The Serial Reader Tag

A pair of burgundy boots rest on a bookshelf of fantasy novels

Hot summer days aren’t the best for settling in to write long, insightful blog posts. But they’re perfect for book tags. Fran Laniado shared The Serial Reader Tag a while back, which was created by Zwartraafje to celebrate the delight and horror of falling in love with a series…

I’m always surprised when I hear that series are a publishing risk of diminishing returns: it’s a truth universally acknowledged that the first book sells the most copies. I guess some people don’t like it, so don’t buy any more; not every reader is a book blogger listening for whispers of new releases; and there’s some self-fulfilment in ‘it won’t sell, so we won’t invest in marketing’… which means it doesn’t sell, because nobody hears about it. Stir in a healthy measure of people who won’t buy incomplete series in case they get cancelled (another self-fulfilling action, as publishers cancel mid-series when not enough people buy them) and it’s frankly amazing that trilogies are still as common as they are in fantasy.

So I want to celebrate the series today. Sure, I adore a good stand-alone, and I’m a big fan of a duology – but series need all the help we can give them and they were everything to me growing up.

From which series are you reading or did you read the spin-off series?

I don’t think I’ve ever done that, I thought, then turned to my shelves and burst out laughing. I lived on spin-offs growing up: the chance to revisit a world (and sometimes characters) I knew I loved. I tore through Dragonlance prequels, sequels and sidequels; I still constantly reference how I preferred the Empire trilogy following the fortunes of Mara of the Acoma to the Riftwar books; and although the Malloreon is basically just a remix of the Belgariad, I practically sat at bookshops and libraries waiting for each instalment to be released. Heck, do The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion count as spin-offs of the The Hobbit?

More recently, I have devoured the second Kushiel trilogy and the sidequel Naamah trilogy by Jacqueline Carey; and Turning Darkness Into Light – Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent not-a-sequel stand-alone about Isabella’s headstrong granddaughter – is my second-favourite novel of that entire world.

With which series did the first book not sell you from the start?

I doubt I would have read past Between Two Thornsthe first book of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series – if it hadn’t been a read-along. I could see and appreciate what Newman was doing, but her stifling patriarchy and self-sabotaging heroine were so frustrating. But the discussions were fun and the reading was fast, and then Any Other Name was such a deliriously entertaining storm of rage that I was invested until the end. That first book sets up the world, but the characters needed more time to come into their own. I’m glad I stayed along for the ride.

Which series hooked you from the start?

Oh gosh, so many – many of which I own in full and have finished, so will fit the next two questions, so I want to take this excuse to talk about some series I haven’t finished yet but HELL YES I’m going to.

The Broken Earth by NK Jemisin had me from the very first sentence. It’s the most outrageous hook, not least because it’s not just a cheeky prologue – it’s obliquely introducing both a narrator and a key character, and setting the scene for everything to follow. Too damn clever, and I do love clever. I’ve just got The Stone Sky left to read – it’s on my shelf waiting for me to be brave enough.

The Gentleman Bastards by Scott Lynch only took a chapter to snare me, if that. Here it was cheek and sly humour layered into character and world-building in a way I still find irresistible. A long con, found family and competence porn against the most spectacular backdrop. I’m in for what is clearly going to be the longest haul.

I will fight you for the next volumes of Magic of the Lost by CL Clark and The Burning Kingdom by Tasha Suri, both of which have swept me off my feet this year. I’ll jump overboard to get my hands on RJ Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake this autumn.

These are the tip of the iceberg – I joined the Great Series Read project last year to help me complete some of the series I have on the go – but these all had me hook, line and sinker within a few chapters at most.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

Being a completist by nature, a lot! Most recently (I think), I made a point of buying complete physical editions of the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy by Aliette de Bodard and The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams, having ended up with a mishmash of physical and digital editions. I only have The Memoirs of Lady Trent on my digital shelf, but I wrestle with myself over bringing home the tree editions every time I step into a bookshop that has the full set.

Which series have you read completely?

If I own the complete series, I’ve probably read it – The Broken Earth is an exception, rather than the rule, along with the Culture novels by Iain M Banks (I’ve read them all except The Hydrogen Sonata. I’ll get there eventually). In some cases, I spent literally years collecting them (there are 15 Deverry books. Katharine Kerr did not release one a year. Her books have been a thread through my whole life). More recently, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed completing the Daevabad trilogy and the Witches of Lychford novellas (my poor battered heart) – both of which I also own. In fact, I’m pressed to think of a series I’ve completed that I don’t own (excepting some I read when I was younger that I’ve shed from my shelves – thanks, Piers Anthony, but no thanks).

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

Who would’ve thunk I could get this far through a post about amazing series without mentioning Murderbot? Were you starting to think I wouldn’t? No chance! It took a reread for the world’s favourite socially anxious cyborg to fully sweep me off my feet, but there’s been no subsequent cooling of my ardent admiration. However, the novellas were so damn expensive that I rationed myself. I haven’t yet bought (or read) Network Effect although you can be sure I plan to. Maybe for SciFiMonth? I quite like knowing there’s always a Murderbot Diary out there for me when I need it – now further volumes are confirmed, I could end the year with this one.

Which series do you not want to own completely but still read?

I genuinely don’t think this is a thing for me. If I want to read a series to the end, I will want to reread it, which means I want to own it. The closest I’ve come is the PC Grant books (Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch), where I borrow the latest from the library to read it close-ish to release, but may not buy a copy until it shows up in a sale a couple of years later.

Which series are you not continuing?

I recently decided not to finish the Divided Elements trilogy by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky. It’s a solid series for those looking for slightly older characters after enjoying YA dystopias, but… well, that’s not me.

I’m on the fence about continuing with A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. I was a big fan, but found A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons frustrating. His various Hugo-related antics have left me rather cold on the man himself, so… I dunno. I’m curious to see how some plots untangle – and to see whether his ending (if he ever gets that far) is more satisfying than HBO’s – but dear gods the idea of having to read yet another new POV just for them to become dead or irrelevant by volume’s end… Eh.

Which series did others love and you did not?

Controversial opinion time: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It did just enough – and I was desperate enough for something new to read at the time – to get me to read the sequel, whose name escapes me (no, I didn’t love it). They’re not bad books, but by the time I read them I was apparently past the point where I could find Kvothe’s adolescent adventures interesting (let alone his sexual ones). Will I read The Doors of Stone? Probably not, although I hope it eventually appears for the sake of everyone else!

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

There’s a stack of recent and upcoming series that I’m really looking forward to diving into, but sticking with series that I’ve got on my shelves all ready to start… I’ve seen a lot of love for last summer’s space opera debut The First Sister by Linden A Lewis. The Library of the Dead by TL Huchu promises a haunted Edinburgh and a gutsy young ghost talker. I don’t actually know what Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is about but LOOK AT THAT COVER (sorry not sorry). MA Carrick’s The Mask of Mirrors had me at fantasy con artist. And I can’t wait to get to She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan to complete this year’s queer trifecta of awesome.

Which series would you like to re-read?

Recently I’ve had an itch to revisit some classics I haven’t read in years. Riftwar (Raymond E Feist) has cropped up a few times, and then Zezee has been reading Death Gate (Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman) which got me tempted to join in – or rereading Margaret Weis’s reverse-Star Wars space opera Star of the Guardians.

But the one that would really burn a hole in my reading plans is The Expanse. With the final volume on its way, I’d love to reread from the top. Helluva commitment though.

Fancy sharing your love of series? Tag yourself in and drop a link in the comments so I can come take a look!