A Look-see at Sequels

Margaret Atwood photo by Liam Sharp.

How is a sequel to a novel different from the next installment of a series (such as the Harry Potter and Jack Reacher books) or another installment of a trilogy (like The Lord of the Rings)? One difference is that an author often waits at least a few years before producing a sequel, while usually writing unrelated books in between.

This post will mostly ignore series to focus on the sequel, which of course can be just as good or better than the first novel or not quite as good or even a dud.

I’m currently reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed (2021) not long after having read his The Sympathizer (2015), and it’s another superbly crafted, political-minded, part-humorous look at the mind-boggling life of a half-Vietnamese/half-French man — now living in Paris after the Vietnam War. During the years between those equally excellent 2015 and 2021 novels, the author’s published output included unrelated works (that I haven’t read) such as The Refugees short-story collection, a children’s book, and two nonfiction books.

Margaret Atwood did the sequel thing when she wrote The Testaments (2019) as a long-time-in-coming follow to The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The later book is not at the level of the earlier speculative-fiction classic about a brutally patriarchal society, but it’s quite good in its own right. During that lengthy Tale-to-Testaments time span, Atwood authored a number of other great novels — including Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake, to name a few.

I’ll say something similar about John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (1945) and its Sweet Thursday sequel (1954): first one excellent, the second a shade less so — with both socially observant and frequently funny. The highlight of Steinbeck’s post-Cannery/pre-Sweet work was of course East of Eden (1952).

Anne of Green Gables (1908) spawned many sequels through 1939, even as L.M. Montgomery wrote other memorable novels — such as The Blue Castle and the Emily trilogy — during those three decades. None of the Anne sequels match the Green Gables original, but all are well worth reading, with Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside my favorites.

Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) is one of my very favorite time-travel novels, but its From Time to Time sequel (1995) is mostly a clunker. Finney did die in ’95, so he was probably not in the best of health when writing that follow-up book. Between ’70 and ’95, Finney authored several better works, though Time and Again remains his standout accomplishment.

Also in the time-travel realm, Darryl Brock’s baseball-themed If I Never Get Back (1990) is an ultra-page-turner, while the sequel Two in the Field (2002) is basically just okay.

Rabbit, Run (1960) was followed by a sequel every decade or so — amid plenty of other John Updike writing — but I wasn’t a fan of the original Rabbit and never read the subsequent installments.

I’ll end by noting that Fyodor Dostoevsky reportedly planned a sequel or two to his amazing The Brothers Karamazov (1880), but the author’s early-1881 death intervened. 😦

Any sequels you’d like to mention?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about the holiday season, shopping local, and more — is here.

150 thoughts on “A Look-see at Sequels

  1. I don’t know if “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” could be considered a sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” since Tom and Huck were characters in both novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Anonymous! Very interesting mention! I think “Huckleberry Finn” IS a sequel of sorts to “Tom Sawyer” — and a rare case of a sequel being significantly better. “TS” is hugely entertaining, but “HF” is of course much deeper.

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  2. I am currently reading the 2001 series, but I haven’t opened the second book yet!

    Also worth mentioning, the Mrs Pollifax adventure/mystery/travel books. Definitely worth reading. The first one is best,(obviously), but the other ones are pretty good too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As you may recall, I have one bona fide sequel in my possession, which, to date, I haven’t mustered the courage to crack, fearing a letdown: “The Return of She”, by H. Ryder Haggard. It’s short, so I may just take it up for a day or two and be done. Still…

    On the other hand, this sequel notion, as opposed to a book in a series, needs a bit of unpacking. Would books by Ann Rice, Lee Child or JK Rowling qualify, upon close examination, as one or the other? I mean, consider the last example first: the first Harry Potter book, first British edition, last time I looked was worth thousands– because there were so few originally published, so slight was the publisher’s faith in the success of the book. Had the publisher been correct, would there be a series to read today? I say, probably not.

    Likewise the Rice vampire books, had “Interview With, etc.”, not sold well. Likewise again, the Reacher series.

    In every case, the series comes into being because the first book sold well enough to cause its author and publisher to agree there should be more. Had they sold poorly, each of these series, now genres unto themselves, would probably never have come to a bookstore near everybody.

    Another thing they have in common, incidentally: each respective author was an unknown, and had no reasonable expectation of sales or fame when they handed in their first manuscript. And in each example, word of mouth among the reading public made market momentum first. Critical appreciation came after.

    In short, success bred success– and made a series. But it’s worth considering that, had book #2 tanked, it would today be known as a disappointing sequel to a promising first effort. As things are, book #2 is but part of a series, a supremely successful series which made its author famous,wealthy and read all over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I didn’t know there was a “She” sequel. Hard to imagine it being even close to as amazing as the original.

      And that’s an exceptionally good point about how sequels can become series if things take off in popularity. It’s also interesting that authors such as J.K. Rowling and Lee Child seemingly had no thought of doing a non-Potter or non-Reacher book for their second effort before later doing a sequel. In Rowling’s case, at least, she had all seven books essentially mapped out in her mind from the start, while I don’t think Child was looking that far ahead.

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      • Rowling may have had plans, but without success on her first… who would have published her next?

        In the case of Rowling and Rice, they went on to write series that from the outset were conceived as such, once they were famous– in other genres.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true — both your paragraphs.

          Re Rowling, I’m impressed that she has created two memorable series — the iconic Harry Potter books and the excellent Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott crime novels.

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  4. Hello Dave!
    Oddly the only sequel that came to mind (although I am familiar with the L.M. Montgomery books) is “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley. It was written as a sequel to”Gone With The Wind”. I haven’t had the heart to read it, even though it debuted on The New York Times best sellers list.
    Maybe I’m being pig headed. I just didn’t like the idea that someone who is not the original author wrote the sequel 55 years later.

    I thought of you when I was reading gift ideas in Toronto Life Magazine. Margaret Atwood’s new non- fiction book ($37.00) “Burning Questions” was suggested.
    It’s a collection of essay from the past 10 years, spanning a recession, Trump and a pandemic. I’m a huge fan of non-fiction, so think I’ll give this a whirl, and it’s already in our library system! A couple more books on my pile, then I can do Hotel New Hampshire and this. No hurry, there are holds for weeks on the book, in spite of 72 copies available.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Resa! I never read “Scarlett” for pretty much the same reason you didn’t. The whole idea of it irked me — just a money grab, mostly.

      I’ve read very little of Margaret Atwood’s nonfiction, but I imagine it’s stellar. She has such a great mind, and writing style, and is clearly very informed in all kinds of sociopolitical and cultural ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read “Mutiny on the Bounty” in high school. I knew that it was part of a trilogy of novels about the Bounty saga although I’ve never read the other two books.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lives Of The Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice which has been on my tbr list forever, so I really can’t review them also Joan Aiken’s The Wolves Chronicles (a series of 12 books), and King and Chizmar’s Gwendy’s Button Box trilogy. Seems like most fantasy books are a streaming thing. Unfortunately, I now have to audiobook everything because I developed an abducens nerve palsy which causes double vision. It is both a side effect of Covid as well as the vaccine itself. Since I was vaccinated as well as boosted, had a negative MRI, and otherwise healthy, it was pretty much conclusive. They say it resolves spontaneously, can take 3 to 6 mos. to resolve. It’s been 2 mos. now. I don’t usually discuss things of this nature, but thought it might be valualble info. I still wouldn’t pass on getting vaccinated, esp. when getting Covid can cause it as well. So Yikes, ha. Great theme, Dave. Thanx Susi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susi! I read (and liked) Anne Rice’s “The Witching Hour,” which I think is one of those “Lives” books. I appreciate the other book mentions, too.

      Very sorry about your health issue. I hope it is indeed temporary. Yes, the vaccines are worth it (I’ve had two plus three boosters with no side effects), but there are definitely rare cases of problems. 😦 Thanks for sharing your experience — and it is nice that audio books exist!

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      • Thanks Dave. Re: audiobooks, so glad they exist too, although I often fall asleep when someone reads to me. I think my eye is getting better and I would have been vaccinated and boosted regardless even if I knew this would be the outcome. Its just a lingering sequela which will resolve vs what might happen were I not. Yes Witching Hour is the first book in Rice’s trilogy. Interesting website before you start reading books in a series re: order of books. Nothing worse than reading book 4 before you read book 1 or 2 and find yourself totally lost: https://www.bookseriesinorder.com

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not an audio book user myself, though if I needed it for reading — as you do temporarily — I would be…an audio book user. 🙂

          Very glad things are improving with your vision.

          Yes, reading books out of order is not ideal!

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  7. Hi Dave, another interesting post and I read a lot of the comments. I hardly ever read sequels, prequels or even another book by the same author if I have started with the most famous one. Hmmm! That means I am useless for this weeks question, but I have learned from everyone else and I don’t think I’m missing that much (smile). Except for the Anne books and I did read all the sequels when I was a girl.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Robbie! I can understand mostly avoiding sequels and series if one wants to keep trying authors one has never read before. 🙂 Glad you read the “Anne” books, though — a lot of enjoyment there, though I was disappointed when Anne became somewhat more conventional as an adult. She was SUCH a unique kid and teen.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sequels vs series, that’s a tough choice, Dave. The most recent sequel I’ve read was “God’s Helix” the sequel to “The Bloomingdale Code” by Bradley Lewis. I mention it because I read them out of order.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dan! I realize the line between sequels and series can be blurry at times. 🙂 And, like you, I’ve occasionally read sequels or series out of order — for instance, with James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” novels and, for a while, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great theme, Dave. I guess if a sequel can begin yet another series/installments, I can add Winston Graham’s “Poldark” series. There was a 20 year break between the 4th & 5th. It’s a good thing I wasn’t able to read adult novels in 1953, because it would have killed me to wait 20 years. Waiting 1 year now is torture. 🙂 Wonderful comments/suggestions as always!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! A 20-year break — that’s major! I hear you — definitely hard on readers who were fans of the series, but a writer has to do what a writer has to do (or not do). 🙂 And I agree about the great comments and suggestions!

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  10. Going to throw a curveball out there…does a sequel have to be written by the same author…and does a prequel count as a sequel….? I’m thinking of the Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (but please don’t tell anyone I haven’t read it…yet!). of course your readers will know this is the prequel to Jane Eyre. I also read a sequel to Frankenstein. I don’t have the author’s name to hand and it might have been self published…I’m not sure. It was set in Orkney, which is why I was keen to read it. It was an interesting take on things….

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Sarah! Very interesting point! I guess a prequel IS a sequel of sorts, especially when written after the “main” book. And I suppose a prequel or sequel can indeed be written by a different author. Although I liked “Jane Eyre” far more, “Wide Sargasso Sea” is a really impressive, richly written, thought-provoking novel as it makes us look at Charlotte Bronte’s “woman in the attic” in a new way.

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      • I’m going to have to get round to Wide Sargasso Sea very soon. It really has been on my TBR pile for quite a while. I suppose it’s possible to consider the sequel to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by PD James – ‘Death Comes to Pemberly’, which was good fun but not in the same vein as the original…well, totally different genres I suppose in one respect (and we won’t mention Pride and Prejudice and Zombies… – although lots of fun).
        I seem to recall that there was a sequel – by another author – to ‘Gone With the Wind’….Robbie might know more about that…?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, “Wide Sargasso Sea” is very worth reading. I would be interested in hearing what you think if you get to it!

          I’ve heard about those two very different “Pride and Prejudice” spin-offs, but haven’t read either. And there was definitely a “Gone With the Wind” sequel by a different author; I decided not to bother. 🙂

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          • I’m going to aim for ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ in the new year I think. I really ought to do it! I’ll be sure to feed back.
            ‘Death comes to pemberly’ is quite good fun to be fair. It’s nice to be back with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam (he’ll always be Darcy to me!) although the story is quite improbable.
            I’m interested to hear if Robbie has read the sequel to ‘Gone with the wind’ or if she’s even planning to read it! Sometimes it’s best to leave characters where they are!

            Liked by 1 person

  11. So glad to know that you’re now reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed (2021). A sequel that I found more engrossing than its forerunner, The Kite Runner (2003), is A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by the Afghan American author Khaled Hosseini.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! Yes, “The Committed” is (depressingly) terrific! I love the author’s language pyrotechnics. 🙂 I’ve read one Khaled Hosseini novel (“The Kite Runner”) and, while I liked it a lot, I agree that Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing is even better. Thanks again for recommending him!

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  12. Dave – you have the very best posts that energize my brain cells. What is the difference between a sequel and an installment. A very good question.

    My first thought was to James Fenimore Cooper and his Leatherstocking Tales pentalogy. The Pathfinder published 14 years later in 1850 is its sequel. I know this because Don read everyone of these books as a child/teen. While Don was reading about the adventure of Natty Bumppo, I was reading Beau Geste (1924) by P.C. Wren, which detailed the adventures of three English brothers who enlist separately in the French Foreign Legion. The sequels were Beau Sabreur (1926) and Beau Ideal (1927).

    I am now into the Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Louise Mertz) novels/installments about Egypt. And then there is the 44 Scotland Street installment, which was first published in a newspaper series.

    Reading is alive and well!!

    My 3 quotes for today comes from Elizabeth Peters (Crocodile on the Sandbank):

    “No woman really wants a man to carry her off; she only wants him to want to do it.”

    “The way to get on with a cat is to treat it as an equal – or even better, as the superior it knows itself to be.” (Misty knows all about this)

    “Marriage, in my view, should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries.”

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  13. First, a bit of trivia I found interesting: did you know how the three books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy came to be? Apparently, Tolkien’s editor felt that no one would read such a long book, so he “broke them up” into 3 books, pretty much of equal length… So, really, The Two Towers is not a sequel 😀

    I enjoyed Herbert’s Dune immensely, on several different levels, but struggled with its sequels which never seemed to equal the original?

    Liked by 5 people

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