Musing Mondays #28: Second Book Syndrome

Posted August 18, 2014 in Discussion, Musing Mondays / 4 Comments

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it! 
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!
My Musings:

 This is a topic very widely covered around the blogosphere. And it’s certainly a phenomenon that has some truth to it. Let me introduce….

Second Book Syndrome. 

Second Book Syndrome is a curious case where the second book in a series, more commonly a trilogy, isn’t quite as exciting as the first and third books. This happens a lot because most trilogies seem to follow a sort of recipe.

The first book introduces you to everything- the characters, the setting, the problem. There is usually some big conflict at the end that they get through successfully, but oh noes! That’s not the end of it. There are still some loose ends. Thus, they open the gateway for a second book.

The third book is the last in the trilogy so it ties everything up. There is often (every time, honestly) some huge epic battle at the end and then everyone lives happily ever after. Well, mostly everyone. Probably not the bad guys.

The second book doesn’t have to do either of these things! It doesn’t introduce you to everything, nor does it tie everything up. So most of us consider the second book just…buildup. Extra. Often, I find the second book quite boring, such as with Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Well, it really wasn’t all that boring, and I still liked it (I liked the movie more though), but it had nothing on the first one. And whenever I compare the two, the 2nd is just a boring repeat of the first one. (It’s really not, though. But that could just be my adoration of the movie speaking.) I’m basically really conflicted on it. Mockingjay was pretty meh. My very intelligent way of summing that last book up is ‘crap hitting the fan’. And it really does. It hits that fan like nobody’s business. In fact, the fan is very shortly going to have to press charges against that crap for domestic abuse. But long and ridiculous extended metaphors aside…

I’m trying to think here of some more examples. I know I’ve read a lot of trilogies, but I can’t seem to recall any. Oh! I’ve got one. The His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. I thought all three books were excellent. True, The Subtle Knife wasn’t as exciting as The Golden Compass, but it came pretty close.

Here’s another. The Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke. Both the 2nd and 3rd books seemed very similar to each other, yet so different from Inkheart. That may have been because the last two were set in a different location. So I don’t really see that as second book syndrome. All 3 books were good, but in different ways.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart). I don’t remember much about that series (I’m due for a re-read) but I remember loving each book pretty equally. The May Bird trilogy (Jodi Lynn Anderson). All very good books. There was only a slight case of SBS. The Seven Kingdoms by Kristin Cashore (my favorite books of all time). The second book could be seen as a standalone, so there was no case of SBS. The Mountain trilogy (Jean Craighead George). I haven’t read the third book yet (it’s coming up soon on my TBR) but On the Far Side of the Mountain was a good as the first one because it was a little different. I have reviews on both books. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I hated all the books, but it got somewhat interesting with the second one. The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare. I haven’t read the 3rd yet, but the second was EXPONENTIALLY better than the first. I almost didn’t continue after the first. Hm.

So I introduce a ‘common’ syndrome and then fill up the whole post with examples to disprove it. Wow. Well, I guess it’s not all that common, is it? What do you think?

Ashley (from NoseGraze) has got some great posts on SBS here and here.

EDIT: When I was writing this post, I hadn’t read Anna and the French Kiss or Lola and the Boy Next Door yet. And that was another brilliant case of anti-SBS. Lola was actually a lot better than Anna, even though I adored both books. See my reviews to find out why.

So do you believe in SBS? Do you have any examples, or counter-examples? Agree or disagree with my choices? Answer below and/or link up your MM post!


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4 Comments on "Musing Mondays #28: Second Book Syndrome"

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Wonderful post! I do believe in SBS and it’s been confirmed lately by Divergent. First book was awesome, second one…not so much. Like you said, it brought nothing new. I think one of the main issues with SBS is that usually people love the first book in the trilogy so much, that the expectations are very high for the second and third book. Even in longer series (like Vampire Academy or Harry Potter). I think the problem is that you will have so many high hopes, that no matter how good the following books are, they will fall a little short when comparing them with the “original” one. That doesn’t mean there aren’t books that really do let you down for real reasons. I’m ashamed to say I never read any on the books you’re mentioning in your post, but I will check them out. I have had The Golden… Read more »

I don’t read a lot of series, but this sometimes happens with non-series authors as well. Their first book is incredibly wonderful, and then the second is just . . . fine. I sometimes wonder if it’s too much hype/expectations that cause this. . .


Yeah, SBS is something you see more often than you do not. I haven’t read it but everyone says Insurgent was like that and can definitely agree about Catching Fire. I would prefer just two books if the second is almost always going to be filler. Great post!