Changing Genres in the Middle of a Series: Thoughts?

Heir of Fire

Book three of the series (image via Goodreads)

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?

Crown of Midnight

Book two of the series (image via Goodreads)

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.

 

Throne of Glass

Book one of the series (image via Goodreads)

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.

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Books with Daggers–They’re a Thing

This week I thought I would do some book recommendations. I’ve been reading a lot lately, mostly within historical YA. So if you’re writing in this genre or love to read it, listen up.

Graceling Cover

Wikipedia

First up, we have GRACELING by Kristin Cashore. This was one of the first YA high fantasies that I ever read. It changed my view of books. We have this amazing female protagonist who is an assassin being controlled by her uncle, the king, to do his dirty work. Some of the people have magical abilities, called “graces,” and Katsa is graced with killing. She meets Prince Po, who is graced with fighting skills, and together they leave their lives behind to perform a task more worthy of their talents. Like save the kingdom. Lots of action. Lots of plot twists. A beautiful romance. GRACELING is wonderful.

Maid of Secrets cover

Book Swoon

Next we have MAID OF SECRETS by Jennifer McGowan. This book focuses less on the romance and more on the political intrigue of the Elizabethan Era. Meg is an orphan who has made a living picking pockets, until she gets caught by a nobleman. Rather than get sent to prison, she is forced to serve Queen Elizabeth as a spy. Meg is blessed with perfect recall, which makes her ideal for overhearing enemy conversations. Jennifer McGowan manages to seep you into the era without taking away from the storytelling. Lots of sneaking, thievery, and play acting. MAID OF SECRETS is lots of fun.

Defy cover

Goodreads

DEFY by Sara B. Larson is my most recent “dagger book.” I bought this one on a whim at a conference I went to several months ago. So glad I did. The kingdom has been at war for years, and everything that the people have goes to the cause. When the border villages are raided and people are killed, the orphans are brought to the palace. The boys are taken to train for the army, while the girls are sent to the breeding houses to make more boys for the army. When twins Alexa and Marcel are orphaned, Alexa cuts her hair and pretends to be a boy so she can go into war training with Marcel and avoid being a prostitute. Years later, Alexa, the prince, and a fellow guard are kidnapped—naturally a love triangle ensues. Figuring out everyone’s motives is the fun part of this book. No one is ever as they seem.

Throne of Glass cover

Goodreads

Sarah J. Maas’s THRONE OF GLASS also features a female assassin. Celaena was sent to the salt mines for her crimes, until the prince releases her on the condition that she be his champion. Up against various killers, thieves, and spies, Celaena must compete to become the king’s assassin or return to the mines. But when her fellow competitors start dying, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for her life. Very romantic. Very action-packed. Lots of great dialogue and character interactions.

Dark Triumph cover

Goodreads

Last is probably my favorite book of all time: Robin LaFevers’s DARK TRIUMPH. This is another assassin book, but it’s so much more than that. The victims of violence at the hands of men are sent to St. Mortain’s convent, where they are trained to kill for their god. Sybella has a dark past—she’s been hurt deeply by the men closest to her, but she is sent on an assignment to the house of her own father—the very man who has tormented her for years. This book is beautiful. Not only is it about finding a will to live after living through hell, but it’s full of romance and danger and deceit and betrayal and basically all the other good things to be found in books. Go read the first book about Ismae, GRAVE MERCY, then crack open DARK TRIUMPH.

The Falconer cover

Goodreads

The Winner's Curse cover

Goodreads

Coming up on my reading list are THE FALCONER by Elizabeth May, which is described as “The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy. This electrifying thriller combines romance and action, steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read” on the cover, and THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski, “a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.”

So go get in some good reads before Nano takes over your life!