Jo Talks Books: What Makes A Satisfying Series Finale

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been doing well since my last post, things are finally starting to head back to somewhat normal here and though I have still been largely staying at home, it has been really nice to finally get to see my friends in person in the last couple of weeks, it really does make a difference.

Anyway, it’s almost the end of June, and for my discussion post this month I’m going to be talking about final books in a series and what makes for a satisfying one. This is your advance warning that there may be spoilers ahead for several series finales so if you don’t like spoilers you may want to stop reading now.

I specifically didn’t want to say “good” because I think you can have a book that is technically well written that doesn’t necessarily feel satisfying, or you can have a book that might be good but doesn’t necessarily work out the way you would like it to. Satisfaction is a very objective thing and what is satisfying for one reader might not be satisfying to another.

The most important thing for any satisfying end to a series is that the characters achieve their overarching goal. Any series of books usually has characters working towards a specific aim which they have been building towards throughout, so obviously the most important thing for a series finale to be satisfying is that the characters reach their goal. If Harry Potter had ended with Voldemort taking over, that wouldn’t have been a satisfying finale after seven books of build up would it? No. This doesn’t mean that there can’t be obstacles to getting there, after all you don’t want things to be too easy for the characters, but ultimately, as readers, we do want to see the characters we’ve invested our time in to fail.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every story needs to have a happy ending to be satisfying though. It depends on the story, not every story fits a happy ending and sometimes a sad ending might be more satisfying because it works better for the book. For an example of one that went wrong, the ending of Allegiant fitted the story because it worked for Tris’ character but it wasn’t a satisfying ending because it was done in a way that felt really anti-climactic and the story as a whole was pretty dull.

In contrast, A Conjuring of Light, the final Shades of Magic book, doesn’t have exactly a sad or a happy ending, it’s more of a bittersweet ending but it works perfectly: the characters all end up where they are meant to be, but that sends them all in different directions and it feels just as sad saying goodbye as the reader as it does for the characters.

I read a lot of fantasy so one thing I’m kind of expecting in a series finale is character deaths. It sounds strange to say that a book needs to have characters die to be satisfying and it’s not necessarily true for all series finales: if I read a contemporary series (which are pretty rare) I probably wouldn’t be expecting anyone to die. However, when reading fantasy, it’s pretty common that there is some kind of war or battle or bad guy to defeat and if no one dies then it kind of feels like a cop out.

That being said, it’s no use being like “well I have to kill off a character, so I’ll just go with this side character that no one cares about”. Readers have to have an emotional connection, feel attached, otherwise the character death will mean nothing and you’ll be left thinking “Well why should I care”?”.

For instance, one of my major problems in Hero At The Fall, the final book in the Rebel of The Sands trilogy, is that though there are many character deaths, none of them really hits you. Even when it happened to a character I really liked, it’s presented in such a detached way that I didn’t really feel anything.

On the other hand, you have Mockingjay, where the two biggest deaths in that book are two people that Katniss really cares for (I’m sure you guys probably know who I’m talking about but I am trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible) and those deaths really hit because we KNOW why we should care for those characters and we do, so we feel the emotional impact.

This depends on the person that you’re asking but for me, closure is vital for a series finale to feel satisfying. That doesn’t mean that you have to close all the threads in your story, if you want to leave room for sequels then that’s fine, but I think it needs to feel closed in a way that people will feel satisfied if there was no more. One of my favourites for this is the final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. The book ends with the characters fulfilling their goals and Percy and Annabeth becoming a couple, and had Rick Riordan decided not to do the spinoff series, then it would have still ended in a pretty great place. I am definitely all for authors writing more series in the worlds they have created, but I do think that each series should feel like it has a self-contained arc that provides closure for the readers.

Personally, finishing a series and feeling like there are massive loose ends, even if I know there is a spin off coming is one of the most frustrating things for me as a reader. I do not want to feel like I’ve been left with more questions than answers when I’m done with a series. I’m not saying an author has to answer absolutely every question I have, but I don’t want to be left with anything major hanging open because if the author doesn’t come back to the world then I don’t want to feel like I have burning questions.

For example, The Blood of Olympus kind of annoyed me in this respect, because it didn’t feel like there was much closure for the characters at all in the end of that one and at that point, I didn’t know that the Apollo series was going to happen, so if that had been the last I’d seen of those characters, I wouldn’t have been very happy (and yes, I realise I’ve used two Rick Riordan books in one post, but hey, sometimes authors stick the landing and sometimes they don’t).

To be satisfying a series finale also needs to honour the characters’ development. Characters change over the course of a series and if a character is ending a series in the same place that they started, then they’ve not gone anywhere and the series doesn’t feel worth it. The final book in the Unwind Dystology does a really good job of this, both Connor and Lev change so much over the course of the series, and the decisions they make in the final book show just how much they have changed from the people they were in the first book. The Artemis Fowl series also does a really great job of this, Artemis’s character arc is one of the best things about that series and the way the series ends really shows off that.

Most importantly of all, the ending of a series has to feel EARNED and it has to fit with what has come before. There’s nothing I hate more than a deus ex machina in the final book of a series to get the characters to where they’re meant to be. When reading a series, you’ll probably have spent several years  with a group of characters (depending on the gaps between the books and if you read them as they are coming out or if you binge) so you want to feel like the characters have earned the ending they get.

You don’t want to feel like the author has written their way into a plot hole and has had to magic their way out of it (Libba Bray and The King of Crows, I’m looking at you), it needs to make sense with what has come before.

For instance, and I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, but I think the ending of Mockingjay works well, it fits with the book because it’s not totally a happy ever after (Katniss still has trauma to deal with) but Katniss finally gets to live her life in peace and the promise of a better future which doesn’t involve anyone she loves ever being hurt by the Games again.

So there we go, those are my thoughts on what makes a satisfying series finale. What do you think, what do you need to make the last book in a series satisfying? What are your favourite series finales? Let me know in the comments (please attach spoiler warnings if you are going to use specific examples)!

I don’t know what my Jo Talks post for next month will be, so I guess you’ll find out when I post it! In the meantime, my regular Top Ten Tuesday post will going up tomorrow as usual, so keep an eye out for that.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: What Makes A Satisfying Series Finale

  1. cryptomathecian 30/06/2020 / 12:13 pm

    I’m of the same opinion about series: each book should have its self contained arc. There is nothing more that I resent then a book that ends with a cliff hanger or a series that give me the feeling that it should have been a 600 page book that has been cut up in multiple books for commercial reasons or because the writer was eager to publish an unfinished manuscript.

    • iloveheartlandx 01/07/2020 / 12:33 pm

      I don’t mind cliffhangers in series books, unless of course the series is cut before it’s finished. It does annoy me when series are stretched out longer than they need to be, but it’s also quite annoying when authors publish a super long book that probably should have been a series, but is only one book.

  2. SERIESous Book Reviews 04/07/2020 / 4:52 pm

    I like things to be wrapped up in terms of the plotlines but not in a way that seems rushed or by some weird loophole (I like a good twist but something that seems way out of left field just irks me). I also hate when a book’s ending contradicts what the entire book stood for. That’s what happened to me in Winter Glass (Spindle Fire #2) and I finished that book so angry that I had wasted my time.

    Like you said about The Hunger Games and Divergent, sometimes character deaths are necessary to reinforce the theme(s) of the novel or a character’s journey. I’ll be upset by it but if I can see what the purpose was, I’m cool with it.

    The other thing that can irk me about a finale is when it seems to solely for fanservice. Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4) is the prime example of that where the plotline seemed to be a mishmash of different fan theories compiled from online forums.

    • iloveheartlandx 06/07/2020 / 12:59 pm

      Oh absolutely, I agree with that, I hate last minute loopholes that magically get characters out of an impossible situation. Yes, I hate that too, if the ending doesn’t fit, is at direct opposites with what the story was trying to get at then it definitely leaves a sour taste!
      I think it’s important that we are upset by character deaths, otherwise we’ve not really created a connection with them.
      Ooh I didn’t think about that one but yeah, that is annoying! I’ve not really seen that in books, but I’ve definitely been annoyed by that in TV shows before.

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