Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Series that shift genre from one book to the next

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?

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14 Comments Series that shift genre from one book to the next

  1. SarahZ

    Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series changes reading level/target age pretty drastically from the first book to the second, but I don’t know if that counts.

    I agree that Dalemark as a series hangs together oddly, but I love each book individually. If you consider the Chrestomanci books a series, they bounce around a bit too.

  2. Rachel

    Sarah, I thought about the Queen’s Thief series too! I wasn’t sure whether to include it. I agree with you completely that the first book is aimed at a quite different readership than the others in the series. I guess I decided that didn’t count, but I’m perfectly willing to change my mind.

  3. Herenya

    Bujold’s Vorkosgian saga shifts and changes from one book to another – sub genre changes I suppose, because it never ceases to be science fiction.

  4. Hanneke

    Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series shifts between subgenres for its sub-arcs and stories, from space opera, spy thrillers and exploring-the-universe adventures to comedy-of-manners romance, though a lot contain both action & adventure, family ties and a little bit of mild romance.

    I read Spellcoats as a standalone in the Dutch translation at about 11 years, from the library, not realising there were more books by this author: most weren’t translated.
    Years later, as a grownup I discovered DWJ’s books in English, and enjoyed them immensely, before finally realising that “De Magische Mantels”, one of my first fantasy books read in Dutch (after Tonke Dragt) was part of the oeuvre by this same author!

  5. Hanneke

    Oh yes, if I forgot to make it clear: the Liaden stories are always Science fiction as well as some other flavors mixed in, varied as life is.

  6. mona

    I can think of two series that shifted in some way: Pierce’s Tortall, which starts off with magic and a pantheon of dieties, but then adds centaurs, griffins, stormwings, etc; and McCaffrey’s Pern, which transitions from fantasy in the form of dragons to science ficion in the form of planetary colonies and genetic manipulation.

  7. Rachel

    Yes, some of the Vorkosigan books are space opera, but A Civil Campaign is much more a comedy of manners. Good one to add to the list!

  8. SarahZ

    I remembered a couple more:

    The Tearling trilogy adds some dystopian/sci fi-ish elements in the second book, while the first book seems like straight up fantasy.

    And, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is technically set in the same world as American Gods but feels totally different.

  9. Craig N.

    Stirling’s Draka trilogy are all alternate history, but they are respectively a war novel, a spy novel, and a technothriller.

  10. Craig N.

    Oh, and the Dresden Files have spent a long time shifting to increasingly high-fantasy gears from the relatively low-scale urban-fantasy detective stories at the beginning, but it’s telegraphed pretty early on that the series is heading that way.

  11. Rachel

    Oh, yeah, you’ve mentioned the Draka books before. The Spy Novel was tough enough to get through that I doubt I’ll ever try the Technothriller.

  12. Craig N.

    I wasn’t sure you’d even read UNDER THE YOKE and don’t expect or recommend going on to THE STONE DOGS (which is honestly the weakest of the three anyway).

    The Vlad Taltos books have some outliers to the general high-fantasy arc, don’t they? And certainly the other series in that universe is a different genre, although he crossed over the characters now.

  13. Rachel

    I did read Under the Yoke. Once. If I were reading it now, I doubt I’d finish it. Not really my cup of tea.

    And, yes. The Taltos series kind of bounces all over the place! Good way to prevent yourself from getting bored if you’re writing a 17 (or so) book series.

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