To wish that a book never ends is a great compliment to the writer. Sometimes we fall so deeply in love with characters and the worlds they inhabit that finishing a book is like saying good-bye to intimate friends. I’ve felt this way about a few books in my time as a reader, but never more so than when reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke.
I didn’t even think I would like the book before I started it. I had never been a reader of the Victorian novels that clearly inspired Ms. Clarke, nor was I particularly into the mannerpunk of writers like Ellen Kushner (although it should be mentioned that her novel The Priviledge of the Sword is part of a highly-regarded series that is considered the epitome of the subgenre).
I was so taken in by Clarke’s work that I preferred it to almost everything else I was engaged in at the time, eschewing all sorts of social engagements in favor of reading. When it did finally end, I was a little disappointed, not in the ending itself—which I actually found to be every bit as grand and magnificent as Mr. Norell’s first public demonstration of English magic—but in the fact that the story was over.
It was a small consolation to have The Ladies of Grace Adieu to follow it up, a collection of short stories that expands upon “the ways in which Faerie can impinge upon our own quotidian world.” I say “small consolation” because only a couple of the stories relate directly to the characters and events of Jonathan Strange. Nevertheless, the collection offered me a sort of interstitial space to ease myself back into the real world. It was a breakfast Bloody Mary, just enough to get me right but not so much as to send me on another bender. Did I want more? Of course. Will I get it? I will probably have to content myself with the miniseries being shot for the BBC.
Ultimately, the desire for something to go on and on is rather selfish. Why should what readers want dictate the course of a character’s arc? There are certainly books and series that we wish hadn’t ended, but in the very wish for an extended life, we might heap years more woe on our favorite characters. Imagine, for example, that Tolkien just kept writing Lord of the Rings. You saw how pissed Frodo was when he thought Samwise ate the last of their elven bread. I don’t think they could have gone on much longer. And what about the scorn we would reserve for Peter Jackson, who strung us along with thirty minutes of dwarves doing dishes in part one of The Hobbit? Imagine Harry’s humiliation at facing an eighth year at Hogwarts? We need the ending. We need resolution in the stories we read because our lives so often lack a true denouement. Even so, there are some series I would have loved to keep reading.
The Thraxas novels of Martin Scott (a pseudonym for Martin Millar of Good Faeries of New York and Lonely Werewolf Girl fame) certainly rank on that list. Set in a pretty deep medieval fantasy setting, these books subvert the genre by not taking themselves too seriously. The titular character Thraxas is an overweight glutton who likes to drink. He is also the “cheapest Sorcerous Investigator in the whole magical city of Turai.” Starting with book 1, aptly titled Thraxas, is probably best given the chronological nature of the stories. But in reading any book in the series you will find a fair helping of humor, action, fantasy and farce. In that respect, it might be comparable to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. With nine books in the Thraxas series, you can certainly occupy your evenings.
As for other endings I wish were simply other beginnings, I would love to read more of the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. I could spend a lot of time writing about the structure of the series and how the books are related, but the essential message I want to get across is that I loved Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion when I read them. Simmons moves his characters through space and time with a facility that belies the difficulty of presenting universe in which those concepts are mutable.
I had to wait a while for Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, which are the second two books in the series, but they definitely satisfied my craving for intelligent space opera. Once you develop a taste for those novels, it’s hard to be satisfied with substitutes. On the other hand, if I hadn’t been so eager to fill the void Mr. Simmons left in my imagination, I might never have stumbled onto the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, or even Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga. And that, my friends, would have been a great shame indeed.