. I adore all of them but have no desire to urge the author on faster or to tell them to stop. I suppose that if I ever feel that they need to stop, I’ll just stop reading – easy solution; no skin off my nose if the series continues on without me and others enjoy it. I have nearly 1500 books on my TBR list, plenty of material to last quite some time while I wait for the ones I’d like to read.

    The Song of Ice and Fire just never appealed to me. I slogged through the first book and then realized that it was a slog and therefore not something I’d care to continue. I haven’t tried the Stormlight Archive yet but it is on the list to get to eventually. I don’t expect I’ll call Brandon Sanderson and yell at him for taking so long or to tell him to stop if I do decide that I like the story.

  10. RedEyedGhost /

    Erikson’s and Esslemont’s Malazan books went on too long for me. Especially once they started concentrating on characters and story lines in which I was not interested and ignoring those in which kept me reading through eight books.

    Dresden, ASoIaF, The Second Apocalypse, and Vorkosigan are some of the long series that are not yet at risk of losing me.

  11. It takes me YEARS to finish a series because I never read them one right after another. I just get bored. The only “longer” series I’ve finished was the Harry Potter series. My favorite author is Anne Rice and I still haven’t finished her vampire chronicles and I’ve been reading her since the late 80s (although there are a few rereads in there). So, I can’t really be a good judge in this topic. However, I have heard many people say that the Wheel of Time series (in addition to people here) has drug on too long so I probably will not read it.

  12. Scott Simons /

    For me it was Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. I really enjoyed the original trilogy, but never could get into the following trilogies, or any other story from Hobbs for that matter.

    As far as WOT, I put off reading the series for a long time due to hearing it was dragged out and complicated, but when Brandon Sanderson took over the series I decided to give it a shot. I listened to the whole series straight through on audiobook, and I have to say the first five books or so were probably the best series I have read or listened to. The series did drag a little for a few books from there, but I can honestly say I never lost interest.

    Also, for those who have not listened to the final trilogy, I’d encourage you to do so. Sanderson’s entrance to the series was excellent I believe, as his style of writing changed the pace of the series by not spending long sections of the books with one character, but breaking the book up into smaller sections between the characters. It made the last three books the most exciting since the first five books of the series. I enjoyed the entire WOT series, and the ending was everything I hoped. I have found it hard to find another series as enjoyable since.

  13. Good point about the different types of series. Epics are the long-running story lines. I rather enjoy serial type series.

    I like how Joe Abercrombie did it; a trilogy to kick things off and then stand-alones. I think all these sub-plots in the epics are cool too, but instead of letting them drag-out the main story; finish the big story and end it. If there is still some more tales to tell, tell it in stand-alone or start another series. Just because the epic ends doesn’t mean you can’t go back to that world again.

  14. I think I won’t be the only one to say “The Wheel of Time” series. It got so long that I actually stopped reading after a while, after seeing the plot really slow down, not much was happening, and the series ending seemed no closer after each novel ended. One of these days I may pick up the series and read it from beginning to end and finish it once and for all, but that day won’t be for a while.

    Though there have definitely been shorter series by different authors that could easily have been a book or two shorter, had the author not wanted to just pad it and stretch it out.

  15. Brann /

    The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind–I don’t think I know anybody that has made it past book 4-5 out of the 12 (besides myself). After a few volumes you just feel sorry for the characters and wish it would all end. No happily every after there, and he’s (Goodkind) still not done.
    I have to agree with Michael Rosenberg on Salvatore’s Drizzt series–the few I read were disappointing.

  16. I think the only series I have ever completed is Elizabeth Peters Vicky Bliss series (6 books. The last was written 10 years or more after book 5). I’m not very big on series that last more than 3, maybe 4 books. OH WAIT. I have read all of Frank Tuttle’s Markhat series and that is 6 books in. I have also read all of John Levitt’s series but it ended in 4 books. I will have read all of Benedict Jacka’s series when I read Chosen (book 5 and should be in my mailbox today.)

    So there are some I stick with. I’ve surprised myself in writing this response. I do enjoy series for about 3 books for the most part and then I wander off. It’s very difficult to keep characters evolving and interesting after three or four books.

  17. Jessalyn, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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