A Specific Sort of Disappointment with a Sequel

So, someone recently reminded me of the quite wonderful book by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, A Companion to Wolves. This is a book I read and loved a few years ago. I read the sequel immediately, then waited till the third book was out and grabbed it at once. And was somewhat disappointed in it.

Here, from my comments regarding the first two books, is my feeling about where the third book was probably going to go — and where I wanted it to go:

My personal prediction for the third book is that Otter, after rescuing one of Isolfr’s people from the Rheans and being herself rescued, is going to wind up bonding with a wolf – the first woman ever to do so – thus making the whole question of women’s proper role explicit not just for Isolfr, who is already thinking about this, but for his whole society.

Obviously Monette and Bear might have other ideas of what to do with Otter, but if I were writing the story, Otter would definitely have a wolf pup in her near future. For me, the only question would be whether to give her a konigenwolf pup (a queen) or a lesser bitch pup or a dog pup. The greatest subversion of Iskryner cultural norms would occur if she bonded with a dog pup who grew into a big, dominant, ambitious male, but we’ll see.

None of that happened. Otter was a trivial character in the third book.

Here are my comments about the third book, which is called An Apprentice to Elves.

Here’s the key bit: the third book focuses more on Alfgyfa, Isolfr’s daughter, who has become, as you might have guessed, an apprentice to the elves. She’s interesting, I guess, but stepping away from Otter as an important character means Monette and Bear chose not to set Otter up for a really interesting twist on what they’re doing with sex roles in this culture. That was so disappointing!

In addition, Monette and Bear didn’t do anything much with another character I thought was really interesting and promising, Fargrimr. Here’s what I said about that in my comments about the third book in the series:

Fargrimr is, as I said, a sworn-son. When his brother Randulfr bonded with a wolf and was lost as an heir, Fargrimr became an honorary son (instead of a daughter, see) so that she could be her – his – father’s heir and eventually lord in turn. Fargrimr is an excellent point-of-view character. But we don’t see all that much of him, because we are spending so much time with the other pov characters, which means mainly Alfgyfa and also Tin as well as Otter.

Yet another choice not to explore this culture from a pov I particularly wanted to see, and a character who had already been set up to give a fascinating perspective on sex roles in this culture.

I never got especially interested in the elves. I didn’t care much about Alfgyfa. The third book, for me, was … not quite a failure. But it was by no means the book I wanted it to be.

And that is a very specific way for a third book, or any sequel, to fail for a reader.

I’m not sure how often this has happened to me. In order for this kind of disappointment to occur:

a) I have to be thoroughly drawn into the first book(s) of the series;

b) There has to be enough of a pause between one book and the next that I have time to sort of start writing the next book in my head;

c) The sequel has to go in a direction I don’t especially care for, so that I’m reluctant to let go of the sequel I had in mind.

The author of course wants readers to be drawn in as much as possible. I’m really not sure how many readers kind of write scenes in their head for what they’d like to happen next, but my guess is, a lot. That’s got to be one of the basic inspirations behind fan fiction, right? That means that the risk of a sequel turning out to be a disappointment is probably significant for a fair number of readers … or that’s my guess. Have any of you had that experience? Of wanting a specific sequel that turns out not to be the sequel the author writes.

Anyway, this is one reason I was also disappointed by the sequel to another book I love by Sarah Monette, The Goblin Emperor.

The sequel, The Witness for the Dead, is not only from a pov other than Maia’s, but that also necessarily means that the story isn’t going the way I specifically planned it out in my head. I wrote quite a few scenes of the sequel I wanted — just in my head, but exactly the same way I’d write scenes in my head for one of my own books. The actual sequel is so far removed from that, it couldn’t begin to compete. Especially as Celehar is such a passive protagonist so much of the time.

I’m sure this happens fairly often, but I’m rarely so deeply engaged by the first book of a series that I get especially disappointed when the author takes the series in a direction I didn’t expect. Sarah Monette is definitely one author who can really pull me into her novels.

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1 thought on “A Specific Sort of Disappointment with a Sequel”

  1. I remember exactly that reaction the first time I read the second and third books in Monette’s series. I think when we call something a series, we expect the story to revolve around the same characters, even if POV changes. And Isolfr is such a compelling character it was disappointing to see him in an ancillary role in the second and third books. And then, when I grew interested in the characters of the second book, they too were relegated to a secondary role in the third book. The books suffer for our expectations. However, I have read (and listened) to the books again, and I found myself appreciating them much more when I went into them without the expectations, and just received them on their own individual merits. (Though I would love to read the books you envisioned!)

    I actually had the same reaction when I read “Paladin of Souls” by Bujold the first time. Cazaril is one of my favorite characters, and I wanted more of him. So I was watching for him to pop up in every scene, and thus didn’t appreciate what I was reading as well as I have on my many subsequent rereads. I think it is better when books like these are marketed as ” a story in the such-and-such world” or something similar, instead of book two or three in a series.

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