Friday, January 10, 2014

Second Book Syndrome (and What That Is and Why)

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!

Beast likes!

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.


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!


  1. Oooh! Some good sequels were: Asunder, Outpost, Never Fade, and Prodigy!
    I'm glad you liked the sequel to The Raven Boys, I will be reading those two books next, fingers crossed!

  2. I don't know why the Alanna sexing made me burst out laughing and I really don't know why I kept going for a solid ten minutes, but yeah, that happened. SSS really is a problem but I think I've been pretty successful at avoiding most of them. Even with Prodigy, which I didn't like nearly as much as Legend, it wasn't because it was a filler book. Things were happening. The problem was just that it was so smothered in angst I didn't care enough about the things that were happening. OH. Insurgent. Perfect example, even though I don't care much for the series in general. Maybe Hallowed a little. It was a lot less focused than Unearthly, but I love Clara's voice, so I was okay with the book in general. Oh, I know! (I'm currently scrolling down my GR to see which books are eligible for SSS, hence the incoherence.) A Clash of Kings. Not YA, but man, that book was just boring.
    The real problem I've been having with YA trilogies is that they don't follow the BATTLE BATTLE DEATH DEATH EXCITING EXCITING KISS KISS DEATH DEATH OMG OMG AHHHHHH NEVER LEAVE ME BOOK WHY AUTHOR WHYYYYY NOOOO formula, or at least don't push it enough. I hate it, but I'm often disappointed with series enders.

  3. So, you are kind of awesome for using those Gifs <3 Everbound, Siege and storm, Crown of midnight, Crown of Embers, yes to all of these! I'm always so happy when I come across a second book that is perhaps even better than the first one :)

  4. I thought that Unhinged by A.G. Howard and Fractured by Sarah Fine were great second books!

  5. Hahaha This post definitely made me laugh maybe more than it should have! Second Book Syndrome is such a serious issue in YA sometimes... I don't even remember when I liked a sequel as much/ better than the first in the series... except for Crown of Midnight, of course! (Because that book was flawless and phenomenal and deserves all of the awards ever).

  6. The worst offender of second book syndrome for me was Timepiece from the Hourglass trilogy. Best example of second book done right Unravel Me!

  7. Through the Ever Night might be my favorite second book ever, so good! To me second book syndrome also involves the book being very obviously set-up for the third book without much of a plot of its own, similar to how you mention moving characters into place. I'm just such a big believer of each book in a series having its own solid plot that fits into the bigger series plot, and if a book ever fails that test, I get beast-rage face ;-)


    Oh my gosh, yes. When I rage about trilogies, usually it's THIS that I'm raging over! Freaking second books. And interestingly, many of the examples on your list (WHICH I LOVED) were not from trilogies. QoA, for example, is the second book in what will end up being a six-book series. (And just WAIT til you read KoA.) The Dream Thieves is 2 of 4. Crown of Midnight is 2 of... 5? 6? I think having multiple middle books helps share the load.

    But yes, just looking at the title of this post, THE CROWN OF EMBERS was the first that came to mind because it is perfect IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY. Good job, Rae Carson!

    1. Oooo, good point about those not all being trilogies! That does help. Still, they're second books, so I'm keeping them in. And YES, TCoE is the classic example. That book is, like, WHOA.

  9. Lurrrve this post. But...I am reading Everbound now and I kinda have to disagree. OF COURSE this is subjective and I know I am the black sheep, but I sort of feel like the shine has worn off this series for me. Of course it was never really my thing to begin with, but yeah. It's not that I don't like it, because I do, just not nearly as much as I was hoping.

    I am so with you on Siege and Storm though. Loved that book.

  10. I'm happy that I rarely, if anything, come across books that have Second Book Syndrome! Most of the series I love and adore have EXCELLENT second books (and you've named quite a few above). The best example, and one you've mentioned, is CROWN OF MIDNIGHT. It was simply an excellent book, and certainly cemented my love for this awesome series! <3

  11. I haven't noticed any lackluster sequels of late. I'll have to think on it.

  12. Every good example of a second book that I could think of was already on your list! :) I really loved The Crown of Embers, too. And Dream Thieves. And Everbound. I really liked Catching Fire, too.
    For a series that had really awful second book syndrome I'd go with Crossed (the sequel to Matched) by Ally Condie. The first book was so good, and the last was great. I kind of wish the second just didn't exist...
    Anyway, fun topic! I need to look into some of the other series you listed.

  13. My two absolute favorite second books are Scarlet and Crown of Embers, both of which I think were actually better than the first.
    As for second books that were terrible... I'd have to say Crossed, like Kathy above, and Thumped by Megan McCafferty (although I wasn't a fan of the first book in the trilogy either).

  14. Although the plot *was* slower, Days of Blood & Starlight didn't use angst tropes, or backstab it's own pre-set mythology, to continue the story. And there isn't a love triangle, thank goodness! :)

  15. I like that you focused the end of this review of those series that didn't suffer from SSS, and I haven't read any of those books yet, so now I'm doubly looking forward to picking them up!

  16. I totally agree. If second books didn't introduce characters that you'll need to know for the third (when they die and you're supposed to be crushed), I'd probably skip them. Lol.

    I'll have to check out some of the series you mentioned. There are a bunch there that I haven't read.

    Oh, and, the 'what is this shit?' GIF? I snorted.

  17. great post! I am with you and don't dislike trilogies. I enjoy more books in a series because I love reading more from the characters and story. But, second book syndrome is the worst. Makes me want to cry when it happens. I know, that if I were an author, I'd struggle upping the stakes and excitement. I think it takes a skilled person to be able to do that. have I mentioned I LOVE the Beast gifs? Really makes me want to rewatch.

  18. Second book syndrome is the worst. Having made 2014 the year of the sequel, I expect I'll run into a lot of this while reading this year. I really appreciate when 2nd books are just as great as the first one.

    Some good series are Croak, Leland Dragon Series, Night Angel, The Passage, The Toucan Trilogy
    While some not-so-good series are Magic Most Foul, Greywalker, Matched

  19. Great post! I definitely worry about reading that second book because what if it is just boring and makes me want to stop reading the series? Though in many cases, when the second book was blah, the third and final book was not all that much better. I've read many books were the first was WOW and the others were wah wah. So, yes, Second Book Syndrome is so a thing and it can be dangerous.

  20. HEY BEAST! He's so cute, with his faces.

    THE DREAM THIEVES. Love, love, love The Dream Thieves. Ronan is the best and THAT SCENE. You know, the one with Gansey, Blue and the view? I almost peed. (TMI? Oh well.)

    Also in complete agreement with The Crown of Hector. I mean Hector. DAMMIT Thorns. Aka And Then There Was Hector. Mmmmm. Hector aside (not far aside, but slightly) I loved TCoE so much more than t'go fat. I get that Elisa had to work through many of her issues in that book to be so amazing in CoE, but it got a tad old.

    I would also add Froi of the Exiles to your list. I loved Finnikin to death, but holy second book Batman, Froi was amazing.

    Also Deadline (Newsflesh). Though many consider it to be the worst of the three, that implies that it isn't amazing (and also they are wrong because OMGSHAUNLETMELOVEYOU). If it is the weakest of the three, it is only because all of them are the most amazing amazes to ever amaze. That'd be like saying I like angel food cake the least when compared to cheesecake and flourless chocolate cake. THEY'RE ALL DELICIOUS CAKE. I'm getting carried away here aren't I?

    Insurgent is the first thing that jumps to mind when I think of second book let downs. And then Tris starts whining so loudly I can't think of any others. SHUT YOUR FACE TRIS.

    In related news, I'm off to go find some cake.

  21. Haha, this post is so true and spot on! i really do love series but sometimes those pesky 2nd books.... however, totally agree with some of those ones you mentioned! I haven't read most of them but I did just finish crown of midnight a few days ago and OMG. That was just so freaking amazing and wonderful and THE BEST. Definitely S&S too!! Wait, I think you may have forgotten to mention sturmhond?? =)

  22. This. This. THIS. (Love the Beast GIFs btw!)

    SBS tears me up inside because it's so BAD and such a WASTE. I was so relieved when I read SIEGE because it didn't fall prey to SBS. Same with CROWN. *happy sigh* I'm so disappointed by SBS because I've seen it happen to authors who I know can do better than that. Meh. It makes me mad every time it happens. (Also because usually the once-bright romance falls apart and I cry a lot. Like. A lot.)

  23. I haven't read any of the trilogy examples you listed, but a few of them are on my TBR list! Excellent post and great use of gifs for it! :)

  24. I basically just agree with all you're saying here and your Beauty and the Beast gif usage is spot on. Your gif usage in general is pretty darn spot on always, though, so I should have known you'd use Beast to his full potential here. I still have to read Rossi's trilogy (I know, I know) and also Carson's (again, I'M SORRY) but I'm so glad to know that they don't suffer from SBS. I really liked that Belladonna by Fiona Paul didn't. That's really the first one that comes to mind for me. I've heard that Her Dark Curiosity is terrible for this (might that be the one you referenced?) and I am SO BUMMED about this because it could have been so cool! Sigh. SBS is a total bummer because trilogies really can be so wonderful when done to their full potential! Basically, well said, Gillian.

  25. Thanks for nailing why Middle Book Syndrome is a thing and the books that rise above it!

    My favorite Middle Book WINNER is The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness.

  26. Can the phrase Second Book Syndrome be an official thing?

    I LOVE Crown of Embers (HECTOR) and A Darkness Strange (Eleanor's unclear morality is one of my favorite parts, too).

  27. I love the use of the Beast gifs in this post. Genius.
    As for SBS ... I obviously haven't bee subjected to it as often as everyone else. Sure, not everything is shiny and new, but they're still the characters you like and the story you wanted to follow. Don't hate.
    BUT. Most of the time, the second book in a trilogy or series is not as good as the first. Probably because of the lack of new and shininess.
    To be honest, I thought that Siege and Storm was not as good as Shadow and Bone. Yes, I adored Sturmhond, and yes there was an amazing cliffhanger, but Alina as a character was supremely and utterly disappointing.
    I recently read a sequel to a book that I liked enough. I didn't think it was amazing, but I liked it enough to read the second book. Turns out the second book was much better. And I think it's because of the LACK of the introductory stuff. I thought that the characters came into themselves. I was uber proud of that book. :D

  28. MAY I JUST SAY. THIS POST IS AMAZING. CAN I SHOUT THIS FROM THE ROOFTOPS?! (the beast gifs? <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3) I TOTALLY agree with all of these points! STURMHOND STURMHOND STURMHOND STURMHOND STURMHOND STRURMHOND. He was amazing. He still is amazing. I don't ship him with Alina, because duh. I ship him with MEEEE. Actually I usually like 2nd books! Examples: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Queen Of Attolia (THIS BOOK IS THE BEST) by Megan Whalen Turner, and Crown Of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas! CoM explores SO MUCH darkness and after ToG, I had no idea SJMaas was capable of that! I LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH. THOSE BEAST GIFS.

  29. A million suns, second book in the Across the Universe trilogy, really blew my mind! Did not suffer SBS, since it had a just a little bit of (totally necessary) worldbuilding, and IT DID NOT HAVE A LOVE TRIANGLE. *dances around in circles*

  30. The Winner's Crime is also one that I think surpasses the first in the trilogy :)


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