Saturday, I finished listening to the last book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. Somehow I decided that it was a three book series. When I finished book #3, it was so clearly not a series ending that I took another look. Four books. There are four books. Yesterday I finished The Raven King.
Sometimes when I read a series, I get the feeling that the author plots the books one at a time. I may be wrong, but that’s how Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books feel to me. Yes, there are overarching problems throughout the series. The vampires are not defeated in book #1 or book #3 or even book #6. Dresden has girlfriend issues and problems with his assistant and in his relationship with the local police. But each book features a specific case and his efforts to solve it. Each book is a separate episode. And it must work because my husband and I both love these books. Note: This is an adult fantasy mystery series, not a children’s or YA series.
But as I reached the climax of The Raven King, I realized that Stiefvater must have plotted these books out as a group. The climax in book #4 is inevitable. Early in book #1, readers learn that Blue has predicted who will die in the next year. She amplifies the abilities of the local psychics and this is a ritual that they perform annually. Don’t read any more of this if you have an issue with plot spoilers. I’m not going to intentionally give the plot away but something might slip.
The problem is that she meets this boy and they fall in love. The rest of the series involves the group working to find a lost king, figure out a magical forest and solve the mystery of one boy’s dreams. Book by book, they move closer to the time he will die. The teens work to find a way around this but fate will not be cheated, at least not completely.
Why do I think that Stiefvater plotted all four books at once? These stories are insanely complicated with plots and subplots and themes galore. The ending fits every foreshadowing and every psychic prediction. It all dovetails perfectly.
As a series or book-by-book, a series can be plotted either way. Would a new author have the opportunity to plot four books at once? Maybe. Rowling plotted out all of the Harry Potter books before she started writing. But sometimes a series is born from a single successful title, without having been planned from the start.
A writer who pays attention to detail can make it work either way.