How long should a novel series be?

This is the third time I have taken Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, the first book in his Wheel of Time series out of the library to read. It will be the third time I return it to the library unread. I try a chapter or two, and then put it down. I just can’t get into it.

Most of my friends love Robert Jordan. Especially the first few books, they say, and then they go on to grumble that he is [was] taking such a long time to get to the end of the story and that their interest dies off in the last few. When Brandon Sanderson completes the last novel (started by Jordan, who died in 2007) this will be the twelfth book in the series.

When does a series become too long?

I love a good series. If I have characters I really love I keep waiting for the next book, wanting to read about them again and again. But … I do lose interest. After about the sixth book I stop reading. Part of this is me. The character stops being exciting for me. Part of it is the author too. Imagine living with the same characters year in, year out. It would get boring, dispiriting even.

Sometimes it’s for contractual reasons, but sometimes authors remain with a good selling series long after its use-by date. I see this more in mystery than in fantasy and science fiction. Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta, Dell Shannon’s Mendoza, J.A. Jance’s Joanna Brady, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes —I could go on and on. Some, like Conan Doyle, get so sick of their characters they try to kill them off. In others, Patricia Cornwall, for example, the stories become more gruesome with each book.

Many authors, like C. J. Cherryh with her Foreigner series, introduce new characters (Cajeiri) to breathe new life into the story.

Me, if I had a long-running series with popular characters, I’d like to do it the way Robin Hobb did. She believed she was definitely finished with Fitz and the Fool after the Assassin trilogy. She started a new three-book series set in the same world but with different characters. I don’t know if she meant the Fool to creep in, starting out as a minor character, then getting a bigger part, but the Fool’s like that. Once she did this though, she went back and wrote the Tawny Man trilogy about Fitz and Fool, and tied all three series together. After this she wrote a completely different trilogy altogether, the Soldier Son series. I live in hopes she’ll write another Fitz/Fool story but the point is that she didn’t write the second set until she’d had a break from them, until she was ready. I think that made for a much better story than a tired run-on from the previous one.

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