Guest Post: “One Step Forward, Two Steps…Further Forward?” by Marc Turner

Dragon HuntersAs a reader, few things make me happier than picking up a sequel and liking it even more than the first book. And sometimes, it simply takes the second book to get a series to really take off! Brian Staveley’s Providence of Fire, Jeff Salyard’s Veil of the Deserters, and–as you can see from my review of it yesterday–Marc Turner’s Dragon Hunters are just a few examples for me. What’s cool is that Marc himself has chimed in on this very topic, and today we’re pleased and honored to welcome him to The BiblioSanctum to talk about which sequels he feels have not only lived up to their predecessors, but have surpassed them as well. Take it away, Marc!

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by Marc Turner

Dragon Hunters is book two in my Chronicles of the Exile series. I’ve often heard a sequel referred to as “the difficult second book”. That’s because a writer has as much time as he likes to write his first book, but will probably be up against a deadline to write his second. Also, a first book creates expectations that an author must live up to with his next offering. There will be people out there thinking, “I loved your first book! It was great! Now DO IT AGAIN.” Or maybe even, “Do it better”. And you have to deliver. 

For me, Dragon Hunters represented an additional challenge because it features a new cast of characters. I’d worked with the characters inWhen the Heavens Fall for many years, so finding interesting new voices that weren’t just reflections of the old ones proved difficult at first.The good news, though, is that you don’t need to have read When the Heavens Fall to be able to enjoy Dragon Hunters. So if you haven’t already started the series (shame on you), now is an excellent time to jump on board.

 As a reader, there have been plenty of times that I’ve read the second book in a series and thought it didn’t match up to the first. But not always. Here are five examples of when I thought an excellent first book was trumped by an even better second.

 1.            Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

I really enjoyed Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades. The worldbuilding was excellent, the story rattled along, and everything came together for a gripping finale. I have to say, though, there was one thing about the book that left me feeling cheated. Following Kaden’s example, I buried myself in my garden for ten days, and at the end of it I still felt no closer to understanding the vaniate. What’s going on there? Providence of Fire raised the bar even higher. There’s more mythology, more political intrigue – and more Adare, who had a relatively small role in the first book.

2.            Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

 I liked The Blade Itself – the opening novel in the First Law trilogy – but I didn’t love it. Logen and Glokta are among my favourite fantasy characters, yet for some reason the story didn’t really grab me. Before They Are Hanged, though, is in my top five fantasy books of all time. I finished it in a day, and there was something to admire on every page. It had lots of laugh-out-loud moments, and it dug the ground out from under any number of fantasy tropes. It also introduced us to Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune . . .

 3.            Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

 Steven Erikson is the author whose work I would say has influenced me most, so you won’t be surprised to hear I enjoyed the first book in the Malazan series, Gardens of the Moon. It had epic worldbuilding, multiple story threads, and great characters, who all converge at the end for a battle royale. It was difficult to see how Erikson could outdo that in book two, but he managed it. Deadhouse Gates is crammed with memorable scenes and ideas that I wished I’d had myself. Plus the conclusion to the Chain of Dogs storyline is something that I think will always stay with me.

 4.            Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

 Traitor’s Blade was one of my favourite reads of 2015, with its mix of humour, swashbuckling adventure and some twists I really didn’t see coming. De Castell’s in-depth knowledge of swordplay also provided an extra degree of intensity and credibility to the action. The second book in the series, Knight’s Shadow, had all of that and then some. We spend more time with the secondary characters who I thought were a strength of book one. There is also less looking back at the history of the Greatcoats, allowing the story to flow at a swifter pace.

 5.            The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay

 The Wandering FireThe Fionavar Tapestry was, for me, a series that improved with each book. This being GGK, you can guarantee that the quality of the writing is excellent throughout. But at the start of book one, The Summer Tree, I struggled to warm to the characters. The novel also concludes with a harrowing scene that slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the book. I liked everything about The Wandering Fire, though. The series draws on a lot of different mythologies, and this book included two of my favourites: the Arthurian legends and the Wild Hunt. My edition of the novel also has a cover of which I heartily approve, featuring as it does a sea dragon monster.


Now, I know what you’re thinking. Will my own second book in the Chronicles of the Exile series follow this trend? And how could anything surpass When the Heavens Fall (ahem)?

 Well, to find out I guess you’ll just have to read both novels . . .

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Marc TurnerMarc Turner was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in law, and subsequently joined a top ten law firm in the City of London. After realising that working there did not mix well with simple pleasures such as having a life, he fled north first to Leeds and then to Durham in search of a better work-life balance. Unfortunately it proved elusive, and so in 2007, rather than take the next step and move to Scotland, he began working part time so he could devote more time to his writing. Following the sale of his debut epic fantasy novel, When the Heavens Fall, he started writing full time.

Why writing? Because it is the only work he knows where daydreaming isn’t frowned upon, and because he has learned from bitter experience that he cannot not write. The authors whose work has most influenced him are Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie. Consequently he writes fast-paced, multi-threaded novels with a liberal sprinkling of humour; novels written on a panoramic scale, peopled by characters that stay in the memory. Or at least that’s the theory . . .

He lives in Durham, England, with his wife and son.

7 Comments on “Guest Post: “One Step Forward, Two Steps…Further Forward?” by Marc Turner”

  1. The two best second books I can think of were both after books I enjoyed but didn’t love.

    Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin was o e of the best books I read last year and I thought the first book was merely interesting.

    I had a very similar experience with Amanda Downum’s series as The Bone Palace amazed me as something leaps and bounds above The Drowning City.


  2. Seems you and I share similar tastes, I’m in agreement with you. Except for the fifth choice. Not familiar with that series.

    I’d add to this list Anthony Ryan’s TOWER LORD. One of the best middle novels I’ve come across.


  3. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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