Okay, so this kind of goes with the recent post in which I pointed to a Quora question about books with bad, unsatisfying endings.
Obviously I must have done posts on this topic before, but it’s so parallel with the recent post. Therefore: What are some books or series with particularly great endings? I have four candidates.
1) The Phoenix Feather quadrilogy by Sherwood Smith.
Here we have the phoenix feather itself, a plot element in the background through the whole quadrilogy. Who is destined to take the feather and be great? Mouse? Seems like it should be Mouse. Her older brother? That’s her assumption, but then Mouse herself obviously heads toward greatness. But maybe someone else?
So, … spoiler warning! … but to me this is a delightful spoiler that would make me anticipate the ending even more. Still, here comes a spoiler! Scroll down to the next book cover image if you want to skip it.
It’s not ONE person who gets the feather, it’s all of them! It’s everyone! That phoenix feather gets passed from hand to hand through the climactic chapters, everyone using its power to accomplish their own part of the action and then handing it on. This is BRILLIANT. It’s an enormously satisfying method of winding up four books’ worth of building the story.
I don’t think this is a flawless series — very good, but not flawless — but I do think it’s a practically flawless ending.
What other books or series do a particularly great job with the ending?
2) The Scholomance trilogy by Naomi Novik.
I raved about this one, as I’m sure you all remember. Wow, what a tremendously elegant and satisfying ending. All the pieces of the worldbuilding and plotting click into place AND we have a redemption subplot for the whole school, practically all the students rescued in that last scramble at the end of the second book, plus various other elements that seemed quite awful were suddenly reinterpreted, and it’s all perfectly believable.
That’s such a great ending. And in this case, the whole series is indeed practically flawless straight through from beginning to end.
3) The Ancillary Justice trilogy by Ann Leckie, and my goodness, who decided to put these new covers on the trilogy? Wow, not great.
What in the world? I mean, it’s Bright Red, so if that was what the publisher wanted, good job. But … what? Pointless geometric shapes? What?
Regardless, this is such a great series, and the ending is super neat, and one of the super neat things about it is this: In order to work, Breq must be unaware of her — its — own motivations and pretty much unaware of its own plans. This would NEVER have worked in most books, but in this trilogy, Breq is genuinely unaware of many of its own motivations right from the beginning. The READER is pretty clear on those motivations, but Breq, not so much, and so this important and strange element of the protagonist’s character leads directly to the ending. This is SO COOL.
I know this is putting myself in high-level company, but:
4) The Tuyo main trilogy: Tuyo, Tarashana, Tasmakat.
I was actually fairly intimidated by the idea of this book. I knew what I wanted to do with it, but I was worried I might not be able to pull it off. But once I moved forward with it, I didn’t find the most important elements nearly as difficult as I’d feared. It did take time to build to the climax, but that’s fine, I don’t think anyone will feel that the story drags significantly.
I’m very happy with how it came out, and genuinely confident that almost all readers are going to love those crucial plot elements, including the ending. I mean, there’s always variation and no doubt someone somewhere will dislike the ending, but that’s hard for me to actually imagine because I personally think the ending came out beautifully.
When I sent Tano to first readers, I was like, “Gosh, I hope everyone likes this story!” [Spoiler: they did.] But when I sent Tasmakat out to first readers, I was much more confident and in fact gleeful about it, like, “Oh, I can’t WAIT till they hit the part where ____.” Some elements concerned me, but not the ending.
Okay! If you’ve got a book or series — I notice all these are series — with a particularly well-done, successful, satisfying ending, please drop it in the comments!
12 thoughts on “Particularly great endings”
I found the ending of The Mountains of Mourning by Bujold deeply satisfying. It’s one of the only times I have finished something and immediately turned back to the beginning and read it again. It happened to be the first Bujold I areas, so I came to it without preconceptions.
Otherwise I am having trouble thinking of something. There are many things I like, but few with that feeling of rightness. And many of the series I like are ongoing, so no conclusions yet.
That’s definitely a great ending, OtterB. There’s a reason that particular story often winds up at the top when people are talking about their favorite Vorkosigan stories.
I’ve always thought Hughart’s Bridge of Birds had a wonderful ending.
There are probably others, but I’m only semi-functional, so may come back later with more.
I’m glad you put your own books on the list! Whenever I recommend your books to friends, I always emphasize how reliable you are about writing satisfying endings.
Thank you, Elise, and I hope you (and (nearly) everyone else) always think so!
I’ve been trying to think of something to add here, and I think most of my comfort reads have thoroughly satisfying endings–it’s just that many of them have been comfort reads for a long time so aren’t readily available anymore!
One of my favorites, though? “The Wind Witch” by Susan Dexter. (Any of hers, really.) She was writing mostly in the 80s and 90s and I think I adored absolutely everything she wrote. I love Druyan’s story, though–she’s just trying to keep her home after her husband is killed, but has to deal with raiders and getting in the crops and all the rest–with the help of her magic horse, of course. I love the bits of housekeeping that keep the story grounded even as she goes haring off like the wind to help warn people of the Viking-esque raiders. Honestly, though, if you’ve never read any of her books, they’re delightful. “Ring of Allaire” was the first and it’s kind of a standard fantasy-quest, but with an appealing lead. (And, again, she wrote it in the 80s when the epic quest thing hadn’t been so badly overdone yet.)
I have at least one paper edition of something by Susan Dexter on my TBR shelves. The problem is that I barely read anything in paper anymore. I should start bringing one book at a time up from those shelves and leaving it on the coffee table where it can, hopefully, poke at me until I actually read it.
Lol—you might want to put a spoiler warning on your Phoenix Feather paragraph (though a post about endings is probably spoiler warning enough!). Realizing how the feather was actually going to work was one of the joys of the series. I loved how the One True Hero trope was completely subverted. Not sure if you were the one to put me onto “The Protagonist Problem” https://www.uncannymagazine.com/article/the-protagonist-problem/ It’s an interesting read, and it’s interesting to see what Smith does with protagonismos in the Phoenix Feather.
Can confirm that the ending of Tasmakat is, indeed, satisfying!
I need to get my hands on Bridge of Birds: people say such wonderful things about it.
Okay, Kim, fine, I’ve added a somewhat mild spoiler warning. To me, this is literally the kind of spoiler that would make me want to read the book MORE, but you’re probably right that a spoiler warning is a good idea just in case.
I’m not sure whether I remember The Protagonist Problem article, but now I’ll certainly take a look!
And I loved Bridge of Birds, yes, you should definitely read it!
My copy of Susan Dexter’s Ring of Allaire is a Del Rey edition that says “First time in print” on the back. I read it so often, I needed to cover the entire thing with wide tape from the library to keep it from disintegrating.
That said, all her books are available on Kindle these days. Her first three (Ring of Allaire, Sword of Calandra, and Mountains of Channadran) are a trilogy. The others are kind of stand-alones that tie into that series. Most of them include the war-horse Valadan and there is the occasional reference to past characters, but you can mostly read them on their own with just the knowledge that Valadan is sired by the wind and therefore as fast and eternal as the wind. He just needs to keep finding new people to bond with since, well, people are NOT eternal.
Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love how at the ending Caz suddenly turns out to have died an extra time (and can thus fulfill the magical requirement to lifting the curse) and how you suddenly find out he’s been walking this road of the gods for MUCH longer than he even knew.
Nicole, I agree! I thought of the Curse of Chalion immediately when I read this post. But I have plugged the book too many times on this site already (it’s my favourite book many reasons), so I thought I’d hold my tongue this time. Glad to have another fan take up the cause.