Second books; also, Autumn Book Sales!

At Writer Unboxed, this: The Blessed Curse of the Second Book

The publishing world and readers love a debut—shiny and new—but by the time book two comes around, the bloom is off the rose. There are the inevitable comparisons, and authors desperately want to prove they aren’t one trick ponies and that their glorious debut wasn’t a fluke.

Well, regardless of whether the debut novel was actually glorious, I think everyone is aware of the general opinion that trilogies often sag in the middle. I have to say, despite this general perception, I personally don’t actually go into a trilogy expecting that to happen because, honestly, at least as often as the second book sags, it soars.

Let me see. My own second books …

Land of the Burning Sands. Wow, as I put the link it, I notice the entire trilogy is just $1.99 today for the Kindle edition. If you don’t have this trilogy, today is a good time to add it to your e-library, that’s for sure.

Anyway, what I started to say was, the second book is my personal favorite in the trilogy. It’s not close, either. I really, really like Burning Sands. The writing experience was particularly smooth for this one, as I recall, which may slant my opinion.

Pure Magic. I’m not sure. I like all the novels in this series, but I think I like Copper Mountain best. More germane to the topic of this post, I don’t think I like Pure Magic less than any other. I enjoyed writing Justin. I should manage to give him a significant pov role in Silver Circle.

The Sphere of the Winds. I wrote this such a long time ago, even though I just brought it out this year. (It seems like longer! February seems AGES ago at this point.) Anyway, I’ve gotten several very nice notes about it from readers — not just reviews (thanks for leaving a review!) but personal emails. I think readers in general seem to agree this is a good sequel to The Floating Islands.

Door Into Light.

Okay, I should mention, Hatchette is plainly running a sale on backlist titles, because House of Shadows is also just $1.99 today. You know what, fine, I’m going to drop the price of Door Into Light for a bit, until House of Shadows comes back up, and see what happens. There. By the end of the day, D into L should be just $2.99. That’s as low as I can put it and still list it for 70% royalties.

Tarashana. Not the second book written, but the second book in the main trilogy. Personally, I think it turned out very well. I can’t put it above or below Tuyo; I love both books so much.

As a side note, please don’t leave a one-star review for a book if your Kindle happens to have a meltdown after you buy that book. It’s more effective to contact Amazon about the problem with your Kindle. I’m sure you can all accurately surmise why I mention this here. Mind you, Tarashana still has a nice star rating.

In a sense, In Absence, Darkness. I get that this is an oddly structured trilogy. It’s the first half of a single story. I don’t really think it counts as a second book.

I think that’s it for my personal second books. While reader opinions are sure to vary, there’s not one that I think is markedly inferior to the first book.

The same can be said for lots and lots of other trilogies where the same is true. Let me see.

Okay —

Freedom’s Apprentice, the second book of the Dead Rivers trilogy by Naomi Kritzer. The whole trilogy is so good!

The Fox, second book of the Inda series by Sherwood Smith. This is possibly my all-time favorite epic fantasy series. All the books are great.

The Fox (Inda Book 2)

Court Duel, the second book of the Crown Duel/Court Duel duology, also by Sherwood Smith, is significantly better than the first book (according to my personal taste). The linked edition contains both books.

Raven’s Children, second book of the Sequoyah trilogy by Sabrina Chase, is better than the first. This is solely because the first book seemed, to me, to take a good while to get going. The story is then one cohesive whole. Once it starts moving, it doesn’t sag significantly at any point. This was one of my favorite SF series when I read it, a year or two ago. I need to re-read it again.

Ancillary Sword, the second book of Ann Leckie’s trilogy, is, for me, as good as the first book. I know not everyone agrees with that. I thought every book was about equal in quality. This is partly because, when events slow down, they slow down in a way I find appealing.

That’s five. I’m sure everyone here can name a trilogy where the second book is as good as the first. If an example leaps to mind, please drop it in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Second books; also, Autumn Book Sales!”

  1. I recently finished the second book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series. I liked it better than the first one. It had a really gutsy ending and a nice redemption arc.

  2. I like the second book in N.D. Wilson’s Ashtown Burials series – nominally a kid’s book, but man, Empire of Bones just widens the scope of the series by so much, and he really hits his stride in it.
    Also Rosemary Sutcliff’s not-quite-a-series that starts with The Eagle of the Ninth; the second book is called The Silver Branch, and there is this one scene in it that never fails to bring me to tears, and another scene to affectionate laughter. She clearly had a great love for that story, and it shows.

  3. I think there’s some difference between long series and trilogies in this respect. Something that applies to both series and trilogies is that the first book has to do a lot of exposition and the writer is learning their own way around the characters and the world. The second book is often better just because the writer has now hit their stride and all the basic exposition is now out of the way. However, while the first book has to serve the same basic expositional role whether it is part of a series or trilogy, the second book serves a very different role in a series than in a trilogy. For a series, the second book’s role is less constrained–it’s just a step along the road, so I’d expect the quality improvement effect to be more dominant. For a trilogy, the second book has a big constraint in that it must set up the third book, which generally means first book=exposition, second book=major problems, third book=resolution. That is, by their nature second books in a trilogy tend to leave major things unresolved, and to be somewhat depressing. That can still be the best part of the series–Empire Strikes Back leaps to mind–but I suspect second books in trilogies on average are less satisfying than second books in long series.

  4. That’s a good point, Allen. I’ve usually handled it differently, with each book in a trilogy setting up and solving a different problem. I think you may be right that this is a real issue for trilogies where the whole story takes place over three books.

    I’m thinking now of a couple of examples where I barely made it through the second book because YES they did not resolve things and ended on a low note. Like Barbara Hambly’s Silicon Mage — that was grim and ended on a cliffhanger. Not my favorite thing at all.

  5. Alan–
    I disagree. Scholomance book 1 was spooky and ambiguous in many ways. Book 2 was largely predictable tho I underestimated just how many stars were lining up.
    I agree, Land of the Burning Sands is easily my favorite of the trilogy.

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