I have a growing pet peeve and that is stories which do not announce that they are the first in a series but instead leave that little detail out of the discussion until you get to the end and find out that the story of the book you’re holding isn’t complete.
I’ve been encountering this in a few different places, such as The Half-made World and now with The Quantum Thief. The reason this bugs me is that it all comes down to expectations.
With both of the examples I give above there’s no indication that they are the first in a series, that they are not complete works in and of themselves, and that there will be subsequent books coming out. The story contained in between the covers of the book may have plot threads that are resolved at the end of the book but not in any substantial way; in no real sense can you put these two books down and feel like you read a complete story. This irritates me because if I pick up a book that has not stated it is the first in a series then I expect to get a complete story.
Other books and stories don’t do this. For instance, Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series that I have been talking about. While there are things left hanging at the end of each book, the plot is a lot more complete than either of the two above examples; additionally, the sub-title infers that there are other “tales” in the Book of the Fallen.
Another example is Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, which clearly state that it is a three book series in the “Day One” and “Day Two” on the covers of the first and second books and the plot immediately gives away that there is more to come.
There are some series which do not state they are a series but don’t do what I’m complaining about. Gail Carriger’s X-less series and Mira Grant’s zombie series are two examples of this; neither, if I remember correctly, express that they are book one of a series. However, this complaint doesn’t apply to them because the plot of both of the first books is complete by the end of the book. Yes, there may be some plot that alludes to a sequel, or the possibility of a sequel, but the first book in both of those series can stand on its own.
What The Half-made World and The Quantum Thief do is, IMO, disingenous. By not telling you that it is part of a series you may purchase it, as I did, with the assumption that it is a complete work only to find out that, at the end, the story is significantly unfinished. By not disclosing that it is the first in a series it makes me feel like there was an attempt at suckering me, that now, in some fashion, I must buy their second book so that I can find out what happens next, that I must buy additional books to complete my investment in the story since I was tricked into buying the first installment of story.
Well, you know what? Cliff-hangers are all well and good but springing them on me in such a fashion, especially in such a poorly done way with The Half-made World, only makes me angry. See, the thing is I don’t need to complete the story; I am, thankfully, not a completionist in a way that many geeks are so when this kind of thing happens to me I can write the author off as not worth my time and walk away from their book.
When I buy the first book in what is obviously a series, I’m making an investment in the series as a whole because I understand that the story will not wrap up in one book. That is a conscious choice I am making on how to invest my interest and money and there are definitely times when I don’t want to dive into a series but instead want to read a book that stands on its own. Presenting a story as free-standing, or, at least, not disclosing its place at the head of a book series, annoys me because it makes me feel like you’re trying to trick me into investing in the series. And if an author does do this intentionally, then what does that really say about the strength of their work and writing? I mean, if I get a book that is a complete story and it doesn’t hold my interest to want to buy book two, why the hell am I going to buy book two if book one only gives me a bunch of half-fished possibilities?