I asked an author one time (sorry, I forget who…I was at a conference with roughly 60 at my fingertips) what their biggest “writing” fear was. Surprisingly, it wasn’t: “writing an upchuck worthy book” (which I’ve heard more than once over the past 6 years) instead, it was:
“Writing the worst sequel known to man.”
Honestly, I was shocked by the answer. Their biggest fear was penning a crappy sequel? Why?
So I asked. And this was their answer:
(FYI – This I can quote specifically because I wrote it down. Score one for me.)
“Barry Sonnenfeld once said… “By definition a sequel can’t be original. So you’ve got to figure out what worked the first time around.” And I have NO IDEA why my first book worked. So I’m pretty much screwed.”
It got me thinking (the Sonnenfeld quote, not the whole “being screwed” dilemma) about sequels and how they tend to be a controversial subject amid literary circles. Some are adamant that sequels only show how unoriginal the author is. That they just “put the same slop in a bowl and slosh it around until it looks a little different.” Others think squeals open doors, allow authors to expand on aspects of the story they never thought people would take an interest in. But most common (and I fall into this category) are those of us that are both fans of and horrified of sequels. (A disappointing sequel can squash the book lust for additional books by the same author.) When I was offered a copy of “Wake To Darkness” by Maggie Shayne, I landed in the second half of that sentence. I was horrified of this sequel.
While I enjoyed the first novel in this series, I wasn’t sure where Shayne could take it that wouldn’t sound like twice baked potatoes. Presumably (or should I say…definitively) the “issue” was solved in book 1 (Sleep With The Lights On.) The “issue” itself being the ENTIRE BACKBONE of the “would-be series.” It wasn’t just a murder mystery. It was a paranormal murder mystery. And by the end…the paranormal had pretty much met it’s maker. Leaving only mystery left for its follow-up. Not a promising footnote for a book who’s appeal was unadulterated originality. (Feel free to go back and reread Sonnenfeld’s quote.) But I read it anyways. Because I had to know how Shayne was going to pull this off.
And she DID…pull it off that is.
Like I said before, sequels pretty much fall into 2 categories. Good or bad. There is rarely middle ground. You run into “bad” when no new ideas are introduced. It’s a death-trap with no foreseeable escape. Shayne avoided “bad” by changing the way her reader looks at the situation. In “Sleep With The Lights On” the reader is focused on the killer’s narration. On the paranormal elements. On the overall wildness that is cellular memory. In “Wake To Darkness” the reader is focused on the aftermath. Everything that happened in book 1 laid (in essence) dramatic ground-work for not only the emotional stability of the characters in THIS novel, but also suspicion where the plot is concerned.
There was a plethora of secrets in the first novel. Secrets that could implode a multitude of lives if revealed. In book 2 they come to head. Which causes both an action and a reaction from EVERY player (even the minor ones) involved. The plot managed to weave around all of the “reaction” and built off of it. There was fear of the unknown the first time around. In “Wake” there was a fear of knowing and then subsequently not knowing how to deal with it. The crimes themselves were less personal, (though no less gory) but initiated a bigger response. The story changed locations. (Several times.) Instead of a few members being involved in the crime solving process, an entire army of characters were. Weather also played a huge part, adding a subtle layer of “thrill” overtop of otherwise meaningless scenarios. And, most importantly…the “big reveal” was more artfully crafted. (Aka: there were more twists.)
On the character front (particularly Rachel) the blatant aggressiveness that I was none to fond of in book one starts to wither away and in its place stands a character that suddenly has “reader appeal.” In short, she starts to believe her own hype, which…for anyone who read the first book can attest to how shocking that little revelation is. The only downside to the drastic development in compassion is the way in which Shayne decided to introduce it to her audience.
Have you ever heard the phrase: “It’s ok to talk to yourself just as long as you don’t start answering.” Well, Rachel hasn’t really grasped that concept yet. Here’s an example:
This entire conversation with internal…and one sided.
(Side note: I was equally annoyed by Shayne’s use of the phrase: “Inner Bitch.” Not the language itself (because let’s face it, I cuss like a trucker) but more because it was exceedingly self-deprecating (not to mention over-used.) Enough, we get it, you think you are a raging B. Move on.)
Rachel wasn’t the only to show significant growth though. From nephews to resort owners, each character took every opportunity to expand their perception. The “building” added a layer to “Wake” that was (sadly) absent from it’s predecessor. As a whole, the story felt “rounder” if that makes sense. (Let’s hope so, because I have no other way to explain it.)
Overall, I was impressed with Shayne’s ability to take a doomed story and reinvent it. No, it may not have boasted all of the amazing paranormal qualities of the first (don’t fret..it still had few) but it solidified it’s station as a thriller. Which means a new idea was introduced. The only thing needed to make a book worth while.
Two thumbs up. A squeal worth the time.
Oh…and as far as “sexy time” is concerned. (Before I forget.) There were a few “slam her against the wall” moments (and quite a bit more angst than in the first novel) but still…it didn’t overpower the novel. A successful blending of two worlds. Romance and suspense. Woot. Woot.
Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: Never let the fear of failure keep you from trying.