If you’re a bit of a fan of the epic fantasy genre you’ll know that, generally, they come in threes. Bad luck is said to come in threes as well. Coincidence? Nope. It’s because of extremely good luck that a fantasy trilogy is even in print at all.
Tolkien started the whole trilogy thing. Writing in a time of mass world upheaval and a sparseness of pretty much everything, not only printing materials, The Rings was just too freakin’ long to be produced as one volume. Allen and Unwin told him that it would be too pricey to do, what, and suggested he split it into a serial of three novels, to split costs, don’tcher know? Tolkien was none too happy with that plan, but unless he wanted to wait several decades before he saw his beloved masterpiece on paper, he had no choice. And so, by the simple constraint of funds and the fact that the British spend too much money on tea and pantaloons, the tradition of the three part fantasy story was born. Cue a host of copycats and outright plagiarists, (*cough* Terry Brooks *cough*) and we now have a fantasy convention that’s set in concrete.
But unless the story is very good, the modern three part form has its downsides. For one, it’s conventional to set them in medieval Europe. This is the easiest to digest, as that’s history for most of us. Had it not been for Tolkien, things might have been very different. For example, modern epic fantasy’s default setting might in fact be a distant future on some random planet, or a quantum world. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
The other downside to the three part fantasy is the second book. By and by, it sucks. Here’s why:
In any trilogy of quality, the first book is good because we are experiencing new places, meeting new people and finding out how they and their world work. Everything is new and interesting. The mode of magic is different (hopefully), and depending on the writer’s imagination, the story is gripping, simply because we’ve not seen it before. There is a whole lot of character development taking place, and the exposition is rapid. By the end of the first book, the entire reason for writing it in the first place should have been established. Why are those characters even there, what’s their purpose, what or who are they fighting against, and what obstacles stand in their way? That’s a lot of information packed into a single book. It needs to be there to entice a reader to take the plunge and follow these characters all the way to the bitter end. Generally, the pace accelerates very quickly.
And then it hits the brick wall of book two. It’s nothing more than a load of filler to get you to where you really want to be: the third book. There is little character development left to do in the second, without ruining it for the grand finale, so whole new side-stories are introduced to keep it fresh. But really, if they aren’t directly related to the main cut-and-thrust of the plot, they’re just wasted pages. Obviously the finale will be left for the last chapters of the third book, and when the little exposition needed to get the characters from point A (the first book) to point Z (the rad climax in book three) is done, the story flounders and falls in the mud. Generally. I’m by no means including every story in this, as there are many fantasy trilogies that are done well enough to keep us enthralled with each page. But I’ve read a fair few, and I’ve seen the above pattern all too often. The whole reason for the main character to get the shrunken hoof of the thripple stump to the golden Donkey King over in that other kingdom that’s conveniently across a barren wasteland full of perils, is then waylaid by book two, wherein our hero suddenly has a pressing need to visit his aunt for four hundred pages. And the other four hundred are consumed by, yawn, world politics. The writer mistakenly assumes that by adding painfully intricate details he becomes an accomplished world builder. Really, if we have to sit through a King’s audience, or listen in on council minutes and learn the precise arrangements of each nation’s insignia and what every soldier’s eating for breakfast, the average reader is going to incinerate the book and lynch its author nine times out of ten.
But if you’ve struggled through seventeen hundred pages of errant waffle in book two, you’ve accomplished your quest. We are rewarded for our hard work of getting through the dreary and needless romances and uninvolving jeopardy and vagaries of book two with wall to wall action in book three. The characters spiral down to their final resolutions, and the story has its end. Hopefully a good one, after all that work. Even if you don’t really like the book, you’ve still invested all this time into finding out what happens, so more often than not you’ll just keep going. The characters are familiar to you, and you’ll want to know how they get on, who rides into a glorious sunset and who dies. Even if you’ve predicted it way back in chapter two of book one. Like in that one story where that big tall old dude gives that little dude that gold ring and tells him that mean dude with the one eye has rebuilt his house and is wanting it back, and that the ring’s got to be melted down in the one-eyed dude’s back yard. And we think, well obviously that little dude with the hairy feet is going to go and do it, and take nine hundred pages of his sweet time about it too. In any story that involves the words ‘dark’, and ‘lord’, the outcome is pretty much assured. Once again, we have Tolkien to thank for that particular convention.
The Adventurer’s Daughter was originally meant to be one book. Unlike a trilogy, where everything must finish at book three, the format is open ended, meaning the main character, Annahenata Fotherington, continues to be engaged in separate stories as she grows older. I planned a series of four stand alone stories that are nevertheless linked by several strands and themes and characters. Serabella was one of those strands that got the full treatment. Little did I know how big the first Adventurer’s Daughter would be when I was done.
The story has a big set-piece right in the middle, which turned out to be the perfect place to chop it in half. What we now have is a fantasy trilogy minus that boring book two, linking the exposition and character introduction and cliff-hanger ending of book one to book three, which is basically action from page one to the end. Bam. No shitty filler, just pacing and radness from start to finish. Or at least that’s the idea…
And yes, because I intentionally set out to write a conventional story, it’s set in a world that could be paralleled to medieval Europe. Or more specifically, Victorian England, crossed with parts of Mongolia, crossed with parts of the Caribbean. What it’s not is a Tolkien rip-off. There are no elves or dwarves or orcs or rings or fiery mountains or ents or wizards or three page long poems or anything else of that nature. Currently I’ve just embarked upon the journey of book three (which is actually book five, considering the first and second stories are split in two), while editing on the first one is well under way.