Today I’m delighted to welcome Courtney Schafer back to the blog! Her debut novel, The Whitefire Crossing, was quite enjoyable, and her second book, The Tainted City, was even better with its deeper exploration of the world and characters—and the way it kept me turning the pages! I loved this book, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating the conclusion to Dev and Kiran’s story, The Labyrinth of Flame. That’s why I’m so glad there is currently a Kickstarter in progress for the third book after the publisher of the first two faced some financial difficulties. Enough money has been raised that the recently-written book will be edited and completed, but it still hasn’t met the first stretch goal and there are some great rewards such as the book (of course!), the entire trilogy, manuscript critiques, climbing lessons, ice skating lessons, and much more!
Endings are hard. It’s difficult enough to bring a single book to a satisfying close, but when you’re finishing a series? Pulling together multiple books’ worth of plot threads and character arcs into a finale that fulfills or even exceeds readers’ expectations is one heck of an authorial achievement.
This has been much on my mind recently as I worked on revising the final chapters of The Labyrinth of Flame, the conclusion to my Shattered Sigil trilogy. It can be paralyzing to worry about reader expectations; when I’m working on a manuscript I prefer to pretend nobody will read the book but me, so I can focus on writing a novel that I personally love and find satisfying. To that end, I spent a lot of time pondering all my favorite series endings and why they worked so well for me, compared to others that didn’t.
So when a few days ago I heard a friend bemoaning the lack of SF and fantasy series with good endings, I was ready to jump in with suggestions. But in the course of that discussion, my friend brought up an even more interesting question: how many series had I read in which the ending was not only satisfying, but the final book was my favorite of the set?
I had to admit that narrowed my list quite a bit. Even the most well-crafted of resolutions is a closing off of possibilities; you lose the fun of speculating over mysteries and character arcs in progress. Plus, the more I love a set of characters, the more I hate to say farewell.
Yet there are some authors who pull off a final book so awesome that it easily overcomes these handicaps. Today I want to share a few such books with you, because now I’ve finished my own trilogy I understand just how much a great ending deserves to be celebrated. (I don’t yet know what readers will think of my own ending, but I take comfort that I love The Labyrinth of Flame with a deep and abiding passion!) If you have more excellent endings to recommend, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.
Jennifer Roberson’s A Tapestry of Lions (final book of the Chronicles of the Cheysuli)
This is book eight of the series. BOOK EIGHT. Which makes it all the more impressive that Roberson ends on such a strong note. I think the final book works so well for me because Roberson isn’t afraid to change things up. Each Cheysuli novel features a different protagonist (often the son or daughter of the previous book’s POV character), but most of the heros and heroines of previous novels shared a sense of duty toward the Cheysuli nation and a pride in their magical heritage. In this last book, Roberson gives us a protagonist who does his level best to reject his birthright, and not in the lip-service way seen in so many fantasy heroes: “Oh, how I wish I did not have the burden of being the Chosen one! But because I am a good person, I will shoulder that burden anyway despite my angst.” Kellin destroys his relationships with friends and family, makes choices that result in terrible consequences, and Roberson doesn’t shy away from any of the pain of that, or sugar-coat his bitterness and selfishness. Instead she makes him change and grow in a way that’s both believable and tied directly into the plot; it’s Kellin’s stubborn rejection of his family’s beliefs that gives him the strength to overcome prejudice and forge a peace with his people’s greatest enemies. I liked the previous books in the series, but it’s this one that I love.
Mazarkis Williams’s The Tower Broken (final book of the Tower and Knife trilogy)
Adding significant POV characters late in a series is always a risk. Readers may resent what they perceive as time taken away from the characters they already care about, or the author may struggle with story bloat brought on by the need to give the new character an equally compelling arc. The Tower Broken is a wonderful example of how to do a new POV right. I loved the addition of Farid, a fruit seller who in the wake of a tragedy discovers he possesses a magical talent that both sides of a conflict wish to exploit. Not only is Farid an interesting character in his own right, but Williams uses him to give us insight into the two fascinating types of magic present in the series (pattern magic and elemental magic) while still keeping the overall plot tight and well-paced. Farid and the beautifully written scenes of magic aren’t the only reason I love this third book best; I also loved where Williams took certain other characters, and how their relationships evolved. The second book in the series was very bleak, but in this one, hope returns, and for me that clinched its place as my favorite of the series.
Joan Vinge’s The Summer Queen (final book of the Snow Queen cycle)
Vinge won a Hugo for the first book in the series, The Snow Queen, but I’ve always felt The Summer Queen deserved it even more. Vinge builds upon The Snow Queen and sequel World’s End in all the best ways: The Summer Queen’s plot is more intricate, the characters deeper, the world and themes more expansive. Plus, Vinge adds a terrific antagonist character who’s sympathetic to the point I found myself desperately hoping his arc wouldn’t end in tragedy. (I won’t spoil anything, but suffice it to say I thought his plotline was one of the best in the book.) C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen still wins out for my favorite science fiction novel of all time, but The Summer Queen is my favorite science fiction ending.
Carol Berg’s Restoration (final book of the Rai-Kirah trilogy)
I’m aware I’m in the minority on this one. Many fans love the first book Transformation best, citing the developing respect and friendship between slave protagonist Seyonne and his owner Prince Aleksander. I suspect my opinion is different because I read the series out of order. Back in the days I got my new reads exclusively from my local library, I learned to start series mid-course if the first book was checked out (patience isn’t one of my strong suits). I picked up the second Rai-Kirah book, Revelation, off the new release shelf because of its snowy mountain cover and I plunged right in. So it was Seyonne and his attempt to unravel the mystery of demons that caught my interest first, not his relationship with Aleksander (who plays a smaller role in the latter two novels). I love the way Berg first expands and then resolves the demon plot in the third book, and I love Seyonne’s struggle to hold onto his humanity. I suppose it goes to show how much our expectations of character and story are formed by the first novel we read of a series, and how much influence that holds over our experience of the tale as a whole.
About The Labyrinth of Flame:
Dev’s never been a man afraid of a challenge. Not only has he kept his vow to his dead mentor, rescuing a child in the face of impossible odds, but he’s freed his mage friend Kiran from both the sadistic master who seeks to enslave him and the foreign Council that wants to kill him.
But Kiran’s master Ruslan is planning a brutal revenge, one that will raze an entire country to blood and ashes. Kiran is the key to stopping Ruslan; yet Kiran is dying by inches, victim of the Alathian Council’s attempt to chain him. Worse yet, Dev and Kiran have drawn the attention of demons from the darkest of ancient legends. Demons whose power Dev knows is all too real, and that he has every reason to fear.
A fear that grows, as he and Kiran struggle to outmaneuver Ruslan and uncover the secrets locked in Kiran’s forgotten childhood. For the demons are playing their own deadly game – and the price of survival may be too terrible to bear.
Read an Excerpt: Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three
New to the series? Read the first six chapters of The Whitefire Crossing!
About Courtney Schafer:
Courtney Schafer is the author of the Shattered Sigil series: The Whitefire Crossing, The Tainted City, and The Labyrinth of Flame. When not writing, she climbs mountains, figure skates, works as an engineer in the space industry, and chases after her insanely active young son. Visit her at courtney-schafer.blogspot.com or www.courtneyschafer.com.