Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Where is The Alchemancer series going?

A couple of weeks ago Ritesh Kala of Ritesh Kala's Book Reviews reviewed The Five Elements. Go read it. It's a good review and I thank Ritesh for taking the time to read, let alone review, my book. But (there has to be a 'but', otherwise there'd be no point to this post) he touches on something at the end of his review which I wanted to take a moment to discuss. Here's the part of his review:

But, the ending of the book is just a bit too perfect for me. It seems as if the author has made this book into a series as an after-thought, after this book was already released. The story ends at a place where we can’t see any villain in sight, and the protagonists are now as happy as you can expect them to be. The central conflict of the book also seems to have been resolved. I have no clue what the author will be writing about in the remaining books in the series. There are no plots or story lines which are left unexplored to really keep me interested.

First off, let me say that I believe the reader's perception is always right. If he or she fails to "get" something then I've failed as a writer and not the other way around. So I'm not going to say Ritesh is wrong. When I read the above passage I realized that I did not leave enough hooks in place in order to open the reader to the larger possibilities and to where the characters might go next.

[Side note: This leaves me with an interesting predicament. In the old world of publishing, I'd be stuck. But in the new digital world, I have the option of modifying the content Lucas-style and uploading a new version literally the same day. I'm not suggesting I'm going to do that, but the idea is intriguing.]

The truth of the matter is that TFE was always intended to be the first book in a series but in a direction I didn't give enough hints about. The whole deal with the druids and the elementalists is done. I can see why a reader might have expected that particular storyline to balloon into something larger, though. While I did use the whole "war that started over 500 years ago" thing as the base of the current tale, I didn't want that to become the sole focus. In fact, I didn't want it as a focus at all moving forward. What I'm trying to do with this series is give the reader a view into a certain period of these characters' lives while hopefully avoiding as many tropes as possible along the way. In short, looking at only the druid/elementalist angle is holding to a focus that is too narrow.

This leaves me with the question of where things are headed. Ritesh thought the story was pretty much wrapped up. Here, then, are the threads I intend to pick up in the next novel (WARNING: not entirely spoiler-free):

  • Aaron has just made an awful decision. Something he will not heal from overnight. Expect to see the ramifications of what he did influence the decisions he makes in the next book.
  • Aaron still has to deal with Krosus and his hounds, who want to kill him.
  • Ensel Rhe has avenged his son's death, but he has a daughter and wife and he still has enemies. Expect to see more on this.
  • There are a lot of refugees from Norwynne. Where will they go?
  • The Griffin is still out there with a big hole in her side.
  • The dwarves of Fire Rock are still onboard the Griffin with an unfulfilled purpose. Expect to see more of them.
  • The captain of the Griffin has a lot of Erlek's journals and research. What will he do with such information?
  • Serena, who was not given the same depth as some of the other characters, figures to play a major role in the next book. Why exactly was she out in the middle of nowhere studying under a master sorcerer?
  • Shanna wrecked a lot of devastation in her local region, but what about the rest of the world? Nearby cities were impacted by her actions as well. We'll start to see some of this in the next book.
  • The elementalists were technologists who created the Four Elements. What else might they have engineered? They broke off from the druids, but who's to say they did it as a unified group? Maybe a splinter group didn't agree with the Elements approach and went their own way. (This figures prominently in the next book)
  • Erlek was very interested in the technology of the elementalists. Wouldn't others have similar interests?
  • Erlek had a long time to think and scheme. Who knows what things he might have left behind or deals he may have made in order to further his own ends. The people on the other ends of these deals are still around.

In a perfect world I would have hinted at all of this in the first book and would have been more comprehensive overall. But at some point a book has to be "done". I purposely closed up certain storylines--Shanna, the whole druids/elementalists thing, the Four Elements—so that I could move on to other things. All I can say at this point is enjoy the story for what it is and, as for the next novel, wait and see. The lure will be the book's description and how it ties back into events that unfolded in TFE. Personally, I think it's going to be good.

Comments (3) -

  • Daniel R. Marvello

    5/18/2012 12:35:36 PM | Reply

    How many threads do you wrap up versus leave hanging in each book of a series? It's an interesting dilemma that I faced with my first book as well.

    One solution is to take a page from how the television series writers do it. Each episode focuses on a specific plot that, more often than not, gets wrapped up in that episode. However, there's usually a season plot going on at the same time that develops over the course of multiple episodes and climaxes at the final episode of the season. In the meantime, minor sub-plots may span one or more episodes, and they often tie back into the season plot. Finally, it's not unusual for the entire series to have some deep dark secret that spans multiple seasons and may never get fully resolved.

    Like you, I tried to make my first book as stand-alone as possible. The main character's challenge for that story gets resolved by the end. However, the end of the first story opens the door for the subsequent books. Every reader who has contacted me about it says they are looking forward to the next installment, which I take as a good sign.

    As much as I'd like to say I planned it all that way, I must admit that I had my fingers crossed the whole time. I did my best, but only the readers can decide if I was successful.

    The Five Elements is on my TBR list, and I look forward to seeing how you handled the series problem for myself.

  • Scott Marlowe

    5/18/2012 3:41:47 PM | Reply

    Thanks for the insight, Daniel.

    Ritesh is the first reader to point this out, so I'm still trying to figure out what, if anything, to do about it. I do feel I didn't leave enough hooks about the overall storyline--easy enough to sprinkle some in, especially now that the second book is underway. This would enhance future readers' experiences, but obviously does nothing for past readers. I think most people have simply enjoyed the story as a standalone and not thought too much about where the sequel might go. I'll probably give it some more thought this weekend.

  • Scott Marlowe

    5/18/2012 3:44:48 PM | Reply

    The Five Elements is on my TBR list, and I look forward to seeing how you handled the series problem for myself.

    Oh, and thanks! Hope you like it.