The second book in a series is notoriously difficult to write. As readers, I’m sure we’ve all experienced the unique disappointment of a sequel that just doesn’t live up to the potential of the first book. Having now written the second book in my Age of Darkness series, I definitely have a new appreciation for the challenges and pressure of writing a sequel.
A good sequel doesn’t just continue the story of the first book—it evolves it. It challenges the characters in new ways, deepens the world, and leads the reader into the next book like a tightly held breath. It should, in fact, be the strongest part of a trilogy. The crux of the story and the glue that holds it together. A good second book should feel like pressing down on the accelerator and taking each curve at a hard swerve. Here are 5 sequels that manage to blow their (already amazing) first books out of the water.
The Wicked King by Holly Black (Book 2 of The Folk of the Air series)
Holly Black’s most recent series is some of the best YA fantasy out there, and its strongest entry is the second book. Jude’s arc in this sequel is the perfect evolution of her arc in the first book, as she navigates the twisty political machinations of the Faerie court in a position of power–a position that relies on her ability to maintain the upper hand in a power struggle with High King Cardan. And while Holly Black expands the world of Faerie somewhat in this installment, she smartly keeps a tight focus on the court intrigue and fraught family drama. Reading this book was like getting a masterclass in maintaining and deepening tension. What really seals it as my favorite, though, is the flawless ending that had me desperate for the third book in the trilogy.
Now I Rise by Kiersten White (Book 2 of The Conqueror’s Saga)
This alternate history series about what would happen if Vlad the Impaler was a woman is as brutal and fierce as its protagonist Lada—who only gets fiercer and more brutal in the sequel. The stakes are raised, as Lada is no longer a political prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, but slaughtering her way through Eastern Europe to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. I adored her development in this book, watching her slowly amass a band of followers without once capitulating on how fearsome and ferocious she is.
Unlike Lada, her brother Radu’s loyalties (and heart) lie firmly with Mehmed, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which leads him to play spy in a Constantinople under siege. In the first book, Radu quickly adapts to his life in the Ottoman Empire and changes his loyalties accordingly–but in this book, that loyalty is truly tested. The way this second book deepens and complexifies the character arcs set up in book one is why it’s one of my favorite sequels ever.
Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (Book 2 of The Sixth World series)
After devouring the Hugo and Nebula nominated Trail of Lightning, I wasn’t sure how a sequel could possibly surpass this wildly inventive fantasy based on Navajo mythology. Yet somehow, Rebecca Roanhorse manages to take everything incredible about the first book and turn it up a notch in this sequel. It expands the world, as Maggie’s adventures lead her outside the Walls of Dinétah to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Big Water. It gives us new characters to fall in love with, and the relationships that form between Maggie and her motley (all-female) crew were some of the most delightful parts of this book. Maggie’s growth in this book was really rewarding and felt very earned as she is forced to take care of others and let them take care of her. Plus, this book has one of my all-time favorite kinds of villains—a shadowy cult leader with creepy powers. What more could you want?
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (Book 2 of the Ember Quartet)
Every single book builds so beautifully off the last in this series about a soldier and a slave caught in the claws of a brutal empire. But I particularly love the second book for how it takes bigger risks than the first. Torch expands the world of the Martial Empire, not just in that we get to see more places on the map, but also that Tahir includes a third POV, that of Helene Aquilla. Choosing to include Helene not only gives us insight into her inner conflicts, but also into the political machinations at the heart of the empire.
The plot twists in this book are incredible, and make it clear that this series is not going to pull any punches when it comes to depicting the brutality of this world. But that doesn’t mean the book is all bleakness and suffering—some of my favorite parts were the developing romance between Elias and Laia, as well as the sibling relationships in both Laia and Helene’s viewpoints. I also loved how this book deepens the mythology of the jinn and the mysterious Nightbringer. This book effortlessly weaves together the many plot threads of the series, making it one of the strongest sequels I’ve ever read.
The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (Book 2 of The Winner’s Trilogy)
One of my favorite aspects of The Winner’s Curse trilogy is its protagonist, Kestrel, and her cunning, calculating mind. While in the first book Kestrel navigates a slave rebellion in her city Herran as well as her conflicted feelings for her formal slave Arin, the second book ratchets up the stakes by putting Kestrel at the heart of the Valorian Empire, betrothed to the crown prince but secretly spying for Herran.
Arin’s viewpoint is equally captivating, widening the scope of the world as he seeks out allies in neighboring kingdoms while grappling with his feelings for Kestrel, whom he believes has betrayed him. The heartache and longing between the two of them is so beautifully rendered by Rutkoski’s gorgeous prose, and the more conflicts that come between these characters, the more I rooted for them. This is another sequel where the end had me yelling and counting down the days to the third installment.
Katy Rose Pool was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in history, Katy spent a few years building websites by day and dreaming up prophecies by night. Currently, she resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she can be found eating breakfast sandwiches, rooting for the Golden State Warriors, and reading books that set her on fire. As the Shadow Rises, book 2 in The Age of Darkness Series, is available now from Henry Holt & Co.