Left Hanging from the Cliff

There the character hangs, in circumstances dire, desperately scrambling for a grip, fingers digging into the soil and rock as gravity pulls them closer . . . and closer . . . to the edge of the yawning chasm, and the arch-villain chuckles low in her throat. The hero’s grip weakens, fingers trembling and TO BE CONTINUED.

ARRRRGH!I hate books that end like that, I really do. Especially when you know good and well that the next one is not coming out for at least two years, if then. I can live with it in magazines, because the wait is shorter and the stories tend to be less convoluted, but not in novels. I’ve been burned too many times.

Twice in the past 10 years I’ve given up on series because of cliff-hangers. In the first case I was having questions about the series 2/3 of the way into the second book. I really, really liked the first one and can still see scenes from it in my mind’s eye to this day.  Book two ended with a cliff-hanger that did fit the plot but left me a little worried. Alas, the third book fizzled, flopped, and left me cursing the author for not giving my a happy ending, or even a conclusive one. She must have gotten the same complaint from her editor(s), because she tacked on “But it is whispered by some that . . .” quick summary optional ending. I suspect the author was running out of ideas and steam both by the time she got to book three, because it just didn’t gel or follow the build up of the first two.

I’ve also had a series cancelled on the second book. The authors had written a trilogy that I enjoyed, then went back and started the back-story of the protagonist’s parents. Book one came out and it was great. Book two never appeared, and the authors have moved on to other genres and series. I’d kinda like to read the rest of the story, but at least I’ve got the original trilogy to let me know that the characters made it through the war.

The second time I dropped a series over a cliffhanger came three years ago. I started the series with the second book, loved it, went back and read book one, and devoured book three. Book three was great. The author could have stopped there and I would have been pretty happy. Then came a lag until book four came out. I started book four, wondered about the tone, skipped to the end and hit the cliffhanger. Oh heck no, I was not spending $30 for a cliffhanger. So I waited for book five, started it, and ran into mush. The reviews on Amazon agreed with my personal sense of the book, with several reviewers hoping that this is a low point and that the author will return to her previous level with book six. If not, if anyone asks me, I’d recommend ending with book three. Not all threads are tied up, but it is satisfying.

(As an aside, there are authors that I know to skip every other book. Jan Karon is one. For some reason her even-numbered books lack the magic of the odd numbers. No idea why, and you may find them to be just as charming as the odd numbers. But I only re-read the odds.)

I can see a cliffhanger in a serial or magazine piece, because of the need to be compact and because readers know that you, the writer, will be back to get the heroine off the railroad tracks before the train arrives. And in things like the Kindle Serials which are, quite clearly, serials. But now that I’ve been burned with novels, and had series terminated mid-way and leaving me hanging, a cliffhanger book ending is a no-go for me. Sure, leave a few threads loose. I do that. But don’t leave the characters in mortal danger and then go away for three years.