Why Trilogies are More Satisfying Than Series or Mere Sequels
This post was inspired by Rebecca’s one about her general wariness of books that continue their stories (read here).
I too, am notoriously fickle in continuing to read novels in series even when I loved the first one or two I read. A case in point is the excellent Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch – I read the first two (see here and here) and I do want to read more having four on the shelf, but I just don’t feel the pressure to get through them. I know what to expect broadly, and I have too many other single books calling out to me! Long-running series are particularly prevalent in crime, SF and fantasy genres, and most have an underlying story arc alongside the episodes in each book.
There are many series I have loved getting into and hope to carry on with eventually – e.g. Michael Connelly – Harry Bosch books, Lawrence Block – Matt Scudder series and Charlaine Harris – True Blood. However, I feel no need to read any more Patricia Cornwell (should have stopped sooner with Scarpetta) or to go further with Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake vampire killer books or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books for instance.
In fact, the only lengthy adult series I’ve read in its entirety in recent years is the 4000+ pages of Stephen King’s Dark Tower set. And why was that? Why did I persevere with this particular series over others (plus Harry Potter)?
The answer is because it had an end!
All these other series just go on and on and on! I like the finality of a series with an ending. And that is why I seem to have read a lot of trilogies (or parts of with the rest still to come). Trilogies just seem the perfect length for a series – we have the exposition of all the themes in the first book, they’re developed in the second, and then reviewed in the third with a coda – just like symphonic form.
The daddy of all the trilogies has to be The Lord of the Rings which I read (plus The Hobbit) for a third time back in 2010. Maybe my love of LOTR is why I’ve never been able to get into Game of Thrones – neither on page nor TV, I just don’t feel the need – although you can try to persuade me if you want.
Apart from LOTR, I have two particular favourite trilogies I wanted to highlight:
First: Jeff Vandermeer’s amazing Southern Reach Trilogy – which blends SF and horror with a bit of dark fantasy into a twisted mind-bending eco-thriller. Although the first book is the strongest, you do get (some) answers in the third! I was amazed by Vandermeer’s scope of imagination in these books, something he’s not short on as I loved his latest book Borne too.
Second: Pierre Lemaitre’s Verhœven Trilogy (translated by Frank Wynne). A trilogy of crime novels is a very rare thing and Lemaitre’s protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhœven of the Paris Brigade Criminelle is a wonderful creation. It all gets very personal in the final volume, which echoes the first. Incidentally, these three novels were first published out of order in the UK with the second, Alex, first. I’d recommend reading them in order: Irene – Alex – Camille.
Others I also loved include:
- Alan Garner’s Weirdstone trilogy – in which Garner added a later adult conclusion to the pair of classic children’s novels he wrote in the 1960s.
- G W Dahlquist’s Glass Books trilogy – a completely bonkers and slightly racy steampunk adventure.
- Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy – the final part, The Van is my favourite, but all three books (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van) are brilliant.
- William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth trilogy. I re-read the first part Rites of Passage for our Bookerthon at Shiny last year, I must re-read the other two.
- Now, not one but three different trilogies by Robertson Davies: The Deptford, Cornish and Salteron trilogies. I read all of these pre-blog. Lori of The Emerald City Book Review was planning to host a reading week in August – if it happens, I’m definitely in. I’ve been wanting to re-read Davies for years.
- The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – by Douglas Adams – a trilogy in five parts!
- Then there is the wonderful SF world-building in Becky Chambers’ three volumes (see here 1, 2, 3) in her Wayfarers series – thus currently a trilogy (but I do hope she writes more!).
- (Edited to include) – and how could I forget Olivia Manning’s marvellous 6 books series, written as two trilogies, The Balkan and Levant, known together as The Fortunes of War!
Trilogies are also popular in older children’s literature, notably Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – and its trilogy sequel, The Book of Dust – part two due this October. Also Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking, I read the first two parts (here and here), and must finish this one! There was also Sally Green’s Half Bad trilogy, which got quite adult by the end of the third volume, having started off rather Harry Potterish.