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First Book Syndrome

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:

 

Character problems

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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Elizabeth

This is great! I never got beyond covet and the iron duke for this reason and I just wasn’t interested enough to give book 2 a go. Stray had some of these issues but I struggled more with the later books than the earlier books in this series. Touch the dark and darkfever absolutely! However, I feel like every book in he cassie palmer series is full of too much.

Elizabeth

Yes, that is a tough love triangle. Also, thank you for the recommendation. I’ll check it out.

Monique D

I’m not sure if I know about the first book syndrome. If I don’t like the first book, I don’t bother with the rest. Too many books to read. Or, I often read out of order, and I might not have read the first book and probably won’t, because again, no time. Recently, a beloved historical romance author had the first book in a new series, and I will not read the rest. Very sad. There is an exception to what I wrote: Kathy Lyons and her amazing Grizzlies. I finally caught up with the series with the first book,… Read more »

JenM

I was hooked right away, but I’ve heard that some people don’t like the first book in the Kate Daniels series and have to be encouraged to continue. Since Ilona/Gordon Andrews are my favorite authors, I always recommend that anyone who has trouble with the first Kate book should try one of their other series starters like Burn For Me or On the Edge.. I’m usually fine to sit through a first book if it’s a bit top-heavy on the worldbuilding, but I have to say that if the MC is too snarky, I tend to not be interested in… Read more »

Timitra

I read From Breath and Ruin by Carrie Ann Ryan that I chalked up to first book syndrome, I’m hoping the other books in the series are amazing. Cowgirl Up and Ride is my fave book in that series!

Sophia Rose

Yep, good point! It’s the first book syndrome that can be the most devastating on readers b/c they can miss out on solid series. Mostly for me the struggle when a character doesn’t really make me care about them enough to want more.
Right now, I’m struggling through Anne Bishop’s the Others series. I’m in book two, but still feel only so-so about the heroine. Fortunately, I like the rest and have lots of reader pals encouraging me to keep going. 🙂

Amy R

I wasn’t a fan of Touch of the Dark and haven’t continued with the series, I may need to try book 2.

I just knew this was a thing! I normally acknowledge book 1 syndrome and continue on with the series just to make sure that is what my problem with the first book was. I’m glad to see Covet on your list. It is on my TBR, and now I have fair warning that I may have this problem with that series. I run into this problem a lot but not one particular series sticks out in my mind. I’m glad to see your post though. It validates what happens to me!

[…] although this book has a bit of first book syndrome, it was an intriguing idea and an interesting beginning to the series. Perhaps Evan and Grace […]