“Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me With My Mouth Hanging Open”

This week the Top Ten Tuesday meme at The Broke and the Bookish allows for any past topic to be chosen. This is a perfect opportunity to go through their previous topics and pick out a cool one that I missed. “Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me With My Mouth Hanging Open” caught my eye, although only after I started writing up my list did I realize that I couldn’t actually think of ten books for this…

But the ones that I did think of are worth talking about, so I’m still doing the list.

Massive spoilers follow, due to the nature of the topic. Some spoilers are much more explicit than others. The first one is the most explicit of all.

1. Blood and Iron: I guess I just don’t expect my fae stories to end with the characters unleashing a dragon on the world in a plot to reveal the existence of the Otherworld to the human population. Or the main character giving up her soul. Or King Arthur dying.

Borrowed from georgerrmartin.com

2. A Storm of Swords: I should note that, no, I’m not going with A Game of Thrones. Maybe it was because back then, when I’d first read it, I hadn’t read enough fantasy to have a good reference point for which characters tend to live or die. Or maybe it was because I always thought of ASOIAF as having an ensemble cast.

But either way, Ned Stark didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the big event in the third book in the series, the RW. Those who’ve read the books will understand.

Borrowed from juliekagawa.com

3. The Iron Knight: This was a YA novel, and the fourth in a series where I’d already read the first three books. So I wasn’t expecting it to delve into the issues that might face a fae who became human, especially when he did so to be with an immortal faery queen. I didn’t expect them to address how he might feel, being weaker than he was, or how his life might be like when he aged and his wife didn’t.

Of course, this was still a YA novel–none of it stuck. But just the fact that it was addressed in the first place was enough to surprise me, and the deep feeling of sacrifice permeating those passages definitely contributed to the story.

Borrowed from carrieslager.files.wordpress.com

4. Feed: The possibility that this could have happened never even entered my mind. No Ned Stark-like situation here; the character in question was clearly the main character. She was the first person narrator.

This is a zombie novel, so I wouldn’t have been surprised at any other death. Except this one.

Borrowed from davidanthonydurham.com

5. Acacia: It’s interesting how much this shocked me, since A Game of Thrones didn’t. My working theory is that Ned Stark didn’t have anything big in the works prior to his death that could change the game. The death in question here, however, absolutely shocked me.

For added pain, his character was just one step away changing everything for the better. I could literally picture how the world would have been, because he was that close. Instead, it all fell to pieces. Did not see that coming at all.

Borrowed from dianapeterfreund.com

6. Ascendant: I was pretty surprised by some of the places that this book went. I mean, the first person narrator got brain damage. I’m sure it’s been done, but I’ve never seen it before, and certainly didn’t expect it in a YA urban fantasy.

Also, the book is about killer unicorns, which is completely irrelevant, but impossible not to mention. Unfortunately, there isn’t another book under contract, and this feels like it was meant to be the second book in a series, not the final book in a duology.

Borrowed from brightweavings.com

7. A Song of Arbonne: My reason for being surprised by it is a little different from the other entries on this list. I had previously read two Guy Gavriel Kay books (Tigana and Lions of al-Rassan).

This allowed me to develop a formula in my head for how I reacted to his books: I began reading them, got hooked, fell in love with the characters, only for something tragic and amazing to happen to tear my heart out and stomp on it. After getting over that last bit, I would come to accept that this book was one of the greatest I have ever read.

But as I was getting to the end of A Song of Arbonne, I started wondering why there was no heart-stomping happening. I even started to believe that it wouldn’t happen, that this book would refrain from a poignant, tragic moment. This false sense of security allowed the eventual poignant scene in question to conduct a sneak attack. I didn’t see it coming, because I’d decided the attack wasn’t going to happen after all. But it did, and it came in a form that I hadn’t even imagined might happen.

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10 Responses to “Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me With My Mouth Hanging Open”

  1. Oh my goodness. Feed left me like that too! I’ve never read a book where that happened. Ever.

  2. Great topic. I’ve not read any of these, but now I might have to look into a couple of them.

  3. Psycho Gecko says:

    Is it just a matter of deaths, or do twist endings play into it as well?

    The art of the twist ending is a delicate one indeed, as it’s been overdone badly by some. Shyamalan’s no O’Henry. A death seems like it needs more time after it to fully feel it out and see some effects, though a series lets you manage that in the next book.

    Unfortunately, I don’t read so much pure fantasy anymore. Some of the horror stuff I read could do it, but the surprise death is often a big part of that. A good example of one very short online piece that doesn’t feature a surprise death (yet) is SCP-1221, but you may not be acquainted with the SCP Foundation site. Or the CreepyPasta “Ben Drowned”.

    • Marie Erving says:

      I counted anything that left me surprised. Most of the books I listed do include deaths, but I’d say only two of them were chosen just because of who died.

      I wouldn’t actually say that I was thinking of twists, because if a work has a twists, that implies that you’re supposed to know what direction the book is going. Most of the books on this list aren’t formula-heavy books, in my opinion.

      I do actually know what you mean about waiting to see the effects of the death. The next book in the series after Feed is pretty much entirely about the aftermath of the death in the first book. I think that in rare cases, though, you kind of already know what the effects will be, because you know exactly where the character was going. And in some cases, the aftermath might not matter more than the moment of the loss because of how deeply engaged the narrative was with the character.

      But I guess that all varies with the writing.

      I have actually heard of the SCP Foundation, but haven’t had time to check it out. Is it good?

      • Psycho Gecko says:

        It varies from SCP to SCP. That happens since they’re written by different people.

        Its story is that it is a database of various unusual items, places, creatures, or even memes that are known to the SCP Foundation (Secure. Contain. Protect.). The works are all written in a formal scientific format that involves redacting or otherwise hiding certain portions of the work which can make things much worse to think about, such as in the case of SCP-231, aka “Special Personnel Requirements”.

        The list is currently over 1,000 SCPs long, as they started a second series at 1,000 and up, which focused on urban legends and folktales written as SCPs early on.

        Notable SCPs that are worth reading in no particular order:
        SCP-173, The Sculpture (the first, and the source creepypasta actually predates the similar Dr. Who creature.)
        SCP-231, Special Personnel Requirements
        SCP-087, The Stairwell
        SCP-303, The Doorman
        SCP-1529, King of the Mountain
        SCP-823, Carnival of Horrors
        SCP-426, I am a Toaster
        SCP-993, Bobble the Clown
        SCP-701, The Hanged King’s Tragedy
        SCP-472, The Bloodstone (especially the interview)

        And many others. Heck, they even made Bigfoot, SCP-1000, a little creepy and put a new spin on the whole Roswell/Area 51 thing, SCP-1051.

      • Marie Erving says:

        Thanks for the recommendations. It’s really good to have a starting point with that type of story, I usually find.

      • Psycho Gecko says:

        It’s not any one big story, just these various SCPs. Some of the entries and logs do tell a story in a way, such as a testing log for an SCP that creates excessive amounts of minty-tasting green goop. One test was on pizza, with it being noted that the agent doing the testing kept the pizza to himself. The next entry was that agent’s phone being dunked in the goop for a test.

        The stories listed on the site don’t normally require knowing much more than about the SCP mentioned in the story itself, and they aren’t all canon either.

      • Marie Erving says:

        Then it doesn’t matter where I start, or how many stories I read. Got it. I can just go through the stories I’ve heard are good, then.

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