What Makes a Good Sequel? – Let’s Talk Bookish

Good morning, friends! I hope you’re all doing well. As always, Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by me and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

Today’s topic is: What Makes a Good Sequel? (suggested by M.T. Wilson @ The Last Book on the Left)

I’d like to take a moment and appreciate M.T. She’s been participating in LTB for a long time, and I’m always so happy to see her wonderful suggestions. Thank you so much for being a part of the LTB family!

Considering that I tend to read a lot of series or books with a sequel, I do have certain expectations for what should happen in the next book. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

A good sequel is one that expands on the plot and characters that are introduced in the first book. There has to be a plausible continuation of the plot and some character growth which helps make the story feel like it’s moving forward.

This applies mostly to books that are the sequel of one that ended in a cliffhanger, since some sequels happen in the same world with the same characters, but with a different plot the second time around. And that’s fine, I still enjoy reading those kinds of sequels as well. The only difference is that plot continuation doesn’t really happen in the second type of sequel, but character growth should always happen regardless of the type. Things have changed since the original story, so the character should have learned from whatever obstacle they had to overcome in the first book and have a different struggle in the next one.

For sequels that aren’t a continuation of the original plot, I think that the new plot could also be more complex/intriguing than the one in the original book just so it doesn’t feel like a formula that’s being reused. It’s a problem with long series such as Nancy Drew where you can almost guess accurately exactly how everything is going to unfold in the latest book because the same formula for the plot has been used over and over again.

A good sequel is one that is better than the first book. This is by having plot and character growth as I’ve already mentioned, and by having a better story all around. More defined worldbuilding, a more distinct writing style, and little things like that make a big difference in my opinion. It’s like the first book introduced an idea, and the second book is the chance for the author to properly define every aspect of that idea.

The way I see it, the first book can be just okay, while subsequent books need to be better because the author should’ve learned from the mistakes they made in the first book. So, the author should also be having a “writer growth” at the same time and becoming a better more confident writer. Which in turn results in a better written sequel.

Personally, I tend to love sequels a lot more than I love the first book for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned. One of my favorite series full of amazing sequels is the An Ember in the Ashes series.

I three-starred the first book because I didn’t really like one of the main characters, named Laia, and I felt like the plot was okay. It just wasn’t really mind blowing.

Then I read the second book and gave that 4.5 stars because it was really great. Laia grew as a character (though I didn’t come to love her just yet), and the plot became more complex and compelling. There were also a lot of side characters and a third MC who I came to absolutely love so that made things much more interesting.

Then came the third book which I gave 5 stars. The plot continued to grow in the third book, paving the way for a magnificent ending. Everything was tense, all the characters were reaching their peak and becoming who they were meant to be, and it was just really nerve-wracking because I couldn’t image how it would all end happily. That is something that made the third book an even better sequel to the second, because it kept my emotions sky high which helped me stay invested in the story.

And then the fourth and final book happened (another 5 star read), wrapping up a plot that had not grown old or boring even though it had stretched into four books. Everything came together and ended beautifully yet heartbreakingly. All what I wrote on my GR review of this was “I am still so hurt. This book”. It was everything that I needed from the series and I really loved how it ended it all.

So, you can see that each sequel in this series moved forward plot wise and in character growth. The backstory that caused the whole mess, the villains, the good guys, and the worldbuilding itself were all so intricately designed, and the author did a phenomenal job adding more layers and depth with each book that passed.

And that’s the whole essence of what makes a good sequel to me.

What makes some sequels disappointing? Do you feel like most sequels are worse than the original, or is that just an old wives tale?

I’ll answer the second question first: no I don’t think most sequels are worse than the original. If it becomes a series that’s more than 3 books, then yeah, I think it does start to grow stale at that point but usually, the second book is the same or even better than the original.

For sequels that are worse than the original, I think I’ve seen this more in movies than in books. For instance, Cars 2 is one of my all time favorite movies because it was so much cooler and awesome than the original Cars movie. Because of that, I was very excited for Cars 3, but it was honestly a lot more tame compared to my expectations. It just didn’t have the same appeal or excitement that Cars 2 had.

Similarly, the third How to Train Your Dragon movie was very annoying compared to the second one. I loved the second movie a lot, it was amazing for Hiccup’s character growth and it was just so emotional and fantastic. Yes there was character growth for him in the third movie too, but it was more about Toothless which I didn’t really like (sorry Toothless!). So, compared to my expectations, the third movie really fell short.

I’ve decided to be excited for any second sequels of movies I liked, and to seriously drop my expectations if there’s a third one after that.

And that also kind of answers the first question of what makes them disappointing: if they’re just meh or okay compared to the book/movie before it, then I get really disappointed because I expected more.

Do you get excited about sequels or do you prefer standalones?

Truthfully, I think I get more excited by standalones than I do by sequels. And that’s because I’m so tired of having to read several books just to get a resolution of the big bad evil that’s introduced in the first book.

Fantasy seems to be the world of sequels though, as I’ve only read two books that I can say are standalones out of the many many fantasies that I’ve read. And you know what, it’s okay, because usually I love the characters enough that multiple books doesn’t bother me too much. It’s just really inconvenient when I want to know how it all ends right away.

And that’s my two cents on sequels for today.

Be sure to visit Dani’s post to add your LTB to the linkup!!

Some questions for you:

  • What makes a great sequel in your opinion?
  • Do you prefer standalones to sequels?
  • Have you read An Ember in the Ashes? Have you watched Cars or HTTYD? What did you think?
  • Do you think fantasy books have too many series and not enough standalones?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

26 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Sequel? – Let’s Talk Bookish

  1. Ah thank you, I’m glad you like my suggestions! ❤️ I haven’t taken part in LTB for the last few weeks because I’ve just been so busy with work and trying to sell our house! I’m planning to be back to LTB though when things have calmed down a bit though!

    Great discussion! I really like reading series and love seeing how characters grow and develop in the sequels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You wrote all of this so well!! I definitely agree that a sequel needs to build on both the plot and the characters, and if it doesn’t,and pretty much stays the same it isn’t as exciting or fun to read.

    Longer series, especially ones aimed at younger readers like Nancy Drew, the Boxcar Children, and Rainbow Magic definitely fall into that formula-based plot, where there’s no real development in either characters or overall plot over the course of a series.

    I read An Ember in the Ashes really recently, and really liked it!! It was very fast-paced and really exciting to read, so my original rating was five stars, but after thinking about it more, I think I’m going to lower it to 4 stars because the plot twists weren’t really amazing. I am so excited to read the sequel though, and eventually the rest of the series!! One thing I do think is that it isn’t really an enemies to lovers book. Laia and Elias never seem like true enemies throughout the book, even at the very beginning. The book is always described as an amazing enemies to lovers, and although I agree that it’s amazing, it doesn’t exactly feel like enemies to lovers to me.

    I overall think that I prefer fantasy and dystopian series, and standalones for realistic fiction. I think this is because I get much more attached to fantasy worlds, and really don’t want to leave after just one book, but with contemporaries, they’re often lighter and based in the real world, so a series doesn’t exactly feel as necessary. With historical realistic fiction, there are some series I like, but for the most part, I think I prefer standalones, because they can be so dense, and often are so intense.

    Anyways, this is an amazing discussion post Rukky, and I love how you wrote out everything. This comment ended up being really long, but I’ve been so behind on bloghopping lately that this was like a month worth of missed comments 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, they do fall into the formulaic plots, but now that I think about it, it works for those age genres. I didn’t care at that age that it was pretty much the same plot because I got to read another book with the characters and style that I liked. It’s only now that I’m older that it bothers me.

      You are in for such a ride, Aria!! I really hope that the sequels don’t disappoint you at all. And yes, true, it never really was an enemies to lovers because they didn’t actually hate each other that much from the start. There’s another relationship that blossoms later in the series with a character that has my whole heart (loved it even more than Laia & Elias) and I hope you end up liking them too. Let me know when you finish it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

      Realistic fiction definitely works best as a standalone. Sometimes sequels are good for it too though, if say the sequel takes place a few years after the events of the first book. But generally, it’s easier to be detached from realistic fiction compared to fantasies because fantasies just seem to require a lot more emotional investment and tears lol.

      Thank you so much Aria, and no worries at all! I’m behind on even replying to comments on my own blog, let alone others, so don’t worry about it 🙂 I hope we both catch up soon enough! ❤✨

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really does work for those age groups, and I know that I loved it when I was younger!!

        I am really excited for the sequels of An Ember in the Ashes, and I’m hoping we get a lot more of Helene, since she was probably my favorite character in the first book!!

        Fantasies really do seem to require a lot more emotional investment, and series work better for them. With realistic fiction, especially historical, it’s also a lot easier to try and find something set in the same time period, but with fantasy, you often don’t want to be done with a world, and that one author is the only one who’s going to be writing books there.


  3. “The way I see it, the first book can be just okay, while subsequent books need to be better because the author should’ve learned from the mistakes they made in the first book.” I feel as though this is why readers are so often let down by sequels. We expect improvement, so even if the sequel is as good as the original, we feel like it should have been better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point, Dani! And it matters that we expect it to be better than the original, because if it’s just the same, then our rating/review would not be doing the book total justice. Huh, I haven’t thought of that before. Thanks for pointing it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great answers and reasoning! Often a first book suffers from having lots of worldbuilding and character introduction. I only recently read a sequel that was head and shoulders above the first book. It felt as though the author had listened to feedback in reviews and improved on those “weak” areas. I also feel that if you are reading book 2 you are already invested in the characters, so you approach the book with a more positive mind set.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, especially in fantasy. Honestly, I don’t think we can really blame the author though because they want to make sure that their world is understood properly. But at the same time, from a reader perspective, it’s incredibly tedious to trudge through.
      That’s great, it defintiely makes the next book so much better when the author imporves on the lacking elements from book one!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m also more of a standalone person. Mind you, if a standalone gets a sequel later, it might be okay. But I don’t always like committing to reading a series, and I don’t always go out of my way to read a sequel, even if I liked the first book.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post!! I like series if it’s in a fantasy genre and standalones in contemporary – because I’d love to see more world building, more of the characters, everything you mentioned here. Some sequels have disappointed me and others have surprised me with how good they were, so I’m neutral about this topic😆 I loved how you discussed it here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I kind of want to see more standalones in fantasy. It’s defintiely great to have several books where you can fall more in love with the characters and the world (it’s painful when a wonderful series comes to an end), but sometimes, I just can’t muster the emotional capacity to deal with multiple books. And I’m glad not all sequels have disappointed you!
      Thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. One thing that ruins sequels for me is when it goes over what happened in the first book too often. They don’t need to keep referencing what the readers know (as long as they actually read the first book).

    I also prefer standalones. While I love seeing my favorite characters having their stories continued, sometimes it’s just better to leave it at one book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! Yes, yes, yes!! I get why authors do that, and it’s helpful when it’s been a while since I read the book before it, but I hate seeing it being repeated so. many. times. I start skimming at that point because I’m here to read the next part, not get a rehash of what already happened.

      Yeah, sometimes it’s just for the best. Thanks for reading ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s interesting that you often find the sequel(s) better than the original. I tend to enjoy the first book the best and get my hopes too high so I’m disappointed by everything that comes next. Also I hate when sequels are published just for the sake of profit. You can tell when there’s a sequel just because the first book has been a success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was actually surprised going through my GR shelves that there has only been a few cases where sequels were worse than the original. Maybe I’m just finding all the right series lol. Yeah, it’s really annoying when the book is published and you can tell that there wasn’t as much effort or care put into it. It’s almost like a betrayal.
      Thanks for reading! ✨

      Liked by 1 person

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