These days, YA is dominated by trilogies. I'll admit I'm not one of those people who gets trilogy fatigue. I like investing in series. I like having time to fall in love with characters and get fully immersed in a world. I don't roll my eyes when I hear of yet another YA book marketed as "the first in a spellbinding trilogy" (okay, I'll roll my eyes at the "spellbinding" part). I like trilogies and their rhythms.
Except for Second Book Syndrome.
|Beast is here to help us through this lesson. Just go with it.|
I recently read two completely opposite examples of Second Books. One was such a terrific disappointment, falling into every bad cliche of a second book and ruining the charm of its predecessor. The other was absolutely sublime, and outshined its prequel in every way.
So what is Second Book Syndrome? This is an instance where the rhythm of the trilogy is off. Instead of upping the ante, the author ups the angst. Instead of quickening the plot, the plot drags. The shine wears off, the characters become more wearying, and that, ladies and gentleman, is Second Book Syndrome. It's when the second book falls short of the first, and it's sadly pretty common. Those second books are killer. They're the middle of the structure, and they've got a lot of heavy lifting to do. They bear so much narrative weight.
The Cliche (Unsuccessful) Structure of a SBS Trilogy
Book one: EVERYTHING IS NEW AND SHINY! Oo, worldbuilding, tell me more! LE GASP! WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN? EEEE, I'm in love with my new book and I want to date it forever and marry it and have its book children and it will never let me down because it's JUST SO SHINY!
Book two: Yeah, I don't remember these people. *checks watch* Um. More worldbuilding? Seriously? *watches as author moves characters into position* You're so going to end on a cliffhanger, aren't you? WHY IS THIS LOVE STILL TRIANGULAR??
|Beast isn't too sure about this.|
Book three: BATTLE BATTLE DEATH DEATH EXCITING EXCITING KISS KISS DEATH DEATH OMG OMG AHHHHHH NEVER LEAVE ME BOOK WHY AUTHOR WHYYYYY NOOOO
|Beast LOVES when books do this!|
Let's completely butcher a metaphor here and compare starting a series to starting a relationship.That poor second book has to move all the pieces into place. We don't get the new and exciting introductions of the first book, when you're discovering this fascinating world and characters.
The first book is the first date; that's the heady rush of first love, the honeymoon period, where every single thing about your book partner makes you happy. The third book is the golden period, when you've been through so much with the characters and you're so familiar and in love with them that you'll cry if they get so much as a paper cut.
Second book is divorce time. Breakup time. Philandering time.
|Beast hates this.|
The good news is that there are some series that defy Second Book Syndrome (obviously this is a subjective list, and you're free to disagree with me on my choices but obviously you are wrong so shhhh).
Books and Series That Do Not Suffer from Second Book Syndrome
Edit: I realize these are not all from trilogies, but they're still second books, SO THEY COUNT.
Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, sequel to Under the Never Sky and the book that inspired this post, because seriously, talk about upping the ante.
|Beast devoured this book in one sitting.|
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, sequel to The Raven Boys
All the relationships deepened, some seriously WTF things happened, my SHIP became ever so much more SHIPPABLE (important), and I seriously have no idea what will happen next. The feels this second book produced...
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson, sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns
This sequel, in particular, is one of the most flagrant defiers of SBS I've ever read. Nearly all of the problems I had in TGoFaT (favorite acronym ever) were addressed in TCoE, the stakes are considerably raised, and Hectorly Hector Hector Hector while Hectorful Hector Hector.
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas, sequel to Throne of Glass
Ho. Ly. Crap. I really loved Throne of Glass, but Crown of Midnight is on an entirely different level. The book LOSES ITS MIND. It tears you apart and goes deeper and darker than I ever thought this series would go. Don't give up on this series until after you've read CoM. (By which I mean, don't you dare give up on this series because it's the best.)
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, sequel to Shadow and Bone
I Sturmhond love Alina so Sturmhond much in this Sturmhond book and the Sturmhond way she struggles with her dark Sturmhond side, her ambition, and her enormous Sturmhond power. I love the real Sturmhond threat of the Darkling, the epic pace of the Sturmhond plot, the even more epic final Sturmhond showdown, THE ENDING WHICH IS LIKE WHAT EVEN STURMHOND. Oh, and DID I MENTION STURMHOND?
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, sequel to The Thief
I enjoyed The Thief, but in all honesty I wasn't blown away by it. Queen of Attolia is a whole different animal, with a whopper of a twist and a ship to end all ships.
In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce, sequel to Alanna: The First Adventure
Book two is when the hormones kick in and the sexing happens, so obviously it's better.
A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard, sequel to Something Strange and Deadly
Paris! More shenanigans! A heroine whose morality is more gray than white! Ohhhh, do I love this second book so much.
Everbound by Brodi Ashton, sequel to Everneath
My God, did I love Everbound. I really enjoyed Everneath, but Everbound was action-packed and taught us so much more about the world of the Everneath. We get a lot of Nikki developments, some really swoony stuff, and lots of Cole Coling around being Cole.
|Now Beast is a happy reader, free to read trilogies without fear.|
Have you come across a lot of books with Second Book Syndrome? Which are some of the worst offenders? Or, better yet, which are the books that totally fly in the face of the Syndrome? Let me know what your favorite sequels are!