Are Second Books in a Trilogy Doomed to Fail?

I can’t think of the last time I thoroughly enjoyed the second book in a trilogy.

I have loved a few second books in series that have more than three books (I’m thinking Crown of Midnight and Scarlet). But when was the last time I loved the second book in a three-book series?

I have no idea.

The problem is that the first book is about building up the world/story. You’re getting to know the characters and that’s FUN! You’re getting to know the world and that’s INTERESTING. You’re being introduced to an intense plot and that’s EXCITING.

Then, skipping ahead a bit, book three is about wrapping things up. There’s the huge climax you’ve been waiting for all series, an epic showdown, and a satisfying conclusion (hopefully).

Where does that leave book two? Well usually, it’s left bridging the gap between the two epic books. But being a bridge isn’t all that fun. It’s just setting the scene for something bigger and better that will happen in book three. It’s not as new, fresh, and interesting as the first book. It’s not as epic and intense as the last book. So where does that leave us?

Too often, I think that second books are “okay”, or “not as good as the first book”, or “good, but not great”. I’m sick of being let down with the second book! That often leaves me deflated and not as excited to read the third book.

When was the last time you read a really great second book in a three-book series?

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  1. Well, I’ve had more success with second books than with third books. I really liked Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, but the third book in that series was just meh. Same with the Hunger Games series. Catching Fire was awesome, Mockinjay was just bleh for me. I rarely have the Second Book Syndrome with my favorite series. For it’s often the endings that fall flat.

    Bieke @ Istyria book blog recently posted: ARC Review: The Taking by Kimberly Derting
    1. I second Catching Fire as a good second book (heh…seewhatIdidthere?) But I personally loved Mockingjay, too.

      In the case of the movies, I even loved CF better than THG; it’s like the moviemakers hit their stride after doing their best to set up the world and characters in the previous film (and they did a good job with that; they just did it better in Catching Fire).

      Nerija recently posted: Annie on My Mind
  2. I think a lot of second book slumps have to do with most books shouldn’t be a trilogy anyway. Does anybody write stand alones anymore? So this really amazing plot gets rationed out over three books because publishers have seen a profitable market for it. (Just like splitting the last movie in a franchise into two parts.)

    I think second books tend to have a lot of exposition. I look at them as informational. And if they happen to be entertaining in the process, that’s a win. And it’s sad that we’ve come to expect so little from them.

    Incredibrarian recently posted: Incredibrarian...Issue #6
  3. When it comes to me and series, it’s usually one of two situations.
    1. I don’t like it AS much as the first one, but it’s still a great book (like Siege and Storm – I didn’t think it was as good as Shadow and Bone but still received 4.5 stars from me).
    2. I like it AS much as the first, but no more (like Magic Study – it was a five star read like Poison Study).
    Unfortunately a lot of the time, my love for a series takes a nose-dive from the first book onwards. Like The Hunger Games. Book #1 was a five stars, #2 was a four star, and #3 was a three star. I don’t know why this happens, but I just feel unsatisfied with trilogies a lot of the time.
    Either that, or the second and third books are both amazing or just not as amazing as the first.
    And I realise I’m only talking about series I love because if I don’t REALLY like it, i cannot be bothered continuing, haha πŸ˜›

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  4. The only book I can think of where I loved the second book as equally as the first (or maybe even more) is Catching Fire. I loved the Hunger Games, but I loved Catching Fire even more! The fact that she had to go BACK into the arena, and the arena was like a clock just…blew my mind, and it was fabulous!

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  5. I sat here and thought. Here is what I could come up with Dark Triumph, Crown of Midnight, Scarlet, Book of Shadows and the Twelve. Now I read 307 books last year..and that’s all I got. *bangs-head* I will say that right now the third book seems to suffer, at least for me and trilogies lately. Great post Ashley

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  6. Honestly, I think second book syndrome is the reason I have so many unfinished series because I really have a had time with them… for the same reasons you mentioned. I either dread the second book so much that the series goes up on a shelf. Or the second book was so disappointing that I just gave up. I will say that there are some needles in the haystack, though. Never Fade (The Darkest Minds #2) by Alexandra Bracken was fantastic, for me. Days of Blood and Starlight (DOSAB #2) by Laini Taylor, as already mentioned. And that’s all I can really think of off the top of my head.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the previous replier’s statement about stretching a book/plot out over three books as unnecessary at times. Because this “bridge” effect, as you called it, is almost inevitable.

    Jessie Marie @ Jessie Marie Reads recently posted: Still Here!
  7. To be honest, I usually avoid series because most of the time, I find that each book in the series gets worst, at some point. There are series I really enjoyed, but even though they bring good memories, I can’t say that the subsequent books were as good as the first one. I’m thinking of the Northern Light series or the City of Ember series or the WWW trilogy (by R. J. Sawyer).
    It just feels like the first book was full of exciting ideas and energy, and then the next book about living up to it.
    I usually prefer books that are not in a series. I feel the authors are putting more effort to make it work as a whole and they don’t rely on cliffhanger to make you buy the next one.

    1. Good one! I actually didn’t like Under the Never Sky that much, but I did like Through the Ever Night significantly more.

  8. A few people have already mentioned it, but I think Catching Fire was my favorite second book I’ve ever read. It’s actually my favorite in the entire series, even more than the first book. I actually haven’t finished many trilogies now that I think about it, but one that I remember is the Legend series; Prodigy was my least favorite of the three.

  9. To be honest, I rarely read past the first book in a series. Well, not rarely, but often I just read the first book in a series and stop there. I can’t actually think of a second book in a trilogy that I loved as much as the first.

    For me, though, I struggle with second books because I read a lot of books with romance, and the second book is always the “trouble in paradise” plot, and I don’t like that, too much.

    Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook recently posted: Top Ten Books for The Princess Bride Fans
    1. Great point on the romances. I HATE it when the first book makes me fall in love with two characters and their amazing romance.. then book 2 just throws bumps in the road to stir things up. It makes me sad.

  10. The first one that comes to mind is Catching Fire not because it’s my favourite series by any means but because I liked it more than the first and definitely more than the last one.

    The Breathing series too. I loved all three books but I think the second one was my favourite, well, maybe. πŸ˜‰

    I do know what you mean about the 2nd book usually being a bit of a… lull I guess is the word I’m looking for.

    Carrie recently posted: Bully, Penelope Douglas
  11. I agree, I feel like second books are always expected to lack because they set up for the epic conclusion but they still have to have to expand on the first book in a comprehensive manner. And with most dystopians, the second book is all about finding the “rebellion” of the society and uncovering things that make you question the government further.

    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted: Youth by Daughter
  12. I completely agree that this is a trap that second books are falling into these days, but I think it’s a trap created when authors try to stretch a single book idea or a duology into a trilogy just to have a trilogy. I looooved Through the Ever Night (favorite of the trilogy), but that was because it had its own very clearly defined plot, ditto with Days of Blood and Starlight. I think this really comes down to trilogies not being as necessary in YA as they seem these days and that authors really should only write the number of books that they have solid plots for.

  13. Years and years ago, I used to read Mercedes Lackey, and all her Companion/Heralds of Valdemar books (haven’t read her in a long time tho) and I remember coming across this very thing in one of her series…it was actually the first time I found it. I think it was the Black Griffin series or something like that…enjoyed the first one, and at the end of the second one I was like “WTF?? NOTHING happened!!!” That was when fantasy stories were really starting to move into the whole “trilogy” thing. I remember thinking that the second book was nothing but a “bridge” book, from the first to the third. Really disappointed me. I actually can’t think of the most recent series that has done that tho.

    Jaki recently posted: Waiting on Wednesday #01
  14. oooo wait! i just thought of a second book that was EXCELLENT!!! Mia Marshall’s Element series – Broken Elements, Shifting Selves, and Turning Tides is the 3rd, released May 6. The first was a 5 star read for me, the second was a 5 star read also. πŸ˜€

    Jaki recently posted: Waiting on Wednesday #01
  15. I think some authors have the feeling they HAVE to write a trilogy. So the story for the second book is more a fill-up than actually needed for the story. Such a shame, because duologies can be great too πŸ™‚

    I’m really enjoying The dream thieves so far, which is the sequel to The raven boys. The eternity cure wasn’t the best book from the series, but definitely not a bad second book (from Julie Kagawa) I LOVED Lady Thief, which is the sequel to Scarlet. So I had some good ones this year (so far)

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  16. I always feel this about second installments in trilogies! Felt really let down by ‘Crossed’ (Matched) and ‘Insurgent’ (Divergent). I don’t quite know what it is – they never quite seem to have the drive or the interest of the first novel. That said, I read ‘Shift’ (second in the ‘Wool’ trilogy) and really loved it, and am pretty sure that’s because the narrative was centred around characters not mentioned in ‘Wool’ – oh, and also because it was partly set centuries before! Now I can’t wait to read ‘Dust’…

  17. I can see your point. I seem to be steering towards stand alones lately or series where the next book is a different characters story (like in many of the NA series lately).

    One series that I loved was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I’m just finally getting to book three and am super excited to see what happens. And I enjoyed the first two books.

    Chrystal @ Snowdrop Dreams of Books recently posted: Book Budget: April 2014
  18. Unfortunately the second book syndrome is a real thing. Second books are spent setting things up for the epic conclusion, and some don’t really progress the plot. But, there are exceptions. I think Hunger Games did this really well, and I loved the second book, Catching Fire. I really enjoyed the second book in the Shatter Me series, Unravel Me. It didn’t progress the plot much, but oh boy did it have some amazing character development. But yes, usually I feel nervous reading a second book.

  19. I can’t remember if you’ve read Defiance by C. J. Redwine or not, but HOLY CRAP! Deception, the second book was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So if you haven’t, then get on that because it does NOT in away come close to hitting Second Book Syndrome!

    But I SO AGREE WITH YOU. ugh. It’s horrid. If I ever get published, you are not allowed to let me publish Second Syndrome books. Got it?
    XOXO, Inky

  20. Completely agree! It sometimes depends on what series you are talking about, though. If the major plot is spread out between these three books, then this is a serious problem. But if each book is it’s own, contained story with a layered plot, then the second book syndrome can be avoided.
    Lovely post, Ashley!

    Brea Johnson recently posted: Love β€˜n’ Fate, Breezy Hate
  21. Second books usually are really bad. I will judge a series based on how it flows through all three books a lot. If it feels like the first and third could’ve just been longer and left out the second, then I get fairly annoyed and the series will get lower ratings. I’ve actually changed my mind on a rating before based on the series as a whole. I should start reviewing the series along with the last book. Like, rate them separately and then on the third book add in a rating for the series as a whole.

    I think the only series I ever was really impressed with all the books was the Archers of Avalon series by Chelsea Fine. I’ve had a few others who had strong second books, but Archers is the only series that was strong the whole way through for me.

    Ariel recently posted: Life Update: Baby News!
  22. Hmm I can’t really agree since I haven’t read a lot of sequels to trilogy (I suck at finishing series!) but I think I end up liking a lot of sequels compared to not liking them. For THG trilogy, I really loved Catching Fire. I thought it was way better than the first book. For Divergent, I didn’t love Insurgent but I thought it was really awesome. For the Across the Universe trilogy, I love love loved A Million Suns. Maybe my opinion will change as I read more sequels but as of now, I don’t really see them as ‘mehh’. Great post!

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  23. I LOVE this post! For the most part, I totally agree with you about book 2 in a series almost being a filler. There are a few exceptions and the one that always pops directly in my head is Crown of Embers. To be honest, I liked Girl of Fire and Thorns but I LOVE LOVE LOVED Crown of Embers. I fangirl over that series because of the second book rather than the first. And while I don’t think I like Catching Fire MORE than The Hunger Games, I like it almost as much. I think CF was an amazing addition and extension to the first book. Days of Blood and Starlight I felt the same thing. I didn’t love it more but I loved it as much and I was extremely satisfied with how the second book turned out. Those are the exceptions though. Only three out of how many series?!

    Kelly @ Belle of the Literati recently posted: Get Real--April
  24. I loved Catching Fire, but I love ALL the Hunger Games books. They were just insane.

    I have found, though, that although I adored Jessica Sorensen’s opening Ella & Micha and Callie & Kayden novels, I wasn’t as enamoured with their sequels.

    I read a really great comment from Cora Carmack (I think it was Cora) who said she doesn’t write sequels because it means likely splitting her characters up and since then, it’s sorta resonated with me – sure, fans clamour for sequels, but sometimes it just isn’t worth it and that’s the feeling I got with the two Sorensen sequels, they seemed like repeats of the original books.

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