Friday, October 11, 2013

Discussion: do you believe in Second Book Syndrome?

Hey guys :)
Today I want to talk about a topic I didn't really come across or think about before I got involved in the book blogging community. It's often referred to as Second Book Syndrome and the way I understand it, it basically means the inability of the second book in a series (especially a trilogy) to measure up to the first one, or to the reader expectations that had built up for its release. I think if we're talking about longer series, there is sometimes also the impression that the second book is/was the weakest one? (I'm not sure whether this is a common opinion though.)

Now why do I want to talk about this?
Well... quite often I don't see this problem. To be honest, I often like the second book in a trilogy the best! Or even if I don't like it better than the other ones, I at least don't think it's bad. There are exceptions to this of course (see below) but in general I don't understand this whole idea of Second Book Syndrome and why people seem to end up hating the second book. I'd even go so far as to say that most of the time, the problem isn't the book but the reader and their expectations, and well... you yourself are responsible for your expectations. Not the book. Not the author.
I mean, I get that it kind of sucks if you had made your mind up that a book was going to be a certain way and then it turns out completely different, but instead of getting angry I think it's better to take a step back, change gears, and get on board with the book you actually have in front of you instead of mourning the book you had made up in your mind. This is speculation on my part though, and maybe people who experience Second Book Syndrome often have different reasons for disliking book 2?

That being said, I think it's time for some examples of second books that were different from what I thought they'd be but turned out to be really awesome:

I was a bit reluctant when I realized that Demon's Covenant was written from the POV of a different character than book 1 (book 3 is from yet another), and one that I had mixed feelings about. But I turned out to love being inside her head, seeing her struggles, and I admired her strength. This is my fave of the series mostly for that reason.
When the reactions for CP started trickling in, I knew I was in for heartache. But nothing could prepare me for the perfection (and the pain) of this book. I'm not usually a fan of love triangles but here it's just perfectly balanced. All three of them love each other, it's not just two guys panting after the same girl and there's no petty jealousy and power games.
Enshadowed was different from Nevermore in that there was a lot less Varen around... which made me sad, but also allowed Isobel to develop much more as a person of herself, not in relation to some guy, as had been the case before with her ex. Generally with this series I never know what to expect, and I love it!
Now I suppose a lot of you wonder 'why Torment?' To be honest, I don't really know how to feel about this series. On the one hand, it's insta-love and YA stereotypes at their worst. On the other hand, it's like a metadiscourse or reflection on insta-love, especially in book 2. Luce mistrusts Daniel, is angry at being out of the loop, and wants to discover things of her own. His 'love of my life and my past life omg he's so amazing' image gets some serious scratches. Because she's the one dying over and over while he just goes on for another 17 years and gets his next chance, where he'll screw up again. I've yet to read book 4, and maybe then I'll have a clearer idea about the series as a whole.

There are a gazillion other amazing second books I could have mentioned here, but many of them didn't take me by surprise as much. I expected The Eternity Cure, Days of Blood and Starlight, Red Glove, and Crown of Midnight to be awesome, and they were. Oh, and I know many had a problem with Insurgent but I think it was a very realistic continuation of what happened in Divergent. I might not have liked everything that happened but it was a logical consequence.

Unfortunately, also for me there are second books that just didn't work out:

I really enjoyed Hush Hush when I read it two years ago (I got it at a signing on a trip to Ireland) but Crescendo was a big disappointment. My biggest issue was with Nora. Her behavior was stupid and irrational, and her decisions made no sense. I know she's young, but she's supposed to be smart. The magic just didn't happen this time. The book was just full of bad vibes and it really tried my nerves. Silence was somewhat better. I haven't read Finale yet.
I loved the writing in Wither. The mood and world were incredibly strong to me. While Fever was still good, the characters spent a lot of time in a place I kind of hated and that part dragged for me. On the other hand, there were developments that just had to happen and we got a bigger picture of the book's world and how it works.
My Soul to Save is not on here because it is bad, but I do think it's the weakest book in the series. The plot just never really pulled me in and I sometimes had problems with Kaylee's reactions. Book 3-7 though? Perfection.
Sweet Peril is a book I was really really looking forward to, especially with it kind of hanging in the air whether Harper would buy it at all. I wanted to love it. I only liked it. Sweet Evil had a way of completely pulling me into the story; it was really intense. Sweet Peril felt like a kind of stagnation. Anna developed some, but the plot was crawling. They're not really much further than they were at the end of book 1. I got to know the characters better and there were scenes and interactions I really loved, but on the whole I'd just expected more, also in terms of and expansion of the world building. I hope book 3 will give me that punch I kind of missed here, though I still enjoyed the this one.

Now why did I compile this second list? Because I don't think that's Second Book Syndrome. It's a mixture me having my expectations not met, them having been way too hyped up, or me having gotten more picky about books. It could have been my mood. It could have been a lot of things. I just think it's a pity if readers, from the get-go, have it in their heads that the second book is going to be a disappointment and won't measure up to the first. Because if you go into the story with that kind of expectation, you will probably find a lot of things to dislike and feel that your expectations were justified, and you might miss parts that were awesome because you're focusing on the negative.

Do any of you share some of my feelings about Second Book Syndrome? Or if you do think second books are often weak, can you explain why? Are my ideas of why some people might feel like that way off or is there something to them? This is an issue I see around the blogosphere a lot for example when there are Top Ten Tuesday posts about sequels, or also in reviews. I'd just like to hear some other thoughts/opinions/theories, so please share and comment?


  1. I'd like to say that I don't believe in it but it's true. I hardly ever read second books that blow my mind. I think it's more of the middle books in a series as well. Since trilogies are the thing, the second book is just a filler. That's why they're usually so slow for me. The first book has the most intro action and then the last has all the ending action.
    Laura @ Music Plus Books

    1. Hm... I agree that the first and last books might have more action, but I think the second one gets the bulk of the character development. So I wouldn't say the second book is a filler - two book serieses exist too (Bethany Griffin and Kendare Blake's, for instance). But I get where you're coming from!

  2. Hm, this is interesting. I almost never like the 2nd book more than the first. Insurgent, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Catching Fire, Scorch, Linger, My Soul to Save, etc. - they all suffer from Second Book Syndrome, imo. Yes, maybe I had too high expectations, but it's not my fault when the author fails to deliver.
    Sweet Peril did work for me though. I wouldn't go as far to say that it was better than Sweet Evil, but I liked it, quite a lot :)

    1. It's strange how people's perceptions of the same books can vary so much! But that's part of the joy of reading, imo :)
      About expectations: I get what you mean, but at the same time I also think the author has the right to write 'their' story without buckling to reader's wishes and basically serving them whatever they want - which is always lots of contradicting things anyway. Still, it always sucks to be letdown. Though for me, I usually fear this from the last book, especially in a trilogy.

  3. Interesting discussion post topic ^^ and I loved reading that your reading experience seems to not be affected as much by Second Book Syndrome.

    I actually began to notice SBS even before I started blogging. When I got into reading fiction again, I started noticing that the second book in a trilogy OR series was almost always my least favorite out of the bunch. It happened with Harry Potter, Twilight, Fever, His Darkest Materials...and to a lesser extent Divergent & Percy Jackson. My main complaint is that usually I don't find much happens in the way of plot development and character growth - and this is especially true in longer series. I think it's because the story is still in the introductory stages BUT the freshness and originality of the world have begun to wear off...

    That being said, since I've begun blogging I've read many second books that I've loved as much and sometimes even more than the first book in the series. The sequels for Mistborn, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Hunger Games, Covenant and LotR are all ones that come to mind, all of which I adored! So I guess at this point, it's kind of a curse BUT some series manage to escape it all and I love them for it hehe

    1. Hm... I agree that the action can stall, but I think when it comes to character development and the relationships between the characters, the second book is more important than the third. The third is preoccupied with all the action and winding up the plot. With longer series than trilogies I think you have a point though :)
      I loooved Days of Blood and Starlight! And I still haven't read Covenant, though I have the first book on my kindle >.< I really should get to that and to Mistborn!
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, hun :)

  4. I don't think all sequels suffer from Second Book Syndrome, but I've ran into quite a few that have. It's not even because of my expectations, though. It's just because the book failed to add anything to the story and because of this the plot and characters remain stagnant. When that happens, it takes awhile before I'm ready to pick up book 3. Like with Fever by Lauren DeStefano and Crossed by Allie Condie. They were just kind of boring. In those cases, I think it would have been better for the series to be a duology instead of stretching it into a trilogy. However, I LOVE it when a sequel outshines the first book. That's how a series SHOULD progress, in my opinion. I've read quite a few of those, too.

    Great discussion post!

    1. I agree, there are some that are sub-par. But is it because they come second or just because they're simply not very good books?
      This is way more complicated than I thought when I wrote the post >.<
      I also love it when book 2 outshines book 1! One such case for me was Crown of Midnight.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jen :)