Books in series: when is one book enough?

Recently I read on a recent young adult blog about an instructor who was no longer recommending series books for her students.  Even they were getting burned out on the endless number of series — the problem with a series is each one leads to more books you need to read.  If we want kids to read more, series books are a great strategy.  But when is it too much?

I like to read a lot of different things, so each series book raises the question, do I go to the next one or try something else?  And usually the answer is, I try something else.  Series books, if well written, provide you with a good long story and good characters that don’t end when the book ends.  They give you something to look forward to.  But they also get old after a while.

Some series get better as they go (Harry Potter for example) and some never recapture what was exciting about the first book.  There are some series where every book is necessary; and then there are the ones that just go on and on because the publisher wants them to.  L. Frank Baum tried to end his Wizard of Oz series early, but his publisher and fans wouldn’t let him.  He wanted to create new worlds and characters.  It’s like U.S. television series versus British ones.  The British run a really good series for a few years and then end it while it’s great (Dr. Who being an exception).  U.S. series just go on until no one watches any more, and by then they are a sad remnant of the earlier version.

Roughly half of the books I read are part of a series.  There are plenty of series I know I’ll read as soon as the next book comes out, or at least soon after it comes out.  These include:

  • Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series
  • Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series
  • Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series
  • Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series
  • Gail Carriger’s Soulless series
  • Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series
  • Anne Perry’s Monk series
  • C.S. Harris’ Sebastian series
  • Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series
  • Deanna Raybourn’s Julia Grey series

That’s not to say there aren’t a few misfires in these series (for example, Gabaldon and Novik’s last entries).  But I’ll still keep reading.  That’s more than enough without starting anything new.  The trouble is, I want to keep exploring new authors, I just don’t have time to read 7 or 8 books every time I like one.

Some of the series I’ve started but not (yet) finished include:

  • Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game
  • Robin Hobb: Assassin’s Apprentice
  • George RR Martin: Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings
  • Terry Pratchett: The Wee Free Men (love this series; I think I have one more to go)
  • Robert Sawyer: WWW. Wake and WWW. Watch
  • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind
  • Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Dreadnought
  • Jim Butcher’s Dresden series and Codex Alera series (read a bunch of them but got bored)
  • Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series (read about four)
  • Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series

So here’s the question.  Of the series I haven’t finished, which ones are worth the time?  Which ones get better instead of just getting tired?  Sometimes one book is just right.

And then there’s all the series I want to try and haven’t yet started.  In the near future I plan to read I Robot by Asimov, Alanna by Tamora Pierce, and The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder.

What do you think?  Which series do you love, which ones faltered, and which ones do you recommend?

2 Responses to “Books in series: when is one book enough?”

  1. Alley

    I tend to avoid, or at least don’t actively seek out, series books because that is so much commitment. The exceptions are Harry Potter and the 3 Fforde series (Thursday Next, Nursery Crime and Shares of Grey). I’ve been thinking of starting the Game of Thrones stuff but it’s an intimidating series to start.

  2. Grace

    I like series where the first book can function as a standalone, but still makes me want to know more. I think it’s better for readers that way. I also love Charles de Lint’s Newford Series, because each book is just a standalone in the same universe, with no particular order that they have to go in to make sense.

    I’ve also only read the first two books of A Song of Ice and Fire. From what I’ve heard from friends, the third is the best and then after that the plot stops going anywhere.

    I started a few trilogies this year that I’d like to continue, but I normally only buy the first book of a set until I know whether or not I like the author’s writing style. I’m hoping to finish some of them up this year! I read a lot of epic fantasy, so trilogies are pretty much the norm…


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