In her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention. A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.” This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.
For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait. (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters… Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.) But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare. Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels. In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.
The romance genre is replete with connected novels. There are series that follow siblings, friends, coworkers, and members of clubs. There are also companion novels, where a supporting character from one book goes on to be the main character in another, without a full series or any sort of hook to connect the characters.
This is not in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, in a lot of ways these connected novels are great. They create a unified and more fully-realized world for the characters to inhabit, because each successive novel fleshes the canon out further. The characters themselves can seem more real, their relationships more believable with every book that demonstrates these bonds. Connected novels can also allow for the reader to develop a stronger emotional connection to characters – for example, I know that I enjoyed Courtney Milan’s Trial by Desire better for having already read the hero as a young supporting character in Milan’s previous novel Proof by Seduction. And, of course, it can be fun to check in on characters from earlier books, when they pop up in a new one.
And yet, sometimes this seemingly endless spate of connected novels begins to irk me. It makes me feel jaded, as a reader. Each successful couple from a single canon who find true love and a HEA, especially within the space of a few months or years, makes that fictional world seem that much less realistic, to me. More than that, I find myself sequel-spotting. Sometimes this is a pleasant experience – I enjoy reading about a supporting character, and hope that this character will get a novel of his or her own. Other times, it makes me feel cynical. I begin to suspect that every unique or particularly well-written supporting character is subtly being prepared to star in his or her own story. That they are, indeed, sequel-bait. Instead of being able to enjoy the book, I am distracted by a wary, weary feeling that the most intriguing supporting characters are probably just being prepared to have books of their own.
So, what do you think about the proliferation of connected novels? Do you find yourself anticipating which characters will have novels of their own – and, if so, is it a good thing or bad?
- Elizabeth AAR