What Makes a Trilogy?

According to the title page, Spellbreaker is the third and final book of the Spellwright Trilogy.  However, I don’t think “trilogy” is the correct term here.  What is it that makes three books a trilogy instead of three books set in the same world with the same chracters?  I ask because, to me, Blake Charlton’s books do not feel like a trilogy when I read them.

As I mentioned, there are consistent characters throughout, such as Nicodemus Weal, the protagonist from Spellwright.  Francesca is added in Spellbound and then we come to Leandra here in Spellbreaker.  The world is the same (well, mostly, but that’s what giant climaxes are for) and the story only moves in one direction.  Things that were hinted at in the first two books are resolved and my mind got blown no little bit.  Yet I don’t see this as a trilogy.

For me, the word “trilogy” implies an interconnectedness that I feel these books lack. My impression is that they were written one at a time, and that Charlton did not have a clear idea of where the whole lot would end when he was working on the first book.  Hell, there are things he might have included in the first book if he’d known what was going to happen in the second.

When I reread a series, I am accustomed to noticing foreshadowing that I had missed on a previous readthrough. I…don’t recall having any of those realizations this time through.  Admittedly, this is only the second time I’ve read Spellbound and the second or third for Spellwright.  Obviously the first time I had a chance to read Spellbreaker, so I won’t be able to truly analyze foreshadowing in that sense until the next time I revisit the books.  Point being, that while there is a good amount of foreshadowing in each book, it only relates within the confines of that novel, not to the rest of the series.  This isn’t even a case of the author slowly revealing deeper secrets of the world as we plunge further into his books, this is simply having little connection between the plots of the various books.

There are two things this disjointedness reminds me of.  The first is David Drake’s Lord of the Isles series.  I did not see that climax coming either, not until it had begun, but once I began to reflect (ignoring the fact that my favorite character was the talking axe), I could see the logic behind it.  It even got my grudging respect and I vaguely considered keeping that final book.  Unfortunately, the climax and axe were not enough to overcome the other flaws; namely the overused and obvious narrative structure.

The second is Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, these are both cartoons featured on Nickelodeon.  A:TLA was a children’s show of three seasons that was enjoyable and educational, becoming beloved by all ages.  It was well-planned out in various story arcs and while there were filler episodes, in general the pacing was quite good.  Korra, on the other hand, had a slightly older demographc.  And because the network was “uncertain of its success,” originally only ordered one season.  So the first season feels very rushed and cramped, with a lot going on.  After that was a success, the network then ordered a second season, leading to a second, very self-contained season.  Following that, two more seasons were ordered and no more than that.  This enabled a better arc to be constructed involving both of the seasons and allowing for better pacing than the first two: more buildup, less rush, etc.  Then the budget got cut about two thirds through the fourth season, not to mention that most, if not all of the fourth season was released online instead of on air…it was a real mess.  My point here is that Korra overall feels very haphazard, rushed, and disjointed when you sit down and watch it all.

This is really not surprising when you consider that the first two seasons were written to be self-contained because of the restrictions on the show’s creators.  The third and fourth were better in those respects, but it’s hard to make up for what came before.  Legend of Korra could have been a show that was to Avatar: The Last Airbender what The Empire Strikes Back is to A New Hope.  Instead it’s…okay.  There are some great episodes and some really not-so-great ones and it’s kind of a pain.

I guess what I’m saying is that it feels like Blake Charlton’s books were written one at a time, hoping each time that they would be published.  Instead of saying “I have this awesome epic to write and I’m going to lay it all out ahead of time,” I think he was saying “Yes, this is part of this epic story, but let’s get the first part done and focus on getting that published before moving on to the next.”  I’m not saying this is the wrong way to do it, just that it doesn’t work well for me.  And please, I am not at all discounting Spellbreaker.  I began to suspect that the climax would be particularly epic somewhere around a third in, but it took some time before I could properly grasp the scale of it.  I’m not kidding about the part where my mind got blown.

Aside from the fact that Leandra is a spoiled, self-important brat much of the time, it was an enjoyable read.  I just wish that this was a trilogy in truth, and not just three books branded as a trilogy because it sells better that way.

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