It’s pretty rare to find a stand-alone fantasy novel anymore. Fantasy fiction tends to come in sets: trilogies, episodic series, or some epic number of volumes. Part of this is marketing, the building of a brand and fostering reader loyalty to that brand. The artist in me prefers to think of it in terms of the types of stories the writer wants to tell. Is it a particular character that is speaking to them, or are they moved by the discovery of a new world?
The reader in me enjoys revisiting old friends and familiar settings. There were many times I’d finish a series and wish for just a few more pages, just one more glimpse into the lives of the characters, because I wasn’t ready to let go.
The ability to evoke that reaction is pure gold for a writer. And a publisher. It guarantees an audience for the next installment in the series, more so than an author’s name on the spine. Drizzt books sell better than any other R. A. Salvatore title. I’ll read L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Recluse series and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, but their other books don’t interest me.
I’ve also found that I’m more attached to a series when it involves the same characters rather than just the setting. I’m currently reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books (also referred to as the Five Gods series). The first two books are set in the nation of Chalion and while the cast is not identical, there is continuity between the characters, location and events. The third book is set in a different location with no ties to the previous books whatsoever, and my emotional investment is less. I also found myself confused and floundering for a connection to the first two books during the early chapters, which blocked my immersion into the story.
As I’m working on the outlines for books two and three of the Chronicles of Jord, I find the series no longer being tied to Logan Shadowhand, the protagonist of Shattered Amulet. His type of character just doesn’t fit the roles needed to tell the stories I’ve envisioned for the later books, and every attempt to change him come across as unnatural.
Instead, I’m relying on a chronological course of events, organic shifts in the cast of characters and points of view, and the familiarity of the setting to create those ties that will bind the series together. I’d be interested to hear from you what keeps you bound to a particular fantasy series. Is it the chance to read more about your favorite characters? Are you willing to return for the conclusion of an event even if it involves fresh faces? What constitutes a series to you?