Monday, January 18, 2010

First or Sequel?

I'm heading back to the spring semester, so as I bid a fond farewell to winter vacation, I want to talk about first books vs. second books. (Ha, I wish I'd written even a first book. But as a reader, for now.)

I read Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, before it was quite so popular. I thought it was good, nice writing, good characters, nice plot, but it didn't really stand out for me. I was sort of surprised as it rose up the best seller list. And then I picked up Fire. Wow. The prose scintillates, the characters are so much more interesting and compelling than Katsa and Po ever were for me. I haven't actually finished it yet because I no longer had access to the copy of Fire I was reading but I am seriously impatient to get back to it.

There are other authors, though, who work the other way around. For example, Maria Snyder wrote Poison Study, which I loved. Yelena and Valek are the perfect characters (not in an annoying way either) and the setting of Ixia was well thought out and interesting. I totally love Valek and the Commander's conversations. And the evil is real (unlike some books where the villainy is contrived- not like that here). I was eager for the sequels- and while there was nothing wrong with them, they just didn't compel me to keep reading as the first had. I was in love with Poison Study from the first scene. (Snyder is publishing a new book soon, Inside Out, which is set in a completely different world and looks really good, and I hope I will like it as much as Poison Study.)

I loved Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle, but when I read the sequel Castle in the Air I was so impatient for some Howl/Sophie action to show up, that I couldn't appreciate the book in itself. If it was set in its own world, I'd have loved Flower and Abdullah for themselves. But now they paled next to my anticipation for the characters I knew and loved already. I guess she felt there wasn't enough of a story left to tell for Howl and Sophie. But is it better to have them as guest stars then not at all? (Although Christopher Chant, I'll take in any form. He's possibly my favorite character in all of fantasy.)

So why does it work that way? Why do some sequels work for the story and characters and have that magical combination of elements that make a book really excellent? (In Fire's case, pushing Graceling higher up on the bestseller list as well even though you don't need at all to read them together.) And others just fall flat or land in the shadow.

Speaking of shadow. I just read Ender's Shadow over break and loved it as much- but differently- as I'd loved Ender's Game. I like that he calls it a parallax, that name works well to describe its function. (Midnight Sun, anyone? I couldn't finish that, I tried it after SM posted it and it wasn't as good as the main books. But Midnight Sun isn't really a parallax proper, as it's not that different from Twilight itself.)I believe there are more books about Bean, right? Always wanted to find out what happens down on earth after Ender leaves. I read Game, Speaker, and Xenocide and I would love to read more of those too.

It would be great if every book you read was just as good in different ways. Failing that, we tend to go by author. Sometimes, this works, and sometimes, it doesn't. And sometimes you can be surprised. Maybe it's better that way.

In other news, I now have a twitter account. I begin with haiku but will go far from there. If I feel like it. I'm heatherlette if you want to find me.

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