Every time I read a series where the books decline in quality with each new release (and there have been a lot of them lately), it makes me appreciate the few series that remained consistent in their quality, or better yet, get better with each book! As you read a series, you can almost see the difference between the authors who are sick of their world and are just beating money out of a dead horse, and the authors who are still truly excited and engaged by it, and it shows in the quality of their writing and plotting.
A “Series Breaker” is a book (or books) in a series that is so bad that it breaks a series quality so much that it makes people not want to read that series anymore. The point of this post is to list every fantasy series I’ve read that DO NOT have a single Series Breaker in them, where the quality is either consistent or actually improves with every book. Note the “or” because having both is impossible.
Considering how disappointed readers have been with the quality of current on-going fantasy series, this list is a life raft for those who want to avoid the feeling of forcing yourself through the pain of reading a book you really don’t want to but feel you should because you enjoyed the previous entries in the series. I really feel your pain, which is why I put the completed series first. And for those wondering why a certain series is missing, just ask yourself if the series is as good after books 2 or 3; that’s why.
Fantasy series that have ended and didn’t drop the ball once:
1. Book of Words by J.V. Jones
Take a massive standalone book that you think is just awesome, then break it into chunks that have good story arcs with satisfying endings. Is it still great? Yes? Then it’s a miracle and one that Book of Words achieves without even trying (and yes, I actually asked the author if she originally intended to write this as one big book and she said she didn’t, so yeah, without trying).
2. The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham
Five books, and although the fourth in the series was the closest, none of the books dropped the ball. That’s right, there are better and worse books but not a single Series Breaker, and even the worst book of the series is still better than the best book in most series and was definitely made up for with its series finale, which I can say was both conclusive and very cathartic. Honestly, his other series, The Long Price Quartet would be on this list as well if the final book, which felt like an epilogue, didn’t drop the ball.
3. The Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell
Confession, I actually prefer the characters in this series over the ones above, but it’s at number 3 for one reason: where it peaks. Although books 3 and 4 are great and still better than most series finales, if they don’t rise above the previous, in this case, the phenomenal book 2, it’s much harder to insist someone finish it compared to if the ending is the best part (but they should because it’s still amazing compared to most series out there!)
Fantasy series that haven’t dropped the ball yet but still could:
4. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
To use an analogy, The Dresden Files is like an Olympic sprinter who stumbled on his second step (book 2) but then took off like a rocket (book 3) and each subsequent book has been overtaking runner after runner (and there are A LOT of them) until he was tied neck and neck with The First Law series (which I love more but can see more reasons other people might not). To clarify, book 2 is not a Series Breaker, but it is the worst in a long series of crazy-good books.
5. The First Law by Joe Abercrombie
If there was a graph showing the quality and enjoyment had by Joe Abercrombie’s books, it would look like a horizon line of overlapping alps. Sure, there are peaks and valleys, sure, some have higher peaks than others (usually the second book in each of his series IMO), but I’m prepared to die on the hill plastered with the two claims “no author does character as good as Joe Abercrombie” and “Joe Abercrombie hasn’t released a single bad book” and that includes his YA Shattered Sea series.
6. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
It’s all riding on book 3, The Doors of the Stone, and if a decade isn’t long enough for a great author to make the final book in a series incredible, then no amount of time will and we have waited a decade in anticipation for it. God forgive me if anyone read this series because it’s on this list and we still don’t have the third book in the next few years. If anything this entry needs a warning for those thinking of beginning it: Wait until book three is out!
Fantasy series that fumbled the ball without dropping it:
7. Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley
This is one of those “it’s great once you’ve finished it” series. You may think that one of the books (particularly the first one) dropped the ball. I assure you, it didn’t. Like all great books, The Emperor’s blades slowly build what needs building for the conflict in the rest of the series, which is all the epic and deep and painful as you could want. The reason this goes above the later two is because the 2nd and 3rd book were the best.
8. Powder Mage by Brian McClellan
There’s a trend with the last three, that being they are all military fantasy. What can I say? Military fantasy has a way of keeping consistency, almost like the books are organized and regimented and uniformed like… well, like a military. Powder Mage is by far the purest of these. It’s as military fantasy as you can get with ranks and flintlocks and wars and gods of wars. Like the last military fantasy on this list, the finale was the weakest, but it never dropped the ball.
9. Age of Iron by Angus Watson
So yes, military fantasy, like the former and latter, but unlike its neighbors, Age of Iron is not musket and flintlock fantasy, but classical historical fantasy set when Rome invaded Britain before it was called Britain. Again, the third book is the weakest but still great, again, great characters and magic… it’s a good thing I’m running out of compliments because my last one in this list is bit of a copout.
Fantasy series that I haven’t finished but haven’t failed me yet:
10. The Shadow Campaign
That’s right. I’m breaking my own rules for this list. Because I haven’t actually finished reading this series yet, but if you’ve gotten this far down the list, I consider this an ominous foreshadowing for what the end of this series could be like. So far it hasn’t dropped the ball, and as soon as it does, I will remove this series from this list… because I have integrity…
I’m enjoying it and the audiobook reader is the same person who read the Dagger and the Coin, so even if it is bad I will still enjoy his dark chocolate baritone. I’ll probably review it when I’m done if it turns out to be really good, but considering how infrequently I post on this blog, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
So just note that the list of over, but there is one other series I think doesn’t drop the ball and that’s the Red Rising series and the Bobbiverse books, but they are technically sci-fi so I didn’t include them. You understand.