This review may contain spoilers for Stoneheart by Charlie FletcherSophomore novels are tricky, whether they're simply the author's second offering at publication (which is often written on a much tighter deadline than their first) or, as in this case, the second volume in a series.Trilogies are especially prone to this. In the second book, we've established the world and the characters, the plot as been set in motion, but the final climax is still more than an entire book away.Still, there are tricks that can be employed. J.K. Rowling was able to structure her series with seven subplots, allowing the overarching plot to build in the background. Even so, she did end up with a couple of books where she seemed to be marking time until the seventh book. For my money Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince showed this tendency the most.In Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart trilogy, this second volume likewise suffers from what writers will term "the saggy middle". This is more noticeable because Fletcher separates his two protagonists and, to allow them to keep pace with each other, he pads George's subplot with several events that don't advance the plot, but rather mark time.Having chosen "the hard way" at the end of the previous volume, Stoneheart, George finds he must battle in three bizarre duels in order to appease the stone he offended. Meanwhile, Edie's glinting abilities are targeted by the Walker, who's machinations her on a bizarre journey to the House of the Lost.Ironhand ends with much more of a cliffhanger than did Stoneheart, but at the same time, sets up the third and final book Silvertongue in a way that sets it apart from the previous too. But more about that in a future review.A common question to booksellers is whether a series can be read out-of-order. In my opinion, the best series are that ones where each book can stand alone, but give the reader something extra when read in sequence. The Stoneheart trilogy, unfortunately is not one of those series. Jumping into Ironhand will leave the reader at a serious disadvantage.Fletcher's descriptive prose continues to make his books' minor deficiencies easy to accept, and though his fondness for the simile is evident in his frequent use of the device, the freshness of the images therein continue to delight.This review also appears at Boxes of Paper.