The whole concept for this post started in part because of chance, and in part because of publishing schedules. But either way, I ended up reading the third book in all but one of the following trilogies within a few months of each other. And in every case, it seemed like the third book was the one that floundered or disappointed.
The third book in a trilogy is inherently the hardest.* By that time, readers have developed firm opinions about the characters, and certain expectations about the plot and the outcome. It's very, very difficult to make the majority of your readership happy. And authors often seem to feel the pressure to both meet and defy expectations (aka put in the most shocking emotional twist possible for the sake of emotion rather than what makes sense for the plot).
For these trilogies specifically, I think the formula I discussed in Part 1 – which is inherently character centric – thus can have a lot of trouble when it comes to world building. The trick, with these dystopians, seems to be to balance focusing on the growth and development of the heroine (not to mention her love story) along with the overthrow of the dystopia.
Figuring out how to write this post has been inherently difficult. Because it's impossible to talk about these books and my issues with dystopians without spoiling the endings. So I have gone out and taught myself how to include a spoiler tag, so that the part of this post that contains spoilers will be hidden unless you click on it.
Here are the books I'm going to talk about:
The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Lauren DeStefano
The Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth
The Matched Trilogy, Ally Condie
The Legend Trilogy, Marie Lu
The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins
Look, I figured out how to make a spoiler button! Click to read the rest of the post, if you've read all the above or don't mind spoilers.
Unsurprisingly, the similarities that started in the concept of each series carry through the third book. In every one of the above books, the heroine has become inextricably linked to a revolution that is looking to overthrow the society.* In other words, she's taken from the more individual setting of the first books where she overcame her battle (e.g. Tris with her fellow Dauntless initiates, Katniss in the arena, June hunting down Day), and placed into the center of a much larger conflict. For me, two of the above succeeded, and three failed, and it was connected to the prominence of the heroine's involvement in the revolution, and the amount of power she wields.
In the books where the structure worked – Champion and Mockingjay – the authors managed to set their heroines fairly high up in the rebellion. June had been set up from the beginning of the series as the revolution's prodigy, and Day, of course, was the symbol of the people. By their positions of power within the rebellion, their influence in altering the course of the rebellion felt real. And though Katniss has less power, and is misused as a symbol, she manages to take action to reclaim her power and not let herself be a tool of the rebellion anymore. I was satisfied with both of these endings, even if the Shocking Moments in both irritated me.
As for the Divergent trilogy, one could argue that Tris is very high up in her rebellion, but it kind of depends which rebellion you're talking about. The one in the city? The genetics one that she and Tobias stumble into? To be honest, I really don’t recall the plot of the book that well. It was jumbled and had too many ideas shoved into one book. So maybe it's not fair for me to say this is a worldbuilding misstep; it's more of a plotting/pacing issue. Maybe I would have been more convinced of the success of the ending if the plot had been given some space to breathe. In any case, Tris, like Katniss, changes the course of the rebellion through her actions… but in her case, it's not so much a reclaiming of power, more a fulfillment of the ultimate bravery she'd been searching for throughout the series.
And no, in case you're wondering, I didn't like the ending. But it had been spoiled for me that someone died, so I went into it prepared, and thus didn't have as negative a reaction as some. I really only liked the first book in the series, in any case.
In Reached, the third book of the Matched trilogy, the three main characters, but particularly Cassia, have very menial roles in the rebellion, even though they're called to help find a cure for the plague ravaging Society. I think Cassia's role in discovering the cure (through her magic sorting ability!) felt awkward because it didn't really require much growth on her part to beat the plague; it was due to an innate skill. And I think the ending also felt less satisfying to me because it wasn't the evils of the Society she was overcoming, it was a plague. The Society had already fallen by the time the book ended, and so the conflict that was set up in the first two books kind of fizzled out. So even though Cassia had an important role in the disease, she had no power or influence in the revolution itself.
Sever, the third book in the Chemical Garden trilogy, also has a failure of tension. Rhine doesn't do anything to cure the disease or save the world, except to exist and have unique DNA. Granted, she has to allow Vaughn to experiment on her, and that wasn't easy, but by having evil Vaughn be the one to cure the disease, it takes power and influence away from Rhine. As such, the cure of the disease occurs entirely off-screen. Oh, there's a revolution that her twin is involved in too, but it vanishes before the end of the book.
So in a way, Sever was the biggest failure in my measure of heroines and revolutions. But it was also my favorite third book of the above series, despite its flaws. It brings the series back to the more claustrophobic settings of book 1 and away from the more expanded series of book 2, which wasn't as captivating. And it gets back to its other strength, the fascinating and disturbing view of the relationships between Rhine, Linden, and Cecily. Even this book's Shocking Moment didn't bother me as much as some of the other ones, because the way the characters responded was original and interesting.
In writing this post, I've found another similarity between these series: all of them contain a Shocking Moment that has little to do with the rest of the plot. Well, except The Matched Trilogy. Cookie for Ally Condie! But the existence of all those Shocking Moments is, perhaps, a discussion for another time. (Part 3?)
What makes the third book in a trilogy work for you?
*I say as we get closer to working on Book 3 of the Prophecy Breakers... O.O