What did you think of the Seinfeld finale? What about the final episodes of The Sopranos and Lost? Do you worry about how Breaking Bad or Mad Men might end? It's the same with romance series. Think about some of the series you’ve loved, and whether they ended on a high note or landed with a disappointing thud.
Some of my favorite series have ended disappointingly, while the endings for others have left me wanting more. Once in awhile there will be one that ends a series “just right.” One “just right” ending was Castles, which ended Julie Garwood’s Regency historical quartet and was preceded by The Lion’s Lady, Guardian Angel, and The Gift. Not only is Castles my favorite books from the series, it’s my favorite historical romance...ever.
Earlier this summer I prepared a top ten romances list for the website I use to publish, in preparation for a poll they had planned. The first book on my list was Castles, which I love for its to-die-for—not to mention slightly too stubborn—hero and its gorgeous, list-making heroine who, like other brilliant people, has slightly skewed thought processes. The love scenes are “just right” in terms of length and number, with a how-can-it-be sexy-and-funny? defloration. I love the secondary characters, in particular their reactions in a scene involving Colin’s brother Caine (Guardian Angel) and his father in which he shoots down every prospective husband they name for more and more ridiculous reasons.
Alesandra and Colin are “just right” because they totally “get” the other, not in spite of but because of their quirks. Each is solicitous of the other’s feelings, and it’s a combination of the quirks and their concern for each that that they show their love. These heartwarming moments are often the most funny. Alesandra, for instance, knows that Colin has a five-year-plan to become successful (he’s the second son), and concludes that while he was forced to marry her to protect her from an assassin, he couldn’t possibly love her because the five years aren’t up. To convince her that he loves her, he takes what he knows about his newly-discovered knowledge about Alesandra’s genius for investing and uses it against her:
“Dreyson wouldn't take stock orders from a woman, would he? So you invented Albert, a convenient recluse who just happened to have your same initials.”
She wasn't going to argue with him. “Yes.”
He nodded again. He clasped his hands behind his back and frowned down at her. “You hide your intelligence, don't you, Alesandra? You obviously have a knack for the market, but instead of boasting about your cleverness with investments, you invented another man to take the credit.”
She looked up at him so he could see her frown. “Men listen to other men,” she announced. “It isn't acceptable for a woman to have such interests. It isn't considered ladylike. And it isn't a knack, Colin. I read the journals and listen to Dreyson's suggestions. It doesn't take a brilliant mind to be guided by his advice.”
“Will you agree you're at least fairly intelligent and can reason most things through logically?”
She wondered where in heaven's name this discussion was leading. Her husband was acting terribly uncomfortable. She couldn't imagine why.
“Yes,” she answered. “I will agree I'm fairly intelligent.”
“Then why in God's name haven't you been able to reason through all the obvious facts and figure out that I love you?”
Colin’s leg was injured after a shark took a bite out of it some years earlier. He assumes that’s why it aches at night, causing him to limp. Alesandra, though, knows better; one of his legs is slightly shorter than the other. She had an insert made for his shoe, but on the sly, to avoid pricking his pride. After he finds the insert, he realizes his leg has been less bothersome lately. When she fesses up, she uses his own words against him.
“What made you think of the idea?” he asked.
She looked surprised by his question. “You have a limp… at night, when you're tired, you do tend to limp a little. Colin, you are aware you favor your right leg, aren't you?”
He almost laughed. “Yes, I'm aware.”
“Do you agree you're a fairly intelligent man?”
She was turning his words back on him. He held his frown. “Yes.”
“Then why didn't you try to reason why you were limping?”
He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “A shark took a bite out of my leg. Call me daft, Alesandra, but I assumed that was the reason I limped.”
She shook her head. “That was the reason for the injury,” she explained. “I looked at the bottoms of your shoes. The left heel was barely worn on each pair. Then, of course, I knew what to do.” She let out a sigh. “I do wish you weren't so sensitive about this issue.”
I could go on and on, excerpting favorite moments from Castles, but I’d rather you read, or re-read it for yourself. It’s the perfect romantic, sexy, and funny, 1990s-era romance.
In the realm of Urban Fantasy, lengthy series are the norm. Some have gone on too long for me while others are still in progress. I’ve read a few through their conclusion, although in one instance the series was canceled by the publisher.
None of the books in Keri Arthur’s nine-book Riley Jenson series were Oh my god this is the best thing ever!, but as each ended I looked forward to the next. Aside from J.D. Robb’s In Death series, no other series commanded my attention for so many books. Frankly, I wondered how Riley was going to move beyond murdering her own soulmate at the end of book eight, Bound to Shadows, but as Arthur had worked her magic before—redeeming her vampire lover Quinn after he manipulated her beyond her tolerance at the end of book four, Dangerous Games—I believed she’d find a way.
And she does, but Moon Sworn as a whole didn’t work for me. In the book’s biggest chunk (160 pages), Riley suffers from amnesia, something that happens to far better effect to another character in another of Arthur’s series. When I read the book I felt that section could have been cut in half, with the remaining word count devoted to giving readers more of the ending they deserved. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the resolution, but after having gone through so much to get there, I wanted to savor the finale, to spend more quality time with these characters when no danger lurked, betrayals came to light, or various and sundry other bad things happened.
Between the minimal amount of “happy time” and the mid-section, Moon Sworn left a bad taste in my mouth.
Another series that didn’t end quite as well as it began was the finale for Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. But Timeless didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. I simply felt the complicated plot got away from the author.
Soulless, the first book of the Parasol Protectorate, also landed on that top ten list. There’s no way its brilliance could last over five books, so I dealt with my expectations as each subsequent book was released. To this day I have not read the series’ third book, because at the end of book two the hero and heroine split up. I knew it took the entire third book to bring them back together, and I couldn’t handle that, so I picked up the series again with book four, Heartless, which was really, really good.
Timeless has a lot of great moments. It features all the secondary characters I came to love earlier in the series, and introduces a new scene-stealer: Alexia and Conall’s two-year-old daughter Prudence. Alexia is soulless—by touch she renders supernaturals momentarily human. It was the revelation of her pregnancy at the end of book two that led Alexia and Conall, her Alpha werewolf husband, to separate. Because werewolves cannot reproduce, he jumped to the conclusion that she had been unfaithful.
Their daughter is a metanatural, a soul-stealer, with the ability to take on immortality. As if this weren’t scary enough to the world’s supernaturals, she’s in the throes of the terrible two’s. She is her mother’s daughter, which means she’s a menace to society, only more so. She hates baths, and takes “no”-saying to heretofore never-so-funny heights, a delightful running gag, the reason for which is finally revealed in one of my favorite moments in the book:
“Come along, then, Prudence, my dear.”
“No,” muttered Prudence softly.
Madame Lefoux said, “Have you ever considered that she might be saying no because she doesn’t like her name? She never says no when you use an endearment.”
Alexia stopped, floored by the idea. “Do you think? Is that true, my little puggle?” She used Lord Akeldama’s favorite moniker for Prudence.
“Yes,” said Prudence.
“No!” said Prudence.
“Goodness, Genevieve, you may be on to something. What should we call her, do you think?”
“Well, she has an excessive number of names. Why not wait until she’s a little older? She can choose for herself. Can’t you, sweetheart?”
“Yes!” said Prudence, most categorically.
“There, you see? Takes after her mother already.”
The narrative may have gotten away from Carriger, but she served her characters well, in particular Conell’s Beta, the Professor Lyall, who finds love with Biffy, who as a new werewolf in the previous book suffered embarrassing incidences of premature transfluctuation.
The third series I’ve read to its conclusion is Lori Handeland’s Phoenix Chronicles, but not on purpose. I thought it was a wonderful series. Alas, it ended after the fourth book, Chaos Bites.
The series is action-packed and exciting, as an apocalyptic series ought to be. It’s filled with amazing imagery and mythology, bad-ass demons, and a bodacious heroine as non-maternal as Eve Dallas. The moment I finished Chaos Bites I wanted to start book five. Never before, since, or for so long have I grieved for a series to continue.
Like the other three books in the series, Chaos Bites is action-packed. It starts with the same sort of jolt that kicks of Moon Sworn. Riley Jenson killed her soulmate at the end of the book previous to MS while at the end of the book previous to CB, Liz Phoenix ripped her lover’s heart out of his chest while it was still beating to prevent the Apocalypse.
Because the series ends prematurely, I won’t get into any more detail, but if you are looking for a great Urban Fantasy series that maintains its promise throughout and don’t mind being frustrated that there’s no conclusion, look for it.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.