Science Fiction/Fantasy

I’m Afraid of Long Fantasy Series

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Anna Boisen

Staff Writer

Anna is a violinist and lifelong book lover. A non-native Virginian currently attending graduate school in New York, her hobbies include thrifting, drawing, wishing she was at the beach, and of course reading. Sci-fi, fantasy, and Jane Austen novels, sequels, and retellings hold a special place on her bookshelf and in her heart.

It’s no secret that the fantasy genre loves long series. And by “long,” I mean anything from “more than a trilogy” to “a fully-formed universe of novels that fills an entire shelf and more.”

And I love that! It’s so amazing that authors and readers get the chance to participate in that kind of large-scale narrative and world-building. Here’s the thing, though—long fantasy series are intimidating and I usually avoid them.

Here’s why.

First: My TBR list, like many of ours, has a LOT of books on it. Now I love lists, but I also love productivity and I have to battle the urge to blow through books as quickly as possible in order to bring that number down. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Take a 14-book detour into Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra and get zero work done on my ever-growing TBR? Take up residency in Discworld as I work my way through 41 (yes, 41!) novels? (That’s a questionable example because I actually have read a number of Discworld books, but you catch my drift.)

Here’s what I realized. The idea that I can either read a long fantasy series OR work on my TBR is a false dichotomy. Nobody is making me read the whole series all at once. I’m perfectly free to switch between series, or to read multiple books at one time, or to do whatever I darn well please. Also, the idea that I MUST get through all the books on my TBR is, frankly, ridiculous. There will always be more interesting books in the world than I could possibly read. There are no penalties for detours and no rewards for speed reading. I may as well stop and smell the roses, and I’ll probably enjoy myself lot more that way.

Second: you know when you finish a book and can’t start a new one yet because you’re still living in the old book’s world? You know the momentum built when you start binge-watching a show and the more you watch, the more you want to watch? Really long book series combine those two things, and I don’t like feeling compelled to do one thing above all else. That’s a big reason I’ve been trying to cut down on my TV time recently. Not only does it leave more time for other, more productive pastimes, but I don’t end up caught in some really dark mood when I watch too many murder mysteries.

Of course, this has a solution as well. I’ve already started managing my time better with TV shows, and there’s no reason I couldn’t do the same with books. Like I said earlier, I can read multiple novels at a time or spread out a series in order to avoid getting stuck in a certain head space. Plus, reading goes slower than Netflix watching, and no matter what I can only absorb so much story in one day. Honestly, if I find a series that I love so much that I don’t want to let it go, I may as well give in to it. As long as I take breaks when I need it, I have nothing to lose.

Third, and last: I often just don’t know where to start. Some long fantasy series are made up of smaller groups of stories within the same universe. Think Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe, or the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. Should I read in order of publication? In chronological order of events? Should I skip back and forth? The best answer to any problem like this is, of course, to ask someone who already knows. There are plenty of recommendations for entry points and reading order on the internet. Not seeking them out is pure laziness on my part.

You’ll notice that I’ve been refuting my own (arguably poor) reasons for avoiding epic fantasy series as I go along. That, reader dear, is because I’m breaking the cycle. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to read these books, but personally, I’m tired of my own excuses. I am Calling Myself Out. No longer will I shy away from epic series. No more will I decide that a series is Not For Me simply because it extends beyond three or four books. Right after I finish typing, I’m going to march (okay, casually stroll) right down to my local library, find a shelf dominated by a single author, and begin my foray into the world of crazy-long fantasy series. If I choose one I don’t like, so be it! At least I’ll have an informed opinion rather than a vague sense of aversion.

How do you feel about long fantasy series? Any favorites that you’d recommend? Any reasons that you avoid them? Let me know in the comments!