I love series/trilogies/quartets etc.
But sometimes I hate them.
There’s a delicate balance between creating an expansive universe a reader can love living in and dragging the series on too long, leaving the reader disenchanted. I’d like to highlight how each formation works and doesn’t work and give out some recommendations if you’re craving a series at the moment.
With a flavoring of mancandy here and there, of course.
This section(trilogies more so) are the golden standard for me. If an author sets out to write story with a defined number of books (3-4), I assume he/she has a planned beginning, middle and end. There are exceptions, a la the Pirates of the Caribbean movie trilogy where they started with one and then decided to expand. (Which led to two movies that I like to pretend did not exist. Except to be excited that (a) Norrington got to be badass and (b) they cast Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice as one of the villains.)
I see most trilogy/quartets/cycles in fantasy/sci-fi books. Tolkien set the standard for it with Lord of the Rings (and I’d bet that most aspiring fantasy writers have written some Tolkien flavored story at some point in their lives.) When it’s done right in these genres, you get to experience the unique world during the plot without feeling like the author’s continuously dropping exposition on you.
Obviously, when it’s bad, you feel like you’re drowning in the backstory/subplots and you just want things to move forward.
Trilogies/Quartets of Note:
The Firebringer Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce (Unicorns with politics and mythologies and drama!)
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Self-explanatory)
Modern Faerie Tale Series by Holly Black (more of a duology with a related story in between but still all tied together)
Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn (Feudal Japan, excellent hero and heroine and awesome romance.)
The Airhead Novels by Meg Cabot (Corporate greed, bodyswitching and supervillain boyfriends.)
The Circle Trilogy, The Sign of the Seven Trilogy, The Calhoun Series, The Three Sisters Island Trilogy and the Key Trilogy all by Nora Roberts (romance, paranormal activity, ancient curses and noble quests.)
The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer (problematic but worth mentioning. Sparkly vampire and shirtless werewolves.)
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (ice zombies, medieval realism and throne politics. Also, a lot of death.)
These are books that a) are split up into two parts or b) Start out as a stand alone (or work as a stand alone) and the story is expanded into a sequel. I don’t see a lot of these but I love them. The trouble with a lot of trilogies is that middle book. Sometimes, things just bog down a little between the epic beginning and the epic ending. (I had a lot of trouble getting through The Two Towers during my first read-through of the series.)
My two go-to for these is the Crown Duel duology by Sherwood Smith and A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede. In both the first books are stand-alone adventures (though in Crown Duel, the first book definitely begs more for a sequel). The second books deal with the fallout of the first, bring in another self-contained plot and develop the romantic subplots hinted at in the first installments.
Other Duology/Sequels of Note
All-American Girl/Ready or Not by Meg Cabot (student ambassadors, art lessons and cute president’s son.)
Raven’s Shadow/Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs (mages, cults and sweet married love.)
Once a Princess/Twice a Prince by Sherwood Smith (lost loves, secret identities, fencing and pirates.)
Violet Eyes/Silver Eyes by Nicole Luiken (genetic alterations, mad scientists and rivalmancing.)
I’m going to break this one up in two: one for Romance and one for other genres. Because Romance has its special subset of this.
A related series (or expanded universe) is when the setting remains the same and plot points may carry over, but the protagonists can vary over time. Maybe the first two books in a series were one hero, the third is a heroine years later. Maybe the series covers centuries of a history in one place with a new protagonist every book. It’s a very broad category and differs from the others in that it doesn’t necessarily have an overarching plot between all the books like a trilogy/quartet/cycle would.
A certain type Romance series are a different beast and best explained by example. Say Romance Author A writes four Regency Romance books. Each book has a heroine who is a daughter of Lord Warbuton, Duke of Pemberly. Most of the time the books are stand-alone and it is unnecessary to read the books in order to experience them. Sometimes it is necessary.
(PS. Pet Peeve Time. If your related series gives me no indication from the cover or from an inset page that it should be read with the other books and then the book talks all about events that happened in one of the other books, I get irked. I want to know that I should be reading the books in a certain order.
A “Book 2 of the Warbuton Series” somewhere on the cover or title page will do nicely.)
Not all romance novels in related series follow this subset. But it’s a popular one so it’s deserving of its own category.
General Related Series of Note
The Time Quartet by Madeleine L’Engle (Magic and science and sweet romances and actions!)
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Allegories, fierce battles, fantastical realms)
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (dragons, telepathy, killer parasites)
The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques (warrior animals, rollicking ballads and amazing food descriptions)
The Once Upon a Time Series by Various Authors (retellings of faerie tales as historical (sometimes historical-ish) fiction)
The Castle Rock books by Stephen King (Joint setting of Cujo, The Body, Needful Things, etc; mentioned in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, It, etc;)
Avon Historical Romance Series by Various Authors (historical romance for young adults)
The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett (all your favorite fantasy tropes, turned on their head)
Special Romance Related Series of Note
The Carsington Brothers Series by Loretta Chase (bluestockings, noblemen and steamy fun.)
The Goddess Summoning Series by PC Cast (Greek gods, present day mortals and body switching.)
The Bridal Quartet by Nora Roberts (wedding planning, sugar-sweet fluff and drama drama drama.)
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James (Duchesses, Dukes and the long road to happiness.)
The Maiden Lane Series by Elizabeth Hoyt (intrigue, dilemmas and silver-hared bishies)
A series (by my definition) is when each book revolves around the same character(s) but the major plot of each book is new. It is almost always necessary to read the books in order but it differs from a trilogy because at the end of each book, the major crisis is solved (though often a large overarching crisis is lurking in the background).
These are hit and miss for me. When Twilight exploded and the paranormal romance series’ with it, there were a lot of books that seemed to get dragged on and on into an unknown number of books, just to milk that vampire romance cow. So I’m afraid I’m a little “eh” about paranormal romance series these days. (So far, the only ongoing series with no determinable end that I’m still with is the Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs series. There have been one or two hiccups but Briggs keeps things fresh, keeps me caring about her characters.)
I’ve included A Song of Ice and Fire in the Trilogy/Quartet/Cycle section because the main plot arches through the books, and there is an end in sight. The Harry Potter series is in this category because though Voldemort was shadowing the series the whole time, he didn’t become a major major threat till Book 4
Series of Note
The Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs (werewolves, faeries and a kickass mechanic heroine)
The Princess Diaries Series (Does anyone find it odd that Julie Andrews has been in three different roles where the original person/character was crabby/vain (Mary Poppins), had a bad temper (though was otherwise sweet) (The Sound of Music), or a downright evil woman with moments of awesome (The Princess Diaries)…and turned them all into lovable characters? Is it just me?
Anyway…best series ever. Vegan princess, pop culture and serious drama)
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter.)
The Wicked Lovely Series by Melissa Marr (faeries realms, war and the troubled paths of young (and old) love)
The Ramona Series by Beverly Clearly (Ramona is the patron saint of childhood. That is all.)
The Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett (a witch in training, tiny scottish men and magic galore)
Disagree with any of my ramblings? Have anything you’d like to add? Just want to list out your favorite series? Then go forth and comment.