Sequels are hard. Sometimes the story or characters you adored just can’t carry over for another romp. That ship sailed and you’re left treading vaguely familiar water, feeling kind of icky and down and also waterlogged. “There’s something a little terrifying about picking up a sequel to a book that broke your heart in the way only the best books can,” Seanan McGuire recently tweeted. “No matter how good it is, it will lack that brilliant newness: it will be following a familiar channel.”
So, can a follow-up novel ever feel… novel? Luckily, McGuire found just that in Deep Roots, the upcoming sequel to Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide—and it got us thinking about other sequels that rise to the occasion. The ones that defy the sophomore slump, and maybe even surpass their progenitors. Check out our favorites below—maybe you’ve got a few to share, too!
Fair warning: Some of these entries discuss spoilers in these beloved second books, so if you haven’t picked up these series, tread carefully!
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
The wit and wonky hijinks of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are hard to match in any setting. Douglas Adams was a singular voice, and it showed in every page of that book, from the brain-melting alien poetry to the chipper spaceship doors to the thoughts of a whale and a flower pot both making their way to an untimely end. The idea of continuing that story, of replicating its perfect weirdness, seems like it should be impossible. But Restaurant at the End of the Universe does precisely that, and with so little effort that the whole exercise feels a bit criminal. There’s just something about going to eat somewhere your food asks which part of its body you would prefer to feast on. Or the realization that the Earth is a computer meant to answer the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything. If you’ve ever been at a party that you didn’t want to leave, so you just kept that party going way past its appointed stop time? Then you know exactly what it’s like to read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. —Emmet Asher-Perrin
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
To be honest, after I finished Kushiel’s Dart, I wasn’t sure that even Jacqueline Carey could top herself. I imagine I felt the same as A Song of Ice and Fire readers did when picking up A Clash of Kings, wondering what could possibly follow up A Game of Thrones’ final page of Daenerys Targaryen stepping out of the funeral pyre with her hatched baby dragons—except here, it was an escaped Melisande Shahrizai returning Phèdre nó Delaunay’s blood-red cloak with an irresistible challenge: Come find me. After 800+ pages of witnessing Phèdre, a “whore’s unwanted get,” lose her only family in a brutal murder, fight her way through the deadly winter back to her homeland, confront the beloved patron who assaulted and betrayed her, survive getting flayed, lead her country to victory in war, and ultimately become the greatest courtesan in all of Terre d’Ange… where do you go from there?
By having the greatest courtesan actually prove that her flesh-and-blood self lives up to all the epic poetry: show up at the Midwinter Masque sewn into the most daring of costumes to announce her return to courtly life, build a new household and business, fail spectacularly at keeping her beloved Joscelin from choosing any fate but a life with her, take on an array of new lovers in Terre d’Ange and La Serenissima. Oh yeah, and the killer mid-book reveal that Melisande was hiding under their noses all along, leading to a bleak, Count of Monte Cristo-esque island imprisonment for dear Phèdre, followed by dashing pirates and cathartic Hellene quests.
Kushiel’s Chosen by no means replicates the starry-eyed wonder of first lushness, lust, love, and control that young Phèdre comes to possess in her first 18 years of life. There’s no way it could, not least of all because it covers only about a year or two of young adulthood—but it certainly builds on that foundation, providing enough new supporting characters to taunt and titillate readers, and enough new experiences to bring Phèdre closer to the legend she promises to be by the end of the series. —Natalie Zutter
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wind in the Door might be my favorite genre sequel. It could just be because I’ve had L’Engle on my mind as I anticipate Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, but this was the one I kept coming back to. First of all, this book was like a warm brain-hug when I first read it. I’d missed the characters terribly after WiT, so seeing them again was lovely. So the way that L’Engle slowwwwly darkens the book, with Meg having an uncanny interaction at the school, and Charles Wallace gradually getting sick, is perfect. You thought you were safe, and the adventure was over, but no—the new adventure might be even more dangerous than the last.
For those who haven’t read the book, it picks up about a year after the events of WiT. Meg is actually doing better in school now, with Calvin as her friend, and is now as worried about Charles Wallace as he used to be about her. The twins are still the twins; the family unit, restored by the children, is still going strong; and Meg and Calvin’s relationship is clearly proto-romantic, but neither of them are pushing that part yet. Best of all: one of the Drs. Murry has won a Nobel—Meg’s auburn-haired mother. The only dark spot is that since Charles Wallace has started school, he’s being bullied by both his fellow classmates and his teacher (she thinks he’s showing off each time he speaks in class)… oh, and there’s a dragon.
Over the course of the book Meg and Calvin learn that Charles Wallace is quite ill, and that their new adventure will take them inside his mitochondria in an attempt to save him. They’re guided by a giant being named Blajeny, and helped by a cherubim named Proginoskes (he’s the one who was misidentified as a dragon), and Meg’s old principal, Mr. Jenkins. As a kid I loved being back in this world, but looking at it as an adult I’m impressed with the way L’Engle builds on WiT’s themes. Once again Meg is called upon to use THE POWER OF LOVE, but where in WiT she admitted to herself that she couldn’t love the Big Bad, and had to settle for loving Charles Wallace, here she learns how to love both the prickly Proginoskes and her former principal—who also grows considerably from the jerk who was willing to bully a child. Plus L’Engle makes her idea of multi-level cosmic war that much more real by staging a battle in the cells of one of her characters. —Leah Schnelbach
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
I loved Hartman’s Seraphina so much that it took me years to get around to Shadow Scale. I just couldn’t bring myself to take the risk that it might let me down. But I needn’t have worried. Shadow Scale takes all the charms of Seraphina and multiplies them, giving our half-dragon heroine a seemingly unbeatable antagonist who, it frustratingly happens, has the same goal as Seraphina: to unite their half-dragon peers. It’s just that her methods are rather … different from our girl’s.
What this conflict means for Seraphina is the driving emotional force of Shadow Scale, but what really makes the book outstanding is how Hartman connects this conflict with the world her characters inhabit—a world that gets much bigger in this second novel. It’s a road story: Fina travels to different countries, trying to find her fellow half-dragons, who she’s only known through a mental connection. What she finds in each land is different: different ways of being, of living, of accepting or resisting life and change and different kinds of people. War hovers in the background, but so does love, in many forms. You can almost feel Hartman, like Seraphina, pushing against expectations. A prince doesn’t always have to wind up with a princess; a minor species of dragon doesn’t have to be minor; a mythology might not be built on the foundation that everyone believes. (Forgive me the vagueness of trying very hard not to spoil this for you.) Seraphina doesn’t just have to expand her expectations of the world, but of herself as well. The scope of Shadow Scale is world-changing, but Hartman keeps her eye on the vital role compassion plays in that change, whether on a personal or global level. —Molly Templeton
Which sequels have recaptured the magic of the originals for you?