Recently, I finished a few YA fantasy series and it made me think about how important a series ending really is for me. It can elevate the series to favorites-level, or make me think of it less fondly. So today, I thought I’d talk to you about what I believe is important when ending a (YA fantasy) series.
Please note, I’m not a(n) writer/author and really have no authority here. So I can’t tell you what to write or what not to write. Let’s just hear me out without getting upset.
Also, I am not going to spoil any of these series/endings for you! No worries, I won’t go into any specifics whatsoever.
These are 5 series enders I quite recently read. With recently, I mean this year. I’ve read these books this year -and all of them are the last book in a YA fantasy series. Some endings I loved, some I didn’t like as much.
Here’s my main point of this blog post: an ending to a series should feel realistic. It shouldn’t feel forced. And no matter how much we love our happy endings and romances, and for all our precious favorite characters to be happy forevermore, that’s not realistic.
THE TOLL OF WAR AND CONFLICT
In a lot of YA fantasy series, there is a great war or conflict happening. For example, in the Remnant Chronicles, the Trylle trilogy and the Malediction trilogy I’ve shown above, several countries/species are at war -or at least a war is brewing. And in Six of Crows and The Infernal Devices shown above, there is a conflict going on as well. These characters are put into incredibly dangerous situations, at such a young age.
These wars and conflicts will have an effect on the characters who have suffered through it all. If you’ve seen friends die, if you’ve been kidnapped or attacked: this will leave a lasting change. You will no longer be the same. You will always be someone who survived.
I’ve been thinking about all of this ever since I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. I won’t tell you details, because I promised you I’d keep this post spoiler free. Many of the characters in this series have been through some trauma, and they aren’t just fine. The trauma had repercussions, as it should. I was so attached to the characters in this series, because they felt so real. And one aspect of them that made them seem so real was their scars (not just literally speaking here).
In my opinion, more characters should portray these aspects of life. People suffer through many things after experiencing trauma: some people have PTSD, vivid nightmares, not being able to be touched, panic attacks, etc. Those are just some possible effects after going through something so terrible. So why do almost none of our heroes go through them? Why are most of our protagonists in fantasy absolutely fine after battlefields, murder and losing friends? Why don’t we talk about this?
Usually by the last book in the series, our characters have gone through some real shit. So I think that at least in that book, our protagonists should show at least some aftershock or effect.
THE CASE FOR (AND AGAINST) HAPPY ENDINGS
Here’s where you’ll really start to hate me. One of the books I read recently had an ending that was a bit… too happy for me. And I actually liked it less because of its happy ending.
If you have a main character group of 5 or 6 young people who go to war or have ended up in some sort of conflict, I think it’s a bit too optimistic to have them all come out of it not only without any sort of trauma, but with the love of their lives as well.
Like I said before, I need a book to feel realistic. Even if it’s a fantasy novel. That’s how you get attached to the characters, after all. And I hate to burst your bubble, but not everyone gets their happy ending. That’s not how life works, after all.
I’m going to cause myself some heartbreak by saying this, but I think that not every character should get their happy ending and that not every character should survive. Hundreds, thousands and millions of people die in a war or conflict. But if you’re a friend of the leader, apparently you don’t have to worry because you’re going to be okay, and you’ll even find your one true love.
It’s just not realistic, and that makes reading it over and over again just a tad less fun to me. Yes, I want them to be happy. But I also don’t want to feel lied to?
I want these characters to have the ending that feels right for them. The ending with choices that the characters would have made, instead of the ending the author wanted for them. That’s why I both love and hate the ending of the Lord of the Rings movies. I hate it because I want those little hobbits to live together forever and be happy. But I’m also happy, because it’s a choice that feels right for Frodo. Yes, the others will miss him -and he will miss them. But this is what HE needs. Not what I, as the reader, need.
When you have these characters, who have dreams and plans for a life after this conflict, you cannot make them give it all up for love. That’s not a message you should send. You can love someone, and let them fulfill their dreams. Make a choice that your character would make. Do what THEY need. Do not be afraid of letting your readers down. If they understand your characters as well as you do, they will know why you ended it like that.
THE CASE FOR HAPPY ENDINGS?
I’m not a complete monster. You shouldn’t kill everyone (or their loved ones) in the end. There should be a mix of happiness and sadness. A bittersweet moment at the end -like in real life.
Of course, I do think that there should always be some books out there with the perfect happy ending. Books we can turn to when real life lets us down, to just feel hopeful and happy. But there’s a genre for that too: fairy tales. Fairy tales, their retellings, and so on almost always have a happy ending. That’s why we love them so much. Not just because they taught us morals, but because you want to see the prince and princess together by the end.
So what do you think? Should there always be a happy ending? Should it always be bittersweet? Have you ever seen the difference between what a character would have done vs what the author wanted for their character?