Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship With Book Series

When I ran off to ALA last month, I picked up a ton of YA titles. I should be reading them. Reading and reviewing. But before I went to ALA, I started reading A Shadow in Summer, the first book of the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, which I picked up at Sundance Books in Geneseo, NY (shout out!). If a series is good, once I start it, I have to finish it to the exclusion of all else. I notoriously did this last year with all 20 books in the Repairman Jack/Adversary Cycle series by F. Paul Wilson, and didn't really know what to do with myself after five months with the same characters.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying the Long Price Quartet, even if I haven't given the books five stars on Goodreads. And now we get to the problem with series... Sometimes, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. A series is a really long narrative, most of the time episodic in nature. So, when reading and reviewing a series, I feel like I need to have two opinions - an opinion of the series as a whole and an opinion on each book within the series. Sometimes, where individual books don't measure up to my standards, the whole series will merit a glowing review. I'm having this problem with The Long Price Quartet.

Abraham is a great writer. Without a doubt, he knows his craft. The Long Price Quartet is set in a medieval Asian world where powerful men who call themselves poets control godlike forces of nature through grammatical bindings. The balance of power between humanity and these demi-gods is a fragile thing. Throw in outside forces who want a piece of the divine action, and you have a worldwide ticking time bomb. Looking at the four books (and I'm only on book three, but I can see where the arc is going), I see a coherent narrative where every action furthers the plot and later events fill in the gaps left by previous events. The story arc that centers on two men with a deeply complicated and multifaceted (non-sexual) relationship is beautiful. Each book takes place roughly 15 years after the previous book, so readers have time to see this relationship shift through all phases of life. I've partially been reading this series as a meditation on platonic love. A lot happens in these books, but this series is not your typical hero's journey.

Bros before hoes.
That being said, I've been having a hard time reviewing each individual book in the quartet. I remember saying in my Goodreads review of A Shadow in Summer that the book fell flat at the end. But now that I've read the second book (A Betrayal in Winter) and most of the third book (An Autumn War), I see that the end of the first book was the tipping point of the series and highly dramatic. However, I don't feel comfortable going back to Goodreads to change my review. If A Shadow in Summer was a stand alone, I would feel the same. Only in looking at the series as a greater whole do I see the full merit of the first book.

Some series are like crop circles - their significance only appreciable when one can see it in its entirety. That doesn't make those series any less awesome than those whose individual books can better stand alone. I greatly respect an author who has the vision to create something so all encompassing. But I'm still left with the need for dual reviews. I don't think a single book can make or break a successful series, but I still need to look at the individual books and at how they all fit together.

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