Story’s End: When Book Trilogies Become Complete

Over the holidays I had more time to read than usual, and I managed to finish the final books in both the All Souls trilogy and the Grisha trilogy. I enjoyed both, and while I didn’t find them equally satisfying, I’ve read enough books over the years to know that series don’t always end exactly the way you want. It doesn’t mean they’re bad books – they’re just not what you were expecting. When I was putting in my ratings on Goodreads, however, I noticed that many readers had been sorely disappointed by how these trilogies ended, to the point of giving the books one or two-star reviews. So what gives? Why were all these people who swore they had loved one if not both of the earlier books suddenly warning people to give up before they too were rudely disappointed?

The answers varied. Some, it seemed, had waited so long for the final book to come up, and had built it up so much in their heads, that while they knew their feelings might not be entirely reasonable, they still were not satisfied by the conclusion. Others, however, clearly had strong feelings about how the characters’ stories should have gone, and were angry that things had happened differently. With the Grisha trilogy, many were even angry about how the major antagonist was defeated, because of their love for such a complicated villain. Regardless of their reasons, I was simply surprised by the number of negative reviews for books that I had more or less enjoyed.

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I suddenly found myself intrigued by this similar reaction to both trilogies I had finished. While the audiences of the two series were slightly different (those reading the All Souls trilogy definitely seemed to be older on average than those reading the Grisha trilogy, which makes sense), the common complaint seemed to be that the final book was not what it could/should have been. What gave these readers the right to complain about how the story should end? If you think it should end differently, sure, go write fanfiction about it, but does it really mean the book is bad? I think what it comes down to is the characters. A really good writer brings characters to life in a way that makes us, as readers, feel like we know them. And that is where that sense of ownership comes in – we feel like we know these characters, maybe we even identify with some of them – and then just like that we think that how we would end the story is the only correct way to end a story.

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I’m not going to lie here – I have definitely finished books before and felt as though it should have ended differently. Or maybe it wasn’t the ending I would have given it. But most of the time? If I enjoyed the book I’m not going to write it off just because of the ending. I didn’t write off the entire Harry Potter series just because I didn’t think Hermione should end up with Ron (and hey, now I’ve been vindicated by J.K. Rowling herself in feeling that way!). So as an aspiring novelist myself, I’m just going to say that maybe it’s a compliment to a writer, if readers don’t like how your series ended. Maybe they’re just upset because they identified so strongly with a character, their own judgement affected how they thought that character behaved. They loved your villain so much they thought that even he should have a happy ending somehow. And that’s powerful. That is books getting people to react emotionally, which is exactly what fiction should do, in my opinion.

So to all those unhappy readers complaining on Goodreads: maybe you should stop and thank these writers, for sharing these characters with us in the first place. Without them we never would have been able to fall in love with characters like Diana Bishop or Alina Starkov or the Darkling or Matthew Clairmont. So this is it: my thank you to all of the writers who have shared their stories, and their characters, with all of us readers, regardless of how we may disagree with their story’s end.

How about you, Geekettes? Have you ever been unhappy with a book series’ ending? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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