You’d think I’d know better, but I’m willing to let other people profit from my own mistake, and learn the rule I’m seemingly incapable of following myself, which is:
NEVER START READING A TRILOGY OF BOOKS UNTIL AFTER THE THIRD BOOK IS PUBLISHED.
So many times I’ve been burned by my failure to abide by that one simple rule, and I’m suffering for it even now. The latest book in the Electric Empire Series (book 3), The Dastardly Miss Lizzie, by Viola Carr, has just been published and naturally, since I’ve read the first two when they came out, I snapped it up and prepared to devour it. The series is great fun, which is clear from the fact that I, who have an almost holy reverence for the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, am loving the books though there is no way you could reconcile the Jekyll/Hyde from the original with their counterparts in this series (Jekyll never married nor had any female friends, as far as I can tell from the original book, so there’s no way he could have a daughter who shares his unfortunate ability to split into a good and an evil side, and that’s one of the bedrocks of this series). It’s steampunk, it’s good solid mystery, it’s Victoriana, it’s got great characters and ongoing plotlines involving those characters, and the writing is crisp and entertaining.
However, I’m having trouble getting through it, and that is largely because it’s been almost two years since the last book in the series came out (The Devious Dr. Jekyll, in October 2015) and I’ve read a lot of other books since then and have, I hate to admit, forgotten some of the background of this series in the meantime. Perhaps it would be easier if the author included some kind of prologue to bring us all back up to speed (other authors in other series, such as Jonathan L. Howard in his excellent Johannes Cabal series, do give you a little summary to remind you of how the characters got where they are in this volume), but you can’t know, before you start the book, whether the author will be considerate in that way, and there you are, struggling through a book you should fly through if you’d just finished the last book in the series a week or two before instead of nearly two years before.
Sometimes it’s not a problem. I’ve referred to The Magicians series by Lev Grossman, another series where the books were published years apart, but following those books wasn’t as much of a problem because when I finished the first book (The Magicians), it felt like a real ending, not the ending of a first book in a series, and likewise the end of the second book (The Magician King) felt final and not like a setup for a sequel, so in each case the sequels felt like pleasant surprises, and I didn’t feel I needed to go back and remember how the characters got to this point.
Aside from the problem of not remembering all the essential details over the course of a couple of years or more between parts of a trilogy, there’s also the horrible possibility that the third book (or even the second book) may never be published and if you’re reading the books as they come out, you may be left hanging. I’m frankly beginning to wonder whether Hilary Mantel is ever going to publish the third book in her series about Thomas Cromwell, which began with Wolf Hall in 2009 and continued with Bring Up the Bodies in 2012 (three years later). Now it’s almost five years after the publication of the second book and I’m wondering whether Mantel just doesn’t want to come to the inevitable end of the series (which would probably cover her main character’s fall and death). If I waited until the third book actually got published, I wouldn’t have experienced the intricacies of the first two books (both of which won Man Booker awards in their respective years), but I also wouldn’t be kept on tenterhooks about whether we’re ever going to reach the end (fans of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire will certainly sympathize).
So it’s a good rule, and if you follow it, you’ll be able to whiz through trilogies with no problem. Do what I say, not what I do.