Jun 18 2012 2:00pm

You Just Keep Me Hanging On: Cliffhangers in Romance Novels

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins*****Note: since we’re talking about cliffhangers, there will be spoilers.*****

Endings are tricky things. They can make or break a book. A reader may forgive a weak beginning, but never a weak ending. More often than not, endings are the part of the story that stays with us after finishing the book. But what happens when the ending isn’t an ending at all? I don’t think there’s any other literary device that elicits stronger reactions than the cliffhanger. Some love it, some hate it (well, let’s face it, most hate it), but everyone has something to say about them.

Are you a fan of The Hunger Games? How did you feel when you finished the first book? Wait, better yet, how did you feel when you finished Catching Fire? I sat there for ten minutes, looking around me thinking “wait, what?” I was shocked that after such a huge buildup we got nothing but uncertainty. And that’s the problem with cliffhangers. There’s a buildup in the story, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a big confrontation at the end, you can’t drain the anticipation because you’re left with even more questions and expectations. Endings should be release valves, but cliffhangers replace that valve effectively taking away our release.

When I think of cliffhangers, the phrase “sequel bait” is the first thing that comes to mind, closely followed by “shock value.” But that’s not to say that cliffhangers are always bad; they work best within a contained storyline that’s been planned in advance and has a clear ending. They help the plot move forward and blend into the next book, linking the story arc that unites the series as a whole. And I much prefer them when they don’t involve the main couple.

Meljean Brook is one of the few authors whose cliffhangers I enjoy. The first books in the Guardian series were standalones, but when the main story-arc became more complex, the cliffhangers came in handy to answer some questions and set up the following books. Since these cliffhangers didn’t involve a romantic couple, they managed to be effective, shocking and satisfactory. And these are major cliffhangers; she took a huge risk killing one of her main characters and sending him to hell, just to turn him into a dragon when everyone thought he was finally free (it makes sense when you read the books). His fate is hanging (pun intended) but since his book is next, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.

Over the Edge by Suzanne BrockmannOne of my all-time favorite series has one of the most heartbreaking, gasp-inducing, cliffhangers I’ve ever read. Anyone familiar with Suzanne Brockmann’s books knows that if the book has a secondary romance, chances are, they won’t get their HEA in that book. And if said couple are Sam and Alyssa, they won’t get it in the next four or five books either. But in this case, the biggest cliffhanger happened in their second book as secondary couple. In Over the Edge, Sam decides to stop being a jerk finally confess his feelings. He tells her he likes her and that he wants to give their relationship a try. And that’s when the call comes telling him that his ex is pregnant. The End. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call an evil cliffhanger of doom.

I think of Karen Marie Moning as the Cliffhanger Whisperer, because the Fever series was one cliffhanger after the other. Even the last book in the series left us with a bunch of questions. But if I had to choose the cliffhanger to rule them all, I’d go with the one in Dreamfever. She ends the book with the death of a character that leaves the heroine devastated. So it must be an important character, right? The hero, perhaps? We don’t know. That’s how the book ends, with a huge death, a thousand questions and almost two years of speculation in front of us waiting for the answers.

Shiloh Walker’s Ash trilogy had a mystery that wasn’t resolved until the last book. Each story had a different couple and a HEA, but the suspense part didn’t get a resolution until the final installment. This series was original and organic. I even enjoyed having my own suspect list and adding new names to it. It also helped that the books weren’t released that far apart from each other so the waiting wasn’t as tortuous.

Tangle of Need by Nalini SinghThe last cliffhanger I read came courtesy of Nalini Singh’s latest book, Tangle of Need. Kaleb has been a secondary character since the first book. He has always been fascinating, especially after we discovered that he was desperately looking for someone. His intentions are still unclear, but he’s a complex character and one of the most popular in the series. At the end of this book he finally finds the person he’s looking for, and it’s a woman. What that means to the overall story arc and to him as a character, we don’t know. But hopefully we’ll find out in the next book, whose hero is yet to be announced and I pray is him.

These are but a few of the most heart-stopping, gasps-inducing cliffhangers I’ve read. Regardless of how we feel about them, one thing is certain: they give us a lot to talk about.

How about you? Do you love cliffhangers? Hate them? What’s the most memorable cliffhanger you have ever read?


I love talking about books just as much as reading them. I review Romance Novels on my blog Romance Around the Corner and you can also find me on Twitter.

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Melissa B
1. Melissa B, I love them, but hate them when I'm waiting that 6 mos or year for the next book!

And Karen Marie Moning w/ the Fever series KILLED me w/ her cliffhangers...and the YEAR wait for the next book each time.

Recently, Shiloh Walker's Ash series had some pretty good cliffhangers...I wanted the next book instantly!
Ginny Doremus
2. FaeRhi
I have a love/hate relationship with cliff hangers... and they don't even have to be obvious ones. Maybe it's just that I hate the ends of books in a series because that means I have to WAIT to see what's next.
Such as the end of "Lover Reborn" by JR Ward, waiting to see what happens next between Qhuinn, Layla and Blay.... or even before that at the end of "Lover Mine " when Payne was broken. I wanted to scream at it and at the same time felt deep admiration for her.
A TV series that is BRILLIANT at cliffhangers is "Dexter". The entire second season was one big "well f***. How the hell is he gonna get out of this?!"
Now I have more books to look up and read though!!

Oh! And I just finished "Bared To You" by Sylvia Day... talk about an ending that makes me despise the wait until October!!
Heather Waters
3. HeatherWaters
I love cliffhangers and stories that continue through a few books--I think that's why I love TV so much--especially when there's still that guaranteed HEA.

Over the Edge remains my favorite Brockmann precisely because that cliffhanger almost killed me. I just *had* to have the next book.
Lege Artis
4. LegeArtis
I had luck with KMM's Fever series- I waited Shadowfever to come out and then read whole series at once. I don't know how would I live through those cliffhangers...
Nalini Singh is my current tormentor- Tangle of Need opened so many questions...
Great post, Brie!
Melissa B
5. Seleste deLaney
I don't love or hate cliffhangers. Then again, I also loved "The Lady and the Tiger" growing up. But especially with a series that has one big over-arching story, there need to be cliffhangers because everything can't be resolved until that last book.

There are times when they bother me. I can think of one YA book off the top of my head where everything was wrapped up nicely enough at the end. One important character was still at large, so you knew there would be a sequel, but instead of leaving it there the author threw in this rather out-of-left-field major twist that put the main character's fate in question. I'm not talking about an "oops, mom & dad caught me sneaking out and how am I going to spin this?" twist. More of a life & death big deal twist. No. Just no. I was furious for a long time after (still irritated by it), but I will admit, I read the next book. So... *shrug*
Melissa B
6. T.M. Franklin
I agree with most here who say they have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers. I've got to say I love them - they get me excited about the next book in the series and I love to talk w/other readers about what we think might happen next.

But yes, it's a killer waiting for the next book. Moning killed me several times - and waiting for Qhuinn and Blay's story in the BDB series is AGONIZING.

Still, it's all fun to me - bring on the cliffies! :-)
Cheryl King
7. fotofix
I HATE Them!! I get much too emotionally invested in "my people" when it's a great series. My brain tries to tell me they're not real but heart won't listen. The Dreamfever cliffhanger left me grieving. I felt actual grief! It's crazy! And The Hunger Games series would have been awful too but fortunately I didn't discover them until they were all available so I didn't have to wait. I agree that I can handle them a little better if they don't involve the main couple or love interest or interfere with the HEA.
Melissa B
8. Clau
I liked Richelle Mead Cliffhangers in Vampire Academy series almost all the books end with a cliffhanger.
Brie Clementine
9. Brie.Clem
Melissa B: for a second there I thought you waited 6 years for the next book and I was like “what book is that?” That must be the purest form of torture.

FaeRhi: another show that had evil cliffhangers was LOST. But it was fantastic for discussion and speculations, cliffhangers make people talk. I also have a love/hate relationship for that reason.

redline_: when the HEA is guaranteed I don’t mind much, but when it isn’t, is awful. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like Urban Fantasy, I always worry that the couple won’t end together or that something will happen to them.

LegeArtis: OMG! Tangle of Need killed me! That ending was amazing and evil at the same time. Do you think Kaleb is the next hero? He has to be, right? I need to write a post just to speculate on next books, the Ghost, etc.

Seleste deLaney: I don’t mind cliffhangers when it comes to overarching storylines, like in the Guardians series, I love how those books end. My problem is when the cliffhanger affects the HEA of the main couple. But as you, I always come back for more, can’t help it!

T.M. Franklin: “cliffies” LOL! I’m going to borrow that, love it!

fotofix: read The Hunger Games when it first was released. I think I even preorder it. I had a feeling it was going to be a good one. So I had to wait a lot. Not recommended. Although I do wonder if reading the series back-to-back ruins the experience a bit. The anticipation is a key aspect of reading series.

Clau: I forgot about those! You’re right, every single one of those books ends on a cliffhanger. Ugh, to be honest, I’m not a fan.
Melissa B
10. Devon G
Those "Fever" cliffhangers are the best/worst. Now I have a hankering to re read. I've been reading mostly YA lately. Cassandra Clare has had some good ones. And ditto on Richelle Mead. Gotta get my hands on her new one.
Melissa B
11. tadyena
I HATE, HATE, HATE cliffhangers. I agree with fotofix, maybe I am too emotionally invested, but I have been known not to read a series until all the books are out in a series if the author does cliffhangers. In fact, there are a few authors that I will not read now because they do that. When I finish a book , I want it all typed up with a nice little bow. I have even been known to complain if the author does not answer all the questions that came up in the book. Sorry, I hate all cliffhangers.
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