Warning: Very wordy post ahead!
While browsing through the juvenile section of the library the other day, I happened across a book with an interesting-looking cover. It was titled Candle Man: Book 1, The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin.
When I noticed the “Book 1” bit, I became a bit wary and almost shoved the book back on the shelf. Lucky for it the cover was so interesting, or else it would have remain unread; but my fear that a certain problem would wield its grotesque power at the end of the book was certainly understandable. I am talking, of course, about cliffhangers.
Now, The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance was quite good (though maybe not exactly what I expected from the cover and blurb) and almost entirely free of the problem, having only a hint of future adventures to come rather than ending right before the eve of battle or just after an immense revelation that will force the character to choose a new path. Whether or not this constitutes a cliffhanger at all is debatable, which is not the point of this post and which I might post at length at a later date. (Completely off topic, I do recommend The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, and I will be posting a full review later. Moving on. . . .)
I’m glad I decided to read Vigilance, and wholly commend Dakin for having the sense to end this story before moving on to the next one. Other authors are not so wise (or perhaps simply more business-minded); they not only hint at future adventures, they practically scream of unfinished business and further dramatic events, all in an effort to convince the reader to buy the next book. It’s funny, though; while I put the sequel to Vigilance on hold as soon as I finished the last sentence, I am almost always inclined to return an offending book to either the store or the library and distrust the author ever after.
Before I continue, I’d like to point out that I know where these legions of offenders are coming from. As I said before, they employ cliffhangers as a gimmick to convince the reader to buy the next book, and it often works. My knee-jerk reaction, after all, is not necessarily the same knee-jerk reaction of everyone who reads the book; and while I might blacklist the author, others wait for the next book and buy it when it comes out. Obviously there’s enough of these others to make using cliffhangers profitable; and, as I well know, writing is a business and as with any business, profits are good.
Cliffhangers, however, are not. They are dastardly little ploys with more regard to the author’s job than to the responsibility owed to readers to weave a good yarn.
One blatant example off the top of my head include the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. I have been assured by others who’ve trudged through most or all of the books that every single book in that blasted series ends on a cliffhanger. While I cannot attest to this myself, I can tell you that I was so outraged at the end of the first book that I chucked into the return bin at the library and never looked back.
Three other cases are several short series by Gordon Korman that I have read: The Island, On the Run, and Kidnapped. All the books are a hundred pages or less, and two of them are ridiculously chopped into a trilogy when they should have been a full novella instead (The Island and Kidnapped, I’m looking at you). The third, On the Run, is separated into six books when compiling the series into one novel would have ultimately been more satisfying. I really don’t understand why this was necessary, at all; at least each book in the Warriors series was novel-length itself.
Yet another example is Christopher’s Paolini’s infamous Brisingr. . . at least, I like to think that it’s infamous for what he did. I’m not referring to endless other debates about the originality of the story or any other such thing here; I am talking about the cheerful little note at the end where Paolini states that he was so enamored with the forging of swords that he had to split Brisingr into two books to make everything he wanted to write about fit into the series.
. . . Wait, what? was my first reaction. My second reaction was the feeling of betrayal that fueled the confusion I felt after reading the ending of Brisingr into full-fledged wrath.
For years, readers waited for the end to the trilogy. And then, when it finally came out, we were informed that it was actually a cycle, a quartet, not a trilogy. My wrath was a natural reaction, I think.
Anyhow, it has faded somewhat since then. The biggest point that I hope to make is that the cliffhanger at the end of Brisingr was not only unexpected, it was a complete betrayal of reader’s expectations.
That’s what all cliffhangers are, though. Betrayals. And they often appear at the end of books labeled “Book 1”, which is, of course, why I hate them.
So what about you? Do cliffhangers make your blood boil, or are you accustomed to them?