Over at tor.com, Tobias Buckall has a post about series that start off in one genre and then shift to another.
I have an example of this on the tip of my tongue, but . . . no, it’s hopeless right now, so let’s just go on and see what Buckall has in mind.
There are certain expectations that a reader might have when reading novels billed as sequels or as part of a series. Chief among them: that a novel will fall into the same general category as its predecessor. The third book of a high fantasy series is unlikely to be a cyberpunk romance…One volume largely sets the ground rules for a world going forward; the works that follow hew to the existing worldbuilding.
Except when they don’t.
Okay! That is indeed an odd thing for an author to do. What examples does Buckall have in mind? He mentions several, but he focuses on this one;
The two most recent books by Frank Bill also fall firmly into this category. His 2013 novel Donnybrook was a taut, pulpy work set in and around an underground fighting competition–imagine Achewood’s “The Great Outdoor Fight” filtered through the sensibility of James Ellroy at his most nihilistic and you’d be pretty close to the mark. … Bill’s new book, The Savage, depicts a near-future America in the throes of collapse. The government has imploded, militias dot the landscape, and those who have survived have largely learned to live in a more archaic manner. … Moving from crime fiction to a work that’s outright dystopian is a bold choice…
Interesting! Both books sound too gritty and/or grim for me, but what an intriguing direction for Frank Bill to take his later book. Though come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of near-future-world-falls-apart novels in the next few year. I’m sure it will get rather tiresome. This isn’t even the first I’ve heard of, and I’m not making the least attempt to seek them out.
Meanwhile, yes, I can think of a handful of examples where a series shifted genre, or at least subgenre:
Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series shifts from romantic comedy to a substantially more serious romantic drama kind of subgenre.
Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark quartet features four books all of which are good, but the series shifts from pretty standard YA fantasy (Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet) to a lovely but very distinctive fairy tale kind of story (The Spellcoats) to a more serious high fantasy at the end (Crown of Dalemark).
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series didn’t just improve as he went along; it also started off as light humorous fantasy (The Colour of Magic) through more serious (though of course still funny) YA and adult fantasy, to hilarious social satire wrapped in Discworld attire (Making Money and so on).
Okay, those are the ones I can think of. There are also single books that shift genre partway through — Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children switches from horror to fantasy halfway through; and Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killer switches from contemporary YA (I guess?) to fantasy (or maybe horror).
Lots of the time, it does seem these shifts work pretty well as long as they are subtle. I personally have never considered The Spellcoats really connected to any other work, regardless of marketing. As far as I’m concerned, the shift in tone and style was too great to make it possible to read as part of a series. I’m sure you’ve all read the Dalemark books, right? What did you think?