First book syndrome: when the first book in a series does not measure up to the subsequent books
Although second book syndrome is a phrase you will often hear bandied around, for me it’s first book syndrome that I find difficult to overcome. When a series doesn’t capture you from the start, why would you take a chance on the next book? Unlike second book syndrome where you have the memories of the first book to push you to read the third, when it’s the first book…what’s your motivation? Which is highly problematic! There are some great series out there where the first book does not reflect the quality of the rest of the series.
Today we want to talk about some of the main symptoms of first book syndrome and then give you some series recommendations where we BEG you to just keep going. We promise it gets so much better.
Too much information/world building
This tends to be the number one reason why a first book is so hard, especially in genres such as fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance…basically any book where the author has modified the current world or has created a brand new one. It’s essential that the author tell you about the world your character is living in. As readers we need to know the environment that informs the characters actions. Without knowing this, the story is unlikely to make such sense or be that interesting.
So, we know we need the world building. But how much is too much? It must be a delicate balance for an author to put in enough to be informative without it bogging the whole book down. The way the information is presented is important as well; blatant information dumps tend to be boring to slog through and immediately bring the pace of a story to a grinding halt. Some authors do a fantastic job with this, building on prior knowledge and revealing more in depth information about the world as the series develops. By showing the reader the world rather than just telling them about it in stilted and unrealistic dialogue.
But, just because the first book is too heavy with information and world building doesn’t mean that you should write off the whole series. Sometimes wading through the first book is worth it. Here are some series we highly recommend that have a massive case of first book syndrome because of information overload:
If you’re about to launch a series, especially if that series revolves around one particular hero or heroine, you don’t want your main character to kick off being too perfect. You need to leave room to develop and grow. To learn some things both about themselves and the world. I love a series where you can watch the main protagonist develop through their experiences. Maybe they make a few mistakes along the way but that’s all part of the journey you’re going on as a reader. If the main character is perfect from page 1 book 1 then it loses a certain amount of depth and you’re left with a cookie cutter character which you’ll forget as soon as you finish reading.
But, there’s a character that has room for development and then there’s a character that has you cheering on the bad guys. You don’t want to finish book 1 feeling like you’ve made an enemy. Or that a character has acted so inexplicably *stupid/juvenile/insert the appropriate word here!* that you find you just don’t want to read anymore about them. Maybe the author has given them too much room to develop. But there are series where the first book is frustrating, but we promise you: it gets better.
Too little plot development
When you come to the end of a book and realise nothing has actually happened, it’s an issue. Where did the story go? Often this seems to be closely related to my points about information overload. The author has spent so much time world building and developing the story for the future books that they forgot to add a plot to the first book. What you’re then left with is a bit of a slow tedious journey through the world with very little driving you forward. It’s unlikely to be an exciting book that has you eager for the next installment.
But, sometimes all that set up is worth going through as once the first book is over…that’s when the action starts:
Other series with first book syndrome
Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
I love the Rough Riders series, but in my mind this series doesn’t start until Cowgirl Up and Ride (Rough Riders #3). Why is that? The first 2 books in the series lack a depth of feeling which is present in the rest of the series. All the books in this series are deliciously erotic, but they also have a really strong romantic and emotional element, but with the first 2 books, for me, that emotional connection isn’t there. And, if I am honest the heroes actions in book 2 just outright infuriate me to the point where I can’t read it again. But, I am glad I read Cowgirl Up and Ride as otherwise I would have missed out massively on one of the best erotic romance series.
How about you? What series have you read that has first book syndrome?
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