Serial mistakes

I finished The Battle of the Labyrinth. Now, you know me: I've gushed about Rick Riordan's series before. This time, it's less of a gush and more of a stream. Why?

In part it's because of the nature of series books - they become formulaic. This is very true in the case of the Lower School series we buy (like The Secrets of Droon or Magic Tree House), with a relatively controlled vocabulary and action. That's great for very young readers, because you want them to become comfortable reading and this is a great way for them to do that. As an older reader, however, you don't need that sort of scaffolding and you enjoy a challenge.

Now, I have to admit, there is a sense of comfort in the cozy mystery genre. Reading a Miss Marple means that you have general sense of the structure of the upcoming mystery; ditto a "Death on Demand" or "Puzzle Lady". Even a series like Ian Rankin's Rebus books have an expected arc (and you can say the same about books like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, or Kathryn Kurtz' Deryni novels). Reading a book like this is like eating comfort food, isn't it? Many of my students will come in asking for "a book just like ___", by which they mean a book that has the same arc, the same essence as the book they finished.

There's nothing wrong with that kind of writing, or enjoying that style of reading. I do it often. The problem is when the series (for me) becomes stale, when the formula is so obvious that there's nothing surprising or new in the Recent Release.

Battle of the Labyrinth is edging close to that staleness (as you faithful readers know, I felt that way about Harry Potter, too). Even worse for Riordan, I'm not the only one that's noticed! One of my students said, "It was good, but 'meh'". Fairrosa said the same, only far more eloquently.

Yes, I'll read Book Five. But it's a good thing that Riordan's moving on to other books, other ideas. This one seems to me running out of steam.


Murphy Jacobs said...

You've explained nicely something I've tried to articulate about series books. Few series come to mind that don't eventually hit that "been there, done that" staleness. (The Dresden Files keeps me fascinated more because of the unfolding world, the complicated story arc and the still growing and changing POV character -- the skeleton came out of Raymond Chandler's closet).

I sometimes ponder what psychological relationship there is between that theorized number of basic plots and how a person views/wants to view the world -- that perhaps certain groups of plot bones appeal to certain people for particular reasons, and that leads to reading particular kinds of books.

Ugh. The boxes call me. I'm now to unpacking and sorting books. I think of you about ever other box :)

Aravis said...

Question: what do you think about the Aunt Dimity series of mysteries? We carry (and sell) a lot of them, and I'm curious, but don't want to waste money. Are you familiar with them at all?

And I loved the Dresden Files when it was a t.v. series. I was so upset when it was canceled. I may have to find the books when I have more time and explore them. Based on Sherri's comment, I think it would be worth it!

Lazygal said...

Sherri and Aravis, I've never read (or heard of) The Dresden Files [/hanging head in shame]

As for Aunt Dimity, I've really gotten away from that type of cozy so I'm not the right person to ask.

Aravis said...

Sorry to take so long to say "thanks anyway." :0)

As for the Dresden Files, I don't think it's the sort of thing one comes by easily. I discovered it by chance through the short-lived t.v. series on the SciFi channel.

Harry Dresden is a P.I., and a wizard (adult and not Potterish). He has a a highly intelligent and snarky ghost as a side kick. There are rules to being a magical being among humans, and a council to create and enforce them. Harry is a bit of a rebel. It was a fun show, and I was really sorry when it was canceled. I want to get my hands on some of the books now that I have more time to read.