Series are very common in speculative fiction, and especially in fantasy. And even more especially in Urban Fantasy. Normally, when you read the first book in a series and find it less than satisfying, you don’t read the rest of the books in that series.
So, when I finally put down Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts, the first book in her Downside Ghosts series, I was very disappointed. Here was I book I had greatly been anticipating, and had recommended to me, even though I don’t usually read a lot of Urban Fantasy. The author is also active on Absolute Write, my favorite writing forum, and I have in fact spoken to her there.
But after the first 50 pages, I found the book very slow going. The magic system was interesting, there was a unique twist on the post-apocalyptic world, the character was a strong but flawed woman with drug issues and ties to the underworld that actually caused conflict with her everyday job. The writing was good. The villain was interesting. Yet the book wasn’t. (Keep in mind this was my first Stacia Kane book.)
I tend to finish things I start, and so I finished the book. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy books, and I felt let down. Even though I was desparate for reading material, the other two books sat on the shelf for two or three weeks. If I hadn’t bought all three currently available books in the series in one mass splurge of book-balancing, checker-shocking hemorrhage of cash, I would have written it off as bad luck and moved on. I would not have picked up the sequels. And I would have missed out big time.
Because the sequels were both page-turners, which I tore through in one day instead of studying for my finals. I loved them. I could see how much they benefitted from the set-up in the first book. There was a bit much re-hashing from Unholy Ghosts, and I think the books could have still been good reads if I hadn’t slogged through the first book. But overall, they were great, and I’m glad I bought them.
I’ve heard similar stories about Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. Fans are constantly explaining that the series really gets started after the first book, Gardens of the Moon, which is apparently slow and boring in its overwhelming detail. (Personally, I loved it.) The point is, even though writers are often advised that the first whatever–sentence, paragraoh, page, chapter, novel–is what makes or breaks a sale, those criteria don’t always match up with reality.
While it’s true that there are more books out there than a single person could read in ten life-times, that you can always just move on to a series that is good from start to finish, that doesn’t mean you should never read a book by that author again. Some authors deserve a second chance.
If you haven’t taken the hint already, Stacia Kane is one of those authors. But this post is not about how much I now love Stacia Kane. It’s about how no matter the amount of polish you grind into your first whatever, it won’t always be good enough to hook someone’s interest. But that doesn’t mean it sucks, or that you should give up on further work in that direction. So keep writing, and keep reading, and hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for.