Sunday 19 June 2011

A Discovery of Witches, Or, Why are So Many New Books Part of a Series?

I placed a hold on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness from my library anticipating a cosy, bookish, supernatural read in the manner of The Historian.  It was all of those things and I very much enjoyed the first 400 pages or so.  Diana, a witch who refuses to use her powers, accidentally uncovers a rare and powerful alchemy manuscript in a library in Oxford.  By breaking the spell on the book she attracts the attention of supernatural creatures, who all hope the manuscript can tell them something about their nature, reason for existing and future.  There is abrooding anti-hero vampire, an evil witch, torture and lots of passages about books, manuscripts and meeting Shakespeare in person.  It was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I was loving it.

But then I got into the final section, in which Harkness left the realm of the cosy, Historian kind of story and veered into the epic battle realm.  Lots of plot points were introduced and I was thinking that surely Harkness can't hope to resolve all of this within the next two hundred pages?

Sure enough, the ending was vague and a bit of a cliff-hanger.  A quick look around the internet revealed that Harkness is intending to make her story into a trilogy.  And maybe it's because I read The Passage recently and had the same issue, but I can't help but wonder:

Why can't anyone tell a story in a single volume anymore?

A Discovery of Witches has almost 600 pages and I'm sure Harkness could have told a great story in that space, especially if she had stuck to the cosy side of things.  The Passage is even longer.  Whenever I look for kindle books they always have brackets by them saying (series title #1).  Now I don't mind reading a good series, but I'm sure they are becoming much more common than they used to be.

Maybe it's down to publishers?  Maybe having found a lucrative stream of revenue they want to exploit it by having lots of books about the same characters.  But it's definitely not what I as a reader want.  A series shouldn't feel dragged out like lots of them do now.

What's your opinion?  Do you agree that there are more series' now?  Is it a good thing?


  1. I so agree with you about how everything has to be more than one volume ever since J. K. Rowling's series, it seems to me. It was one thing with the Narnia chronicles, and Tolkein's trilogy, but now apparently no one can write just one volume. Ridiculous, because stories which would have been great in 300 or so pages? Become dull in 600+.

  2. @BellezzaGlad I'm not on my own! I think JK Rowling is a big part of the reason but think it's getting silly now. I'll be reading stand-alones for the foreseeable future.

  3. I always ponder why there should be series. I keep coming across interesting books at the bookstore or the shelves in the grocery only to realize they're books 2 or 3 in a trilogy or series. I like a few series, but I have been often disappointed by many series after a few books so I tend to be wary. Unless it is something that really interests me, I usually abandon it in a search for stand alone novels.

  4. @bookishhobbit
    I don't read many series either, and hate finishing what I thought was a stand alone book only to find out that it's part one of a series.

    I think the stand alone novel should make a come-back!

  5. It drives me crazy. And particularly with The Passage, which I can't imagine two more books after. I was happy to let the unanswered questions be, because the world *should* feel slightly unsettled and tenuous.

  6. The Passage is part of a series? That actually makes me less eager to read it. I read a few series, but I've been reading them for a while.

    I do a agree that so many books that are catching my eye end up being part of a series. I bought a book at a used bookstore because it sounded good, but then found out it was book #2 in a series. So disappointing.

    I'd like to know if it's a growing trend with publishers or just a lot of readers being attracted to the stories in these books and so it just seems like there are more books in series these days.

  7. So true this. There are many good series out there, but there are also a lot where they could have fit it all into one book and just made it so much more tight and strong.

  8. This seems to be even truer with kids books and YA. Almost all the books my kids are reading are series. It has to be some sort of marketing thing. I like series, but I'm getting tired of them. I agree -- bring back the stand alones!

  9. Everything I've seen so far in industry-related blogs seems to indicate that it's easier to "sell" a trilogy to a publisher than 3 stand-alone books because if the 1st book grabs the readers' attention they're more likely the buy the 2nd and 3rd while with stand-alone books there has to be 3 independent marketing efforts and that's more expensive so publishers prefer series and trilogies. Authors know this and plan their stories accordingly so in the end it is about the publishing side of things.
    Thank you for the comment, Sam, and thank you for following. You're one closer to the 200 mark now!