Discussion: Do Character Deaths Affect Your Rating?

discussion

SPOILER WARNING for:
+ The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas (not a spoiler if you have already read the Throne of Glass series but not the novellas as it is mentioned throughout the series).
+ The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
+ Unnamed book, author, and character. I do not mention specifics in any way but if you don’t even want to guess you might want to avert your eyes from this post!
+ Any specific character deaths are mentioned toward the BOTTOM of the post so if you have seen these warnings and need to run, don’t scroll down! 

DO CHARACTER DEATHS AFFECT YOUR BOOK RATING?

Obviously, this is a loaded question — of course character deaths affect how you feel about a book because of the connection you have with a character, how the death affected the plot, and whether it was even “necessary” or not. I think deaths of beloved characters really shake up a book, not only in the sense that it rattles our emotions as reader but it also brings in a sense of reality. There are so many different ways a character death affects us!

I had a weird moment where I was reading a book that I was really enjoying but honestly not as much as I had expected to. It was a fantastic story, a great author, and some really amazing characters but for some reason (probably the fact that I don’t have a lot of reading time anymore), I just wasn’t as emotionally invested as I thought I should be. Then a character death happened and I was SOBBING. Literally sobbing. Thank goodness I was alone (well, as alone as you can be listening to an audiobook in your car — what’s up, guy in the car next to me? I just went through a traumatic experience, OKAY?) because while reactions from other people told me something like this was coming, I was A) in denial, B) not sure who might be at risk, and C) wondering if maybe it wasn’t even a death but just a THING that happened. Of course, the author made it WORSE with the way they wrote the reactions of other characters, the love interest, and really how the whole death went down in the first place. I was totally wrecked and I really didn’t see the emotional wreckage coming.

Here is the weird part that I don’t know how to articulate when talking about character deaths… I actually liked the book more because the author killed off a character that I really, really loved. (Seriously, they were one of my favorites.) I know part of that is because it really got me more emotionally involved. At a time where I was having a hard time getting good chunks of reading time in a just couldn’t fully immerse myself in a book, this character death was like, “HERE, let me throw you face first into some feels!” and feels were had by all. When I wasn’t as connected as I wanted to be, this character’s abrupt death pulled me straight into the action and also allowed me to see a different side of all the of the other main characters as well. I got to see a side of them that I hadn’t previously seen at all and I connected with them on one more level that really brought me even further into the experience. Because of all this, I actually ended up rating the book higher than I might have, so even though it sounds strange, often times character deaths make me rate a book higher, even if I’m left without one of my beloveds.

I also appreciate that a death of a main character really brings a sense of reality to a plot. Sure, we’d love for all of our precious favorites to make it through the huge battle, win the war, and all go home with their ships, living happily ever after… but more often than not, the odds are bound to take someone from a group. You just can’t go through what some of these characters go through and not lose a person (or two. Or three). It’s only so realistic to see so many secondary or tertiary characters die while preserving the core group of main characters. Sure, it can happen sometimes but the sense of vulnerability really has to be proven in a plot. There are only so many ways a group can be invincible and if nothing ever happens to them, it’s not exciting or suspenseful to watch them fight the fight. ** SPOILER FOR HARRY POTTER ** For example, there’s no way that all of the good guys would survive the Battle of Hogwarts. It’s just not possible to have a battle that big and not lose good people. I still remember crying my eyes out at the deaths in the last book and the loss of some of my favorite characters. It’s too hard to lose the pure of heart and fun-loving characters and each time I watch the movies, I still cry at their loss.

Of course, not everyone reacts to character deaths the same way. We all have different connections, see different interpretations, and place different values on the people and pieces of a story. When it comes to killing off characters, it’s hard to say what’s the “right” thing to do. I don’t think there really is a right or wrong way to handle it but obviously readers want to feel like it wasn’t totally senseless and that there was a purpose to a death. It doesn’t always have to have a specific reason but I think people feel more upset when they don’t understand why a death was “necessary” or important to a plot. Sometimes it may not have a specific purpose other than to expose vulnerability of an invincible group and that may seem like a small concept but it can shake up an entire series. ** SPOILER FOR THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE ** For something that happened in a novella, you wouldn’t think it would be so important to such a major series but the story of Celaena and Sam is such an important one. Sam was such a wonderful character and I think he’s truly my favorite love interest of the entire series, even still. There were so many reasons that this horrific character death was so important and it’s something I’ve always appreciated from Sarah J. Maas. As awful as it was and as sad as I still am, Sam’s death was so important to the series. It totally and absolutely changed Celaena. It made her colder. It inspired vengeance. It gave her PTSD, essentially. It shook a main character who thought she was totally invincible and gave her something to fear and we shared that fear with her. This death set the course of the whole series and if you don’t read the novellas, I don’t think the impact is nearly as strong. It may have seemed totally unjust but it truly set the series into motion an an entirely different emotional level.


How do you feel about character deaths and the way the affect your reading experience? Do you ever rate a book HIGHER because of the death of a character you liked?

9 thoughts on “Discussion: Do Character Deaths Affect Your Rating?

  1. Nicole @ Nicole's Novel Reads

    I don’t rate a book lower or higher if a main character or a well liked character is killed off. Sometimes death is crucial to the plot of the story. It sends a message and creates a valid point. Often action speaks louder than words so a death will symbolize more than something that is said verbally.

  2. Charleen

    I don’t know that a death ever specifically affected my rating. But the way it’s handled will absolutely influence my experience of the book as a whole, and by extension the rating. I may respect that an author wasn’t afraid to “go there,” but at the same time get a little eye-rolly about how that death is portrayed. When it’s done right, though… damn. I think my favorite character death (no specifics) was one that I didn’t see coming at all, but afterwards it was like, well of course this had to happen.

  3. Kay @ It's a Book Life

    What a question! So… After some thought and reading your post I have realized that there is only one way that a character death can change my rating down for a book, and that is if it is done poorly. What I mean by poorly is if it didn’t make sense, or characters reactions were not handled well, or if it could have easily been avoided and I felt like the author was just doing it to do it. This doesn’t happen very often, but there is one book that came to mind right away that I felt this way about. :/ Anyway, great post!

  4. Lauren @ SERIESous Book Reviews

    If a character death really surprised me or added to the story in a way that makes it better, it definitely affects my rating. I probably up it a star truthfully. Also, I figure if a character death causes me to cry, it shows how invested I am in the story. It makes the read a little more memorable.

    I think it takes a lot of guts for an author to kill off an important character. You want to keep fans (they are what drives your sales) but you also want to create the best story ever and that might come at the expense of losing a major character. Like you said with the Throne of Glass series, I think Maas does a fantastic job of moving the story forward even at the expense of her characters (and her readers). I don’t think anyone can deny the affect her character deaths have on the story.

  5. Chrystal

    Character deaths do not affect my rating. I do think they can affect your reading experience, especially if you liked a character do much. Your Harry Potter example is perfect – it didn’t change my love for the books, but it did make me think a lot and reflect back on each character.

    Sometimes character deaths don’t bother me, but if it’s a character that I’m really invested in then game over and the water work open up. I can get attached to characters so much that their emotional journeys affect me.

  6. Amy

    This is a really interesting topic! And also, I TOTALLY agree with you about the Assassin’s Blade!
    Can I guess what the first book you were talking about was? (Perhaps… Divergent?)
    I do feel like my rating is affected by deaths. Not negatively or positively just because someone’s gone, but because it generally changes the course of the book, and is really important to the story. There’s no way to “objectively” rate a book without taking deaths into account, because the story would be so different without it, don’t you think?

  7. Tessa

    You make some great points! Character deaths are not really a make or break for me with ratings, but they can sway me in one direction or the other. For example, I really hate unnecessary and excessive character deaths. Like when an author kills a bunch of characters off at once, I do not have time to fully process what happened. There are times when death can be beneficial to plot and character development, like with Celaena, and there are other times when it is a cop-out or a shortcut to add action to a story. I think that character deaths should always have a meaning or a greater purpose behind them.
    I think that the Harry Potter series excelled in using deaths for character development. I will not go into spoilers, but Harry lost some people who were close to him, which just inspired him to fight harder. The loss made Harry stronger and added a lot of sympathy to the series.

  8. Lauren @ Bookmark Lit

    I’m late on this post but I love it! I totally agree with everything. I can’t think of a specific time where a character death directly impacted my rating, but it can totally make or break the book in general, if that makes sense?

    I TOTALLY AGREE ABOUT SAM. He was absolutely my favorite love interest and I’m still holding out hope that he somehow comes back to life or never really died (not possible but whatever).

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