The unsatisfying ending

Here’s a post about unsatisfying endings at Book View Cafe:

Lovely characters, amazing setup, incredible building of the plot . . . It was all going so well. I so trusted the author to end it well. I was fairly wriggling in my chair to find out how she’d pull it together. And then—

She didn’t.

What did she do? She cliffhangered the ending into a part two book.

Oh, yeah. We’ve all been there. In fact we could have a WORST OFFENDER EVER contest for Surprise! Cliffhanger! endings

Personally, I don’t think any book ever is going to beat Pegasus by Robin McKinley.

Please Feel Free to Share:


14 thoughts on “The unsatisfying ending”

  1. Territory?

    I agree the McKinley had an awful ending, and the sequel still isn’t out/announced/whatever.

    I think for those who were reading as the books were published, it would be hard to top LOTR, TWO TOWERS. I can’t think of anything quite that extreme, except the McKinley, that I’ve read while coming out.

    Oh, wait… McKillip’s Riddle-Master That seemed like a very long wait for #2.

  2. Any series that was interrupted in the middle has this issue to some extent. The Steerswoman stopped after two books, with Rowan and Bel on their way to somehow stop Slado, and that was the status for well over a decade.

    I agree about Pegasus. I was wondering ‘where’s the sequel?’ when I finished.

  3. To be fair, as awful as Pegasus’ cliffhanger was Robin McKinley did/does have excellent reasons for not managing a whole lot of writing lately…

    I think the worst ending I’ve read in recent memory was Tiana Warner’s Ice Massacre, which revolved around an important magical artifact that had literally never been even hinted at before. I just despise that out-of-nowhere info-dumping; or alternatively sudden and completely implausible deux ex machinas, where everything is solved with a wave of a magic wand. I hate either of those things much more than cliffhangers, honestly.

  4. I see this a lot in self-published novels. The fashion seems to be leaning toward serial novels — but you don’t find out it’s a Part 1 until you get to the last page.
    I read a well-written book, with an intriguing hero who started out as the villain but turned out to have a sense of humor. And then I got to the “end” and wanted to throw my kindle across the room. It wasn’t even a logical stopping point. They were going from A to B so they could do C, but she stopped the story midway between A and B. For no bloody good reason.
    Oh dear. What am I doing up on this soapbox? It’s rather high up. I will climb down carefully and be quiet now. That really irritated me. I’ve never touched that author’s books since.

  5. I wasn’t blaming Tolkien exactly, just putting myself in the position of a reader getting to the end without RotK out yet. That would have been a long long wait. then there was the fifth installment of Dunnett’s Lymond series which looked liked the end for a long time, but I was so un-atuned to publishing and series I assumed it was the end, however odd. (after all, if the book came from the library, and looked worn, of course it was old and the series was finished….reading that series completely out of order probably helped with that impression. )

    I can live with cliffhangers, but as I posted over on the original thread, it’s the endings that ignore important threads that are the worst. Elements that had or should be having huge impact on the characters and resolution just dropped or handwaved away as dealt with in ways that the characters involved wouldn’t have accepted for a minute. Like Jane Eyre accepting Rochester and going through wedding him knowing about the (living) wife in the attic. Jane’s character just wouldn’t do that. Trying to sell the reader that she would and ending the book with the wedding as a HEA would be a major failure.

    Fortunately it’s rare. But I have run into series endings that miss that badly. Not any solo novels that I can think of. Either luck or other clues turn me away before getting far enough to see that end.

  6. I remember being really offended by how Jan Segel ended the Prospero’s Children trilogy. No cliffhangers or magic artifacts, just a decision that, in my eyes, negated everything the main character had accomplished, and any personal growth throughout the series.

    Kate Elliott’s Jaran series has no ending, and none planned – she just left all her characters in unresolved and dangerous situations because she says she decided that there wasn’t a market for that flavor of sci fi. I get that writing is a job and business decisions get made, but that one stung all the same…

  7. That’s a good point. Character violation leaves a bad aftertaste. I hate to say it, but Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest Vorkosigan novel tended in that direction.

  8. Pegasus is top of my list too. It’s so much worse when you’re expecting it to come to a satisfying end!

    I’m hoping Elliott will finish the Jaran series. Everything was neatly set up for drastic change at the end of the last book. And I am just itching to see what happens to Ilya. I could skip all the other characters though.

    There are some books that end with a decision, but no action. Like the character decides, “Plan A is the way to go.” And that’s it. I feel so frustrated. I want to *see* the character execute plan A. Set off on that trip around the world. Or confess their one-sided love. Or start studying statecraft. Whatever. Just give me a short chapter where it happens instead of just telling me it will. I think these kinds of endings are prone to sequels in which the character encounters problems implementing their decision. So it’s really no better than a cliffhanger, imo.

  9. Pegasus would’ve been fine if she’d ended it where it felt natural to end, and left the big twist as the first thing that opened a new book. So I just pretend it ended there and refuse to read the “real end” until there is a sequel.

    I can think of a couple of books that offended me by how they ended, mostly based on how well I liked the book previously. The Last Words of Will Wolfkin was AMAZING… except for the last two pages which basically tried to make the entire journey either a dream or some kind of spiritual metaphor, which is one of the only times I’ve seriously considered defacing a book to remove the offending pages and just let the freaking Happy Ending stand. Then there was The Ill-Made Mute, which decided to tack on an epilogue to the third book that also felt the need to negate everything the previous books had done. Although in that case I didn’t like the books as well, so I just gave them away.

  10. I think what frustrates me more than cliffhanger endings is when promising authors are forced to leave the field because their mid-list books just aren’t doing well enough to start a new profession. Doris Egan comes to mind–a lesser known author, yet she seems well known among heavy readers.

    I should have mentioned the Ivory trilogy in the posts about lesser known works, yet I suspect most readers here already know her.

  11. Elaine, amazingly, looking at reviews on Goodreads, Emma Bull’s Territory doesn’t seem to feel as unfinished to every reader the way it did to me. But I agree with you. It’s nearly as bad as Pegasus.

    Pegasus has been standing there without a sequel for such a long time that I doubt it will ever be finished. Megan, that’s a useful comment. I didn’t remember it had a resolution at all, but I am more likely to re-read it eventually if I know that just stopping short will basically solve the problem. Also, if I were you, I bet I would probably trim out the last two pages of that Wolfkin book.

    SarahZ, ah ha, is that why. Well, that was a terrible decision. I care about commercial viability, but not enough to justify stopping in the middle. I was really unhappy about that non-ending when I read the series. Maybe eventually, with self-publishing or whatever, she will go back and pick it up again.

    Pete, I totally agree about Doris Egan’s Ivory books. I would so have loved to go on with that series.

    It took me years and years to read the beginning of The Return of the King. I always skipped over everything else to pick up with Frodo and Sam.

  12. Riddle-master of Hed definitely wins for best/worst cliffhanger ever (“He screamed.” You can’t end a novel on that sentence. You just can’t!), closely followed by LOTR, which, I agree, was terrible mostly because the next book abandons Sam and Frodo for hundreds of pages!

    But Laini Taylor’s latest, Strange the Dreamer, has just made it up into my top three.

  13. Okay, I’m sure you’re right about Riddlemaster, but since the whole thing was out when I read it, it wasn’t so bad for me. But ouch!

    Barbara Hambly did the same basic thing in the Silicon Mage trilogy when she threw Antrig into a tower and left him there to be tortured while the reader waited for the third book. Now in that case I had to wait, and it was awful!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top