Stuck in the middle with you…
We’ve all seen it happen. In the first book or movie of a series, we fall in love with the characters and their world. We’re so invested in whether Harry escapes Voldemort or Luke beats Darth Vader or how [insert name of any superhero of the Marvel Universe] triumphs over [insert name of any archenemy of the Marvel Universe], that we can’t wait for the next book/film. Only… then it comes out and sometimes it’s just Havanah Nights making a doomed-before-it-started attempt to follow Dirty Dancing. It’s like waiting in line for takeout from that Thai place everyone is talking about, and when you get home it tastes like pierce-the-film chow mein.
They call it “Middle Book Syndrome”—the part of a book or film series whose purpose is to connect the characters we’ve fallen in love with in the first book or film with the climactic battles and triumphs of the final episode. Sometimes it completely lives up to or even transcends its origins, such as Godfather II, Bourne Supremacy, or The Empire Strikes Back. Other times…
When my children were young, one of the books we read together was Dodie Smith’s enchanting The 101 Dalmations. I never knew there was more to the series, but was delighted one day to find The Starlight Barking at the library. I brought it home and we started to read it. That’s when I realized that somebody had been doing some truly spectacular drugs.
After similar disappointments with series ranging from Little Women to at least half of the series books sent to me for review, I’ve come up with my own checklist.
How Not to Middle Book. A Checklist
Does the middle book involve the following:
- Stagnation? (Is Middle Book’s only purpose in life to bridge the cute meet of First Book with Last Book’s Happily-Ever-After?)
- Love Suckage? (Whether it’s a triangle, breakup, or just being paranoid about breaking up, is Middle Book basically Not Safe For Lovers?)
- Been There Done That? (Is Middle Book a not-so-thinly-veiled repeat of First Book?) [cough, cough, Catching Fire, Book II of Hunger Games, anyone?]
- Starting from scratch? (Does the author introduce a new cast, change the world, and pretty much ignores the events of First Book?)
- Cliffhanger? (Go directly to book hell.)
[Note from Barb: Okay, I admit it—many of the truly great series have broken most if not all of these rules. In Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back, the Luke/Leia/Han love triangle is broken when Han is encased in carbonite, followed by a cliffhanger. But even that went to a dark place. I once went to the apartment of a new guy I was dating, only to have him proudly show me the lifesize copy of carbonited Han Solo on his wall. Sadly, this was not my shortest date ever, but it was proudly in the running.]
So…why do we like sequels?
Sometimes, we’re infatuated with a book’s characters and become emotionally invested in their world. If you approach book series like relationships, then the first book is the cute meet, the middle book(s) are falling in love and the first big fight, and the last book is settling in for a long-haul relationship. And if a series is a relationship, then the end of that series is like losing a partner after a long and satisfying love affair. Intellectually, you know that someday you’ll find another series to love. But meanwhile, your life is empty, the long cold nights stretch out ahead of you, while your To-Be-Read pile and your Kindle try to seduce you with empty promises of future book-lovers that are “just as good”.
Then what makes a good sequel?
I’m so glad you (rhetorically) asked, because I just happen to have a little checklist for that one too.
A good middle series book should include the following:
- Both the Black Moment when all goes to crap AND the turning point for the series overall.
- Both its own self-contained story arc AND the setup for the final confrontation
- Characters who grow and develop within this book AND also have arcs that span all the books
- Villain/conflicts who suffer interim defeats in this book AND are still out there building to that climactic final book’s conclusion.
And why go into all this now?
I just finished reading Lindisfarne, the middle book of Terry Tyler’s Project Renova post-apocalyptic thriller series. For a lesson in mid-series how-to, I completely recommend a read.
Six months after the viral outbreak, civilised society in the UK has broken down. Vicky and her group travel to the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where they are welcomed by an existing community.
New relationships are formed, old ones renewed. The lucky survivors adapt, finding strength they didn’t know they possessed, but the honeymoon period does not last long. Some cannot accept that the rules have changed, and, for just a few, the opportunity to seize power is too great to pass up. Egos clash, and the islanders soon discover that there are greater dangers than not having enough to eat.
Meanwhile, in the south, Brian Doyle discovers that rebuilding is taking place in the middle of the devastated countryside. He comes face to face with Alex Verlander from Renova Workforce Liaison, who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. But is UK 2.0 a world in which he will want to live?
Lindisfarne is Book 2 in the Project Renova series.
A book of related short stories, entitled Patient Zero, features back and side-stories from minor characters, and should be available in November, 2017. Book 3 is due in mid 2018.
- Book Title: Lindisfarne (Project Renova Book 2)
- Author: Terry Tyler
- Genre: Post-apocalyptic thriller
- Length: 446 pages
- Publisher: Amazon Digital (26 September, 2017)
- Purchase Links: Amazon
Contact Links for Terry Tyler
My Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars for Terry Tyler’s Lindisfarne
“This is our island. It’s a good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun.”
― William Golding,
As the middle book of a trilogy, Terry Tyler’s new release Lindisfarne has a tough job. Not only does it have to deliver a self-contained story arc, but it also needs to show us the way events are changing, to document character growth, and to develop the ever-expanding ensemble cast of characters. The one thing you can count on in a Terry Tyler book is that you can’t count on anything. Characters come and go, introduced in little jewel-perfect vignettes before disappearing, only to resurface in an offhand comment, a record of their death, or a full resurrection as a pivotal plot motivator.
So let me just put this out there. Terry Tyler goes to some trouble to provide catch-up details of what’s happened in the series so far. Don’t go there. DO NOT read this book without reading Tipping Point, the first book in the series. Not only will you miss critical character references and development points, but you’ll cheat yourself out of a big chunk of a terrific, complicated, evolving group of characters as their old world dies and their new one is invented.
I couldn’t wait to read Lindisfarne, and of course wanted to review this book, but—as with my review of the excellent Book 1, Tipping Point—there’s the spoiler problem. It was hard enough to review the first book without reveals. This one? Um…[Does a few stretches and breathing exercises. Cracks knuckles. Right. Here goes.]
If Book One, Tipping Point, was a metaphor for the Zombie Apocalypse—a civilization-busting contagion—then Lindisfarne is Lord of the Flies—the collapse of civilized behavior into primitive tribal groups willing to accept bloodthirsty actions in exchange for personal safety. In Tipping Point, we see the world—as we know it, anyway—come to an end. A devastating man-manufactured plague sweeps through England, destroying most of the population. Survivors are limited to a chosen few who received the vaccination and even fewer who have natural immunities. Sixteen-year-old Lottie, the voice of the new world, observes:
On the dual carriageway there are no other cars, just black, bare trees on either side, like they’re sleeping until the world starts again. Traffic cones everywhere. I think about road workers putting them out, then going home and coming down with the virus, and wishing they hadn’t spent their last healthy day on earth putting out traffic cones on a dual carriageway.
As the group from the first book prepares for their future by moving to the island of Lindisfarne, Lottie has no time and little interest in documenting what they’re leaving behind. “I don’t feel sad when we drive away from the house. Life’s an adventure now.” She doesn’t see any point in mourning what they’ve lost, or even wasting time and energy hating those who caused it. “I suppose it’s shocking that there could be people in the world so evil that they would invent such a plan, but they’re not going to stop us being alive, unless they nuke the whole of Europe, and if they decide to do that we’ll all be dead anyway. So we may as well live life as best we can, now, mightn’t we?”
Lottie’s mother, Vicky, provides the voice of the old world, still full of shock and denial that someone in authority hasn’t stepped in to fix everything. “It’s like we’re all in a dream. It’s freaking me out. Why isn’t anyone doing anything? Why isn’t anyone saying, you can’t murder someone in cold blood, in front of a whole group of people? And then it hits me, as it keeps doing, over and over. There is no law. There is nothing to be done. Justice is meted out as the strongest person sees fit, or not at all. Ther is no refuge, no safe place, or maybe there never was, and safety was only a late 20th and 21st century illusion.”
Interestingly, the younger survivors embrace the future with energy and hope, but they’re not the only ones. In the first book, one of the strongest characters was the one who was missing for most of the action—Vicky’s partner Dex. He was the one whose wild-sounding conspiracy theories turned out to be truth. In Lindisfarne, he reappears and again becomes the voice of the new reality. “Who cares if some government that no longer exists was analysing what we said on social media for nefarious purposes? It’s done, everyone’s dead, and doesn’t the internet itself now seem like a self-indulgent irrelevance?”
Dex isn’t the only one who sees opportunities in a future where he’s in control. In addition to threats from various freelance villains preying on anyone weaker, there are two ominous forces. First is Wedge, the sociopath head of the biker gang. A surprisingly avid reader of history, Wedge finds his justification and even a code of honor from an ancient Viking past where strength gives the right to rule. Meanwhile, another future is cynically planned by Alex Verlander and the others responsible for the plague. “Give ’em another winter, and they’ll do anything for a chance to live like they used to.”
There are just so many good things about this book that I hardly know where to start. As a middle book in a series, Lindisfarne has a job to do and it gets on with that brilliantly. There’s a self-contained story arc, nicely bordered on either end by the rainbow that represents hope as the little group of survivors reaches Lindisfarne, and again at the end as Lottie prepares to face her future. In between, there is the dark moment where everything pivots, bringing death, coming-of-age, and change. And the small stories of the Lindisfarne residents are silhouetted against the backstory and disturbing intentions of the mysterious [okay, it’s the United States—you can tell from their evil pancake-intensive breakfasts] agents of the plague.
Then the sun goes behind a big, grey cloud and there’s a rainbow on the horizon, like the day we came here; drops start to fall, and there’s that sinister flow in the sky that you get with a rainbow.
As an author, Terry Tyler’s strength—a kind of genius, really—lies in her ability to take readers inside the heads of widely differing characters. With flashes of dark humor and even darker honesty, we watch Lottie grow into a strong and independent young woman, even as her mother Vicky continues to seek her own identity through the eyes of her lovers. (I have to admit that I really dislike Vicky. She seems like a particularly wet sponge: I imagine if you threw her against the wall, she would just stick there for a minute and then ooze slowly down.) Dex continues to be the voice of current reality, no longer the conspiracy theorist but now the opportunistically-callous ruler.
Sure, there are a few things that didn’t resonate with me. On a basic economics level, I’m not finding it completely credible that people with viable survival skills—farmers, blacksmiths, merchants, etc.—wouldn’t find their positions strengthened, as happened with the growth of the middle classes after the Black Death in the fourteenth century. I’d guess that establishment of a currency is closer to inevitable than to the evil seen by the group of survivors. The degeneration from civilized citizens to bloodthirsty primitives seems a bit swift. (And did I mention that I really dislike Vicky?)
Of course, in Lord of the Flies, the bloodthirsty little savages who have killed and destroyed their island paradise turn back into children when they are ‘rescued’ by supposedly responsible adults. In the Project Renova series, we have to wait for Book 3 to find out whether there is hope for the island residents of Lindisfarne. Luckily, for those of us who just can’t wait, a book of short stories featuring various minor characters from the Project Renova universe is coming in November.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**