Every now and then I pick up a book without checking to see where it falls in its series. I'd say 9 out of 10 books I pick up nowadays are part of some series or another, sometimes they're part of multiple series, and that's confusing enough on its own without trying to figure out which book is the "first" book.
While scrolling through some fiction titles at the library recently, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare caught my eye, and I saw (to my delight) that it was book #1 in a series.
I was more than halfway through the book before I noticed that it was a prequel.
I don't have anything against prequels on principle. The concept of a prequel makes perfect sense. You've written a story but there's more behind the story that the audience is interested in, so you provide them with the story before the story, like an extended prologue.
And honestly, that's fine.
Except where that's taken too literally.
There are a number of things that grated on me about this book, but most of them didn't catch my attention until I was in the final chapters. I would say the last fifth of the book or so. Most of those things were tied to the fact that I could see how much of the book I had left and knew there was no way on God's green Earth that the author could resolve the problems she had presented before the end.
In broad terms, I think there were three problems presented.
1. What is the main character?
2. Who is the Magister?
3. What's up with Will?
Of these three, which were focused on very heavily in every chapter and brought up repeatedly and prominently throughout the story, one was answered and dealt with. The other two were left hanging, and I think this was meant to be motivation to read the next book. This was, after all, a prequel.
The rest of the story - the characters, the dialogue, the description - was all fun. I enjoyed reading, even if the main character quite often got on my nerves.
But the ending wasn't satisfactory. That's a problem.
In game development, there's a concept sometimes referred to as "humane exit points." These are often chockpoints, save points, or gaps between levels, where you can safely set the controller down, turn the console off, and walk away. A well-executed game will have several humane exit points that allow the player to choose how long their play session is, rather than forcing them to keep playing past when it's actually fun.
I think this is something that authors should keep in mind, especially when writing a series. The beginning should grab your attention, the middle should hold it, and the ending- the ending of a chapter, of a scene, of a book - should be willing to let go.
That is the point at which the book should say to the reader, "You can set me down now, and that's okay. I'll be here when you get back." The trick is to make your book engaging without making it unsatisfying.
This might seem super vague and unhelpful, so let me put it this way:
If I'm invested in the world, the character, the plot, or the relationships, then I will come back even if there's no tension, unsolved mystery, or imminent danger.
If I need to rely on a cheap cliffhanger to draw you on to my next book, it's either because I'm not confident enough in my characters to keep you interested, or I'm not a good enough writer to create characters you can invest in.
In short, the fact that the author posed questions in the first chapters that she drew attention to repeatedly but never answered really bothers me.
That is all.
If you like urban fantasy, hidden worlds, Victorian England, and unanswered questions, then I think you'd like this book. I'd put it in the same category as Changeling, by Molly Harper.