I recently finished reading Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas, and I had one of those out of body reading experiences where half of my brain was completely engrossed in the story, and the other half was standing pursed lipped, taking notes on a clipboard.
Though I’d rather be completely and totally engrossed by a story when I read, the result was that I made some observations that got me thinking about whether or not it’s a smart idea to change genres in the middle of a series.
On one level, all that matters to me is whether or not I liked the book. I liked book one of the series, Throne of Glass. I loved the second book, Crown of Midnight, like whoa. I loved the third book, Heir of Fire, after a slow start. But what if I had loved Throne of Glass, which is very much YA high fantasy, and hated when it turned into epic fantasy in the third book, which in my opinion it does?
Backing up a step here to delineate terms and how I’m using them. In general, the distinctions I make between YA fantasy (sometimes called high fantasy) and epic fantasy (a genre of adult fantasy) are about scope of setting, characters, and storylines as well as voice. Both tend to be epic in tone—the world’s about to end! The chosen one must save us all! Elves! Swords! etc. YA high fantasy seems to be more compact and concise in all senses except for the use of epic tropes like the chosen one who has to save the world. YA high fantasy tends to have fewer viewpoints and fewer storylines, tends to be shorter, and tends to have faster pacing. Epic fantasy–and here my frame of reference are books by authors like Sanderson, Brooks, Martin, and Tolkien–often have numerous viewpoints, longer page counts, and several storylines. Of course, there are always exceptions to my definitions.
Though Throne of Glass isn’t limited to one viewpoint, all the viewpoints are written for the same storyline and all viewpoint characters interact with each other. There are also very common tropes for YA storytelling, namely a love triangle, a talented teenage woman proving her worth, and hints at a magic destiny only the main character can fulfill. The second book I think is still YA high fantasy. It opens up the storyline to the world outside of the castle, but remains with the same cast of characters and most of the same viewpoints. Heir of Fire, however, takes a sharp turn. The multiple viewpoints expand to include a character who is new and whose storyline within HoF has nothing to do with the old characters’. I have no doubt that Manon’s storyline will intersect or verge with that of Celaena’s, but that is nowhere to be found within HoF. HoF is also significantly longer than YA high fantasy tends to be. The page count has expanded simply because the scope of the story has expanded. With new characters and setting and storylines, HoF feels much more like adult epic fantasy.
Like I said, I enjoyed Heir of Fire a great deal. But is it smart to change genres on your audience? The short answer is that it depends.
I think that an author’s job is to tell the damn story (thanks Tom Clancy, for my favorite bit of writing advice). And maybe the damn story takes you to places you don’t expect, your readers don’t expect, but turns out to be exactly the place the story needed to go. But there will be those in your audience who want you to deliver a consistent story, one that is exciting and fresh but still within the parameters that first attracted them to your series. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either. I don’t love epic fantasy, so I had several false starts until I was finally sucked in by Heir of Fire. In the end I liked it, but that was only after trying and putting the book down twice. And I know several people who enjoyed the first book of this series, kind of liked the second, and refused to read the third when I told them about it.
It’s something to be aware of at least.
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is the same. The first novel is essentially a heist novel told in a fantasy setting, so some of Sanderson’s now eponymous style of storytelling doesn’t feature in book one. The second two books of the trilogy feel very much like epic fantasy, Sanderson style epic fantasy. All the books are great. And yet, I know several people who loved the first and couldn’t finish the second two.
Harry Potter does this too. Yes, it does. Harry Potter books start as middle grade novels and finish as young adult novels. I only know one person who minds. It feels natural that the books “mature” as Harry matures.
In the end, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to change genres in the middle of a series but it’s something writers need to be aware of and need to do in an organic a way as possible.