Maintaining Tension In A Sequel: Bound By Firelight Book Review

There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of a book’s sequel. You adored the first book, and have been relentlessly keeping an eye out for updates on the author’s Instagram… then the day comes.

The book is here.

It’s nerve-wracking for readers to pick up a sequel, and hope that they love it as much as the first book. There’s now an expectation that’s been building for months, and sometimes years.

But as intense as that experience is for a reader, for an author it’s so much worse. There can be a fear of letting down these readers you now feel like you owe something to. After all, they’ve been waiting on you and your story.

Then there’s the niggly fear that… what if the sequel doesn’t live up to the first book? Readers might be disappointed.

Before we get any further — let’s make one thing clear. Bound By Firelight by Dana Swift is an excellent sequel. I loved this book and thought it did a great job of following up Cast In Firelight. In this post, I’ll be reviewing the series and using the series as a case study for maintaining tension across a series of books.

Hopefully, you’ll find some tips here that you can apply to your own books.

What is Bound By Firelight About?

Bound By Firelight is the sequel to Cast In Firelight by Dana Swift, and the books currently form the Wickery series. The Wickery series follows Adraa and Jatin, royal heirs, competitors and betrothed through an arranged marriage formed between their kingdom when they were children.

Adraa and Jatin both have secrets, and their own spells to master as they each aim to overcome the criminal underbelly of Wickery. But when the pair cross paths using their secret identities, they must figure out a way to work together… and deal with the consequences when their identities are revealed to each other.

In the sequel, Bound By Firelight Adraa and Jatin must deal with a Wickery blinded by deception. While in the first book they fought for their city, in this book they must also learn to fight for themselves, and for each other.

What I liked about Bound By Firelight?

As in Cast In Firelight, Dana Swift’s prose and characters are riveting. There are lovely details and character descriptions aren’t overburdened, with just a few images allowed to shine.

She owns freckles like she’s collecting them.

Bound By Firelight, Dana Swift.

I enjoyed the way there was carry over from the first book, yet an expansion of what was already established. We get to see more colour magic and the boundaries that can be pushed within the system, which Adraa discovers over the course of the book.

There’s a greater emphasis in this book on relationships outside of Jatin and Adraa. In particular, Adraa’s relationship with her sister, Prisha, was a highlight, as Swift took the opportunity to explore the toxic way women internalise comparison. I am excited reading stories of women supporting and encouraging each other, as for a significant number of years there were (and still are) so many stories of women being enemies, competitors, or isolated from other women in favour of their male companions.

“Don’t compare us. Don’t let others do it and, more importantly, we are going to stop each other from doing it.”

Bound By Firelight, Dana Swift.

What can we learn about maintaining tension in a sequel from Bound By Firelight?

1. Address the conflict that remains at the close of the previous book.

This is why readers have picked up the sequel, after all. Don’t take too long to get back into things, but begin picking up the threads of what you left undone.

For example, at the start of Bound By Firelight we witness Adraa stand trial for the “crimes” she committed at the end of Cast In Firelight. We get insight into her emotions about the climax of the first book, as well as an update on the status and political climate of the world of Wickery. This sets the scene for those questions to be addressed, but not in the way we expect (courtroom drama wasn’t what I expected, but I was here for it!)

2. Put your characters in a situation unlike the first book – where they can learn something new

At the close of the first book, readers will likely feel as though they know the characters pretty well. They’ve spent a good amount of time with them and hopefully enjoyed the journey. But to sustain reader interest in your characters, you need to show readers there’s more to learn.

By changing the situation of the characters, putting them in a new setting for example, is a great way to highlight aspects of their character which may have otherwise been hidden.

In Bound By Firelight, Adraa is removed from the context (and identity) she feels most confident. In the Dome, Wickery’s prison, she is no longer a crime fighter but now a criminal. She needs to find new sources of power when her usual methods are stripped away. It’s nerve-wracking to see her undergo such difficulty, but ultimately this leads to a bigger pay-off for readers.

3. Switch up the power dynamics

In Cast in Firelight, Adraa is definitely the leader of the group. But through the separation of the main characters (Jatin and Adraa spend the bulk of the book apart) we’re able to see them explore different opportunities. This also leads to developing new relationships, which offers more potential tension for the plot.

While having characters separated for the bulk of the book can be risky, it’s often effective. The majority of the time, particularly in multiple POV the danger can be that one side of the story is favoured by readers more than the other. You don’t want readers too eager to ‘get back to’ the other character, so it’s a tricky line to balance. Overall, Bound By Firelight maintains interest in both characters, with only occasional dips in Jatin’s story.

This was combated by the introduction and focus on new characters, which I appreciated.

By allowing your characters to take on new roles, or different experiences, they have the opportunity to grow independently of each other which can have a broader impact when they’re eventually reunited. While this change isn’t overly evident at the end of Bound By Firelight the groundwork has been laid if the author writes another book in the Wickery series.

Final Thoughts

The Wickery series is a fun, well-written story. Action-packed, fresh fantasy, which fans of young adult fiction will enjoy. The sequel carries on and will satisfy readers who enjoyed the first book.

How do you maintain tension in a sequel? What’s the best sequel you’ve read? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Haven’t had enough books? Come say hi to me on social media by searching @stephhuddlestonwriting or by clicking the buttons below.

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