ISLAND OF EXILES (just released) is my fifth published novel in the Akitada series.
My first publisher chose two novels out of order (I had four completed in 2001).
This was disappointing because the chronology of Akitada’s career matters, but as a new and totally naïve writer I didn’t argue the point. Now I know that was a mistake.
I’m with Penguin now, and Penguin wanted the whole series, and publishes them in order. It means that, depending on how you look at it, ISLAND OF EXILES is either # 4 or # 5.
Someone who knows about such things -- I think it was Sarah Weinman – once said that the fifth book in a series had better be special or the series fails. I can’t recall the precise words, but the implication was that this fifth book needs to strike out into new territory rather than re-treading the same old track. I agree, though many a series plods on successfully (as far as sales go), doing more or less the same thing again and again. I tend to abandon the series at that point (or before), but many readers seem to dislike change once they have become used to the formula.
So I am thinking about ISLAND OF EXILES today. Is it different enough from my previously novels? Well, I actually managed a twist this time. But what I really explore in this novel is how much torment man can bear without breaking physically and psychologically -- and without compromising his principles. ISLAND OF EXILES contains some horrific episodes of physical suffering.
But then, each of the Akitada novels contains its own specific test, and in that sense they are all different from each other. Each has the protagonist coping with a unique experience in his personal life or on the case. The chronology of the novels matters because life throws its tests at human beings in every phase of their lives. What may leave its mark on a young man is different from the tough choices midlife throws at him, or the challenges he faces in old age. All of them shape his character.
So, whether I count ISLAND OF EXILES as # 5, or THE HELL SCREEN (first published in 2003, to be reissued 2008), I don’t think there will ever be anything formulaic about the series.