Endings that just didn’t cut it

Have you ever read a book and loved every moment of it until… that ending! Two pages (or even worse sometimes only two paragraphs!) can completely change your opinion of a novel. The reasons for a bad ending can vary: the outcome didn’t really fit in with the rest of the story or the personality of the characters; the story just ended without any real closure or explanation; you as the reader managed to come up with a much more feasible and entertaining ending than the author; or the worst of all – nothing happens!

Here I am going to go through some of my least favourite endings (and why). I am not attempting to slander these authors, in fact, one of these author’s tops my favourite list; these are just times when I feel they didn’t quite cut it!

Oh and of course *SPOILER ALERT*. It is difficult to discuss an ending without having any spoilers so if you are planning on reading any of these books (Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater; The Five Greatest Warriors – Matthew Reilly; Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer; Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows – J K Rowling) probably best that you navigate away about now.

You’re gone? Okay – so on with the spoilers.

So first, Shiver by Maggie Steifvater. Let me begin by saying I enjoyed this book, thoroughly enjoyed it in fact. The author has a beautifully poetic style, the book is lusciously descriptive and the characters are genuinely likeable. Maggie Stiefvater even managed to answer all of those ‘what-if’ questions that inevitably pop into my head while I read. But then – the ending. Arghhh. The book just ended! No explanation. No understanding. No nothing. She slaps down the revelation that Sam is still alive and not only that but is human without providing any hint as to how this came about. Of course there is a sequel, but at the moment I am so dissapointed with the end that I don’t know that I will pick it up!

The Five Greatest Warriors (5GW) by Matthew Reilly. Matthew you are my favourite author, I have read (strike that), I OWN every single one of your books (most of them in hard cover because I can’t wait for the paperback release) but with the latest book I was left wanting. For those of you that have never read a Matthew Reilly novel let me say they are action… suspense… more action… more action… and more action. He loves a cliff hanger and had no issues with ‘killing his darlings’ (usually quite violently!) in 5GW we know from the beginning of the book that the final battle is going to come down to a father and son “one fights for all, the other for none”. While reading the book I came up with a great twist – the 5th warrior should be Jack’s father, facing-off against his brother Rapier; instead the book had the highly predictable ending with Jack as the 5th warrior – no need to say I was dissapointed.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. This book had alot more wrong with it than just the end but that is an issue for a different post. In my humble opinion the biggest problem with this book was the ending and by ending in this case I mean the climax of the novel. Climax of the novel? I hear you cry. But there was no climax. Because NOTHING HAPPENED! She introduced three thousand new characters (so many that she needed an appendix in the back to assist the reader) and then those characters did nothing, there was no fight, no-one died (except for the traitor which no-one really cares about anyway!) and they all went on to happily live another day. In my opinion there is nothing worse than an ending where you get the feeling that the author was too attached to the characters to allow them to die.

Which of course brings me to the other end of the scale – the book where you kill of every single minor character in order to save the lives of the three main characters. Know which book I am referring to? Of course you do. Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows by JK Rowling. Now again I believe there was more wrong with this book than just the ending (the characters wandered around in circles for about 300 pages) but the ending is what sticks with us. I am going to say it – Harry needed to die! Not come back! Not have some ridiculous epilogue to show his life is wonderful. He should have died, properly. Saved everyone, sure. Been a hero, definately. But still he should have carked it (Aussie slang for those not familiar). And really did she need to kill Tonks and Lupin, leaving their brand new baby orphaned – it’s a children’s book!

Anyway that is enough with my venting for one day. Please feel free to leave comments and tell me why I am wrong about these books, or let me know what books you think ‘got it wrong’.

The Exasperated Novelist

18 responses to “Endings that just didn’t cut it

  1. I have to agree, I found Harry’s ‘not death’ very suspicious and I felt she could have spared one of either Tonks or Lupin. Whose actual death I completely missed, by the way – only realised they’d died when Harry was thinking about them. I still haven’t worked out where we saw them dead before Harry remembered it. I would have been gutted if Harry had died, but it probably would have elevated the book to literature if he had.

  2. The most disappointing ending for me ever was Mockingjay. I hated how hopeless it was, the death of her sister, her murdering another human being (the politician), how she couldn’t really love anyone anymore. Ugh!
    What a great post, btw. We gotta make the endings awesome!

  3. OMG! Noooooo. Lol. Ok, let’s start from the beginning. I completely agree with you on Breaking Dawn, but obviously the series had more serious problems than the ending. I still cannot believe that I read all four books (and the leaked Midnight Sun eeshh).

    I have been blessed so far. I’ve always liked the endings of my favorite books and those I hadn’t liked I didn’t bother to finish (oops). And… I might agree that the epilogue in HPDH was odd… and that Tonks and Lupin shouldn’t have died… BUT you said it: it’s a children’s book. If Harry had died this would have been done to satisfy the adult readers. WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS? How would they feel if they most favorite character of ALL TIME had died? They might never pick up a book again! Now that my own rant is over, I should say that Rowling could have at least killed off Hermione or Ron. I mean, I could live knowing Ron died. 😛 And yes, they did wander, but you have to admit that the climax was GENIUS (the battle, what Harry said, the words still haunt me).

    And I think that the point you made about the killing your darlings part is excellent. I might have to keep that in mind for my own WIP’s (sigh). How does a writer ever learn to do that without pulling their hear out??? Anyway, thank you for this post. Even though I felt the need to rant, I appreciate your comments. 😉

    • Okay I will give you that one. Killing off Harry may have been a bit hard for the youngsters to deal with. And I agree Ron could have bit the bullet without so much as a shed tear! ‘Killing your darlings’ I think was originally coined by the King of darling killing the one and only Stephen King. Knowing that anyone in the book can die (except maybe the protag in a 1st POV story) certainly increases the suspense!

  4. I was excited to be reading Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie. Tragedies are tough to pull off but one done right can be very poignant. I could tell he was setting up the perfect tragedy. He gave his protagonist every chance to turn away from vengeance. Ever kill filled her with nothing more than emptiness. I was sure she would either turn away from vengeance, or complete the vengeance but then die herself, completing the tragedy. Unfortunately, she had her vengeance and a happy ending too, to my immense disappointment.

    Also, one of the assassins tracking her turned out to be a friend. It would have worked with better foreshadowing.

    • I haven’t read it. But I agree with you that tragedies are tough to pull off. But it’s even more of a tragedy to set up a novel where the protag can die (and should) and then not follow through! Thanks for your comment.

  5. I haven’t read any of these, but you’ve described the elements about ending that make me throw the book at the wall.

    Predictability, everything working out perfect, or getting zero explanation for things that NEED explaining (even if there is a sequel, throw me a bone!) all drive me INSANE.

    I want to be surprised. I want to feel that, even if things work out, that it worked out believably. (Yes, even in fantasy, things should be believable in a fantastical way :))

    Great post!

    • The leaving the ending open for a sequel thing is hard to get right. It is fine to provide a hook for a second (or subsequent) novel but the book still needs to read as a whole story on its own.

  6. Great post! I couldn’t agree more. When the ending sucks (or is non-existant), I feel like the author has just wasted my time. When the ending is on a short, YA novel (as per my recent post), that’s frustrating. But the prize for my all-time, greatest, most annoying ending ever — the one that literally had me throwing a book across the room, and vowing to never read the author ever again — has to go to to Louise Cusack an d the Shadow Through Time Trilogy.

    The ending of the last book in the trilogy completrely invalidated (for me) the entire series. I wasted 900+ pages of reading time. It’s a fantasy series, executed brilliantly by Cusack. Great characters, well realised worlds, tension, conflict, love triangles, self-sacrifice for the greater good…. You name it, she did it. And she did it well. Then there’s the epilogue.

    If someone had simply torn out the 1 page epilogue before they gave me book 3, I would be singing Cusack’s praises and ranking her as one of the best fantasy writers ever. But I read it, and it ruined my entire experience. Why? ***SPOILER***Because instead of dying, it turns out our hero was magically transported to a strange place. And, in the last sentence of the book, we’re told that it’s the Garden of Eden.

    WTF? How do we get taken from an awesome new world into Christian mythos on the last page?? There’s been no word of this link to Christian mythology throughout the rest of the book! But when you think about it, I suppose that you could draw parallels…. And that’s when I threw the book across the room. I felt tricked, I felt the author had tried ot make me feel stupid. And that was the end of that.

    • HaHaHa… Haven’t read it but totally get why you hated the end. That is the ultimate cop out. Why is it that authors are so unwilling to kill off their characters – the lure of continuing the series at some later date calls to them or they just can’t face murdering their imaginary friend.

  7. I completely agree with your post with respect to Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling.
    I believe the end of a book is the make or break point (provided the book was interesting and exciting enough for me to make it to the end).
    Further to your examples of poor endings – here is an example for one of the better endings I have come across. The end of a book also has the capacity to bring together the content of the entire novel. A classic example of this is the novel The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom. For those of you who automatically think of the movie – the novel and the movie are completely different and unrelated. The final line of the book (and I won’t share it with you – because it will ruin the book, if you haven’t read it), is absolutely brilliant and an extremely clever concept!!!

  8. I remember actually screaming “NO!” when I saw that there would be an epilogue to the Deathly Hallows. After I read the epilogue I just wanted to throw up. I didn’t mind that everyone essential survived, that was just fine by me (though I didn’t find it all that believable). However, I couldn’t even recognize the younger Harry as the same person as the epilogue-Harry. Also I’d never liked who Harry ended up with and the epilogue was like it was being force-fed to me.

    The problem was that Rowling gave the reader an ending that left nothing to the imagination, almost forcefully pushed your mind away from the book you’d just read. I feel that she sated only her own expectations of what happy life is like. I felt like it was sugarcoated to the point that I felt like I’d been poisoned.

    The book wasn’t a romance novel so why did it have a romance novel ending? Beats me.

      • It sounds like she was trying to do the opposite of Lord of the Rings, where Frodo was so changed by what he’d been through that he couldn’t go back to his earlier life. But LoTR has a great ending (not just the last few pages, but the entire ending), so that’s a high bar to set.

        I have yet to meet anybody who liked the epilogue.

  9. Pingback: Monday at the Movies – Harry Potter 7 Part 2 Review | Jody Moller on Movies, Manuscripts and Mayhem

  10. I agree with pretty much everything that you said… EXCEPT with 5 greatest warriors. How on earth was wolf going to be the 5th greatest warrior and fight rapier. Both of them were power hungry bastards so that would make the prophecy “one fights for all , the other for one” pretty meaningless. They were both selfish and thought of only themselves so it was inevitable that Jack West Jr would have to be the 5th Greatest warrior. He fought for all and his father fought for himself.

    Anyway thats just my opinion and I totally agree with everything about Harry Potter and Breaking Dawn (I still can’t believe that I read them all).

    • Oh… I completely agree that Wolf was a nasty piece of work but I am sure Reilly could have found away around that (acting under duress for some reason etc…) Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

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