Fantasy readers - when you come across a series that's new to you...?

...and the book that made you aware of the series is not the first, what do you do (assuming it sounds interesting enough to read)?

- Start reading from book 1.

- Read the book that made you aware of the series and then (if you liked it) go and find book 1 and carry on from there.

- Assume you won't understand it, because you've missed the start, and look for something else to read.

Assume that if you wanted to start with book 1, it would be easy to find.

Apologies if this seems like a dumb question. My critique group is currently reading the start of book 3 of my Barefoot Healer series. They're trying to convince me that I shouldn't assume the reader has read the previous books, so we're debating when and how often I should put in references to books 1 and 2, and how much explanation they require.

(Top suggested category: Sports -> Fantasy Sports. Too obvious, really...)

Update:

I forgot to mention - assume also that the books are clearly labelled as "book 1", "book 2", "book 3" and so on.

Update 2:

@Buona giornata! - yes, I'm the guy with the mystery set in the wizard school. It's called Death & Magic, and is on sale now. (See my profile for details.) There's a sequel, Plague & Poison, which features the same main character, but isn't set in the school.

Update 3:

@Daniel - the plan is for The Barefoot Healer to be a four-book series. I submitted the first one to about 15 agents, all of whom rejected or ignored it. I then decided I'd had enough of their guessing games (only one of them gave any specific reason for rejecting it, so I had no idea how far short of the mark I was falling with the rest of them), and self-published it through Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. With hindsight, there are a few things I would've done differently, but I've got no regrets.

Update 4:

Hmm. A much wider range of answers than I expected. I'll try to bear them in mind as I write and edit.

There aren't any right or wrong answers here, so I'll put it to a vote. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

18 Answers

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  • 9 years ago
    Favourite answer

    Hi Steven.

    I've read several fantasy series (and non fantasy), out of order. Examples:

    ** O'Brian's "Aubrey-Maturin" series (Read "Master & Commander 1st)

    ** Brook's "Voyage of Jerle Shanarra" series (which is the fifth trilogy of the 9)

    ** Rowling's "Harry Potter" series (read book 3 first)

    etc.

    What I've noticed in each and every one of these books, though, is that they either read as stand-alone stories or they explain enough of the previous book when they allude to past things so that I can follow along even without reading them in order.

    I think that if you either allude to important key points of the previous books and/or write each book as a stand-alone story then you have nothing to worry about in terms of readers understanding the story.

    As for my choice: I would choose to read the series in order if I could but a lot of the time authors write "prequels" in the middle of their series, which disrupts the order of the story. But it doesn't in any way confuse me. In fact, I like it when authors switch around the sequence a bit. By the time they introduce the prequel, I'm usually very interested in learning more about the history and backstory.

    What I wouldn't recommend is cutting off the story of each book and slapping a "To be continued" at the end only to pick up the next book right where the story left off. This will confuse the readers who haven't read each story in your series.

    As for references, only refer to past books when it's absolutely necessary to know. You wouldn't want to recap backstory twice in one series. So you have to ascertain which information is necessary to mention from previous books in order to understand the plot/characters at later points in the story.

    Good luck :)

  • 9 years ago

    Hey :)

    Well I have to admit, I'm not really a fantasy reader, but just hope my answer is still valid! I've read a few books that I didn't realise were part of a series until I finished it, sounds silly, but when I come across a book I think is good, I just pick it up and read it without even glancing at the blurb.

    But if you say the books are labelled, then yes, I would begin reading from the first book - I think most reader will for the reason that they will already fear that there may be stuff in there and they will not understand if they haven't read the books prior to say, book 3, which is even more true for fantasy worlds, because there's usually a lot of explanation of new worlds, magic and characters.

    I do, however, agree with your critique group. Assuming 80% of people will read from the start, you won't want to give the chance for the other 20% to feel confused. If there's something significant they need to know to understand the story, then just summarise it in a paragraph, it also provides as a reminder to readers who read your last book a year ago. It's a win-win if anything :)

    Hope that helps

    ~ JLT

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    I just encountered this in the worst way. I actually did not realize the book was part of a series. Halfway through I realized they were referring to things far too often to have never covered them before, and sure enough I was reading book 7. The FINAL book in the series.

    I opted to finish it and then backtrack to book 1. It worked in this case because each book was a stand-alone story with the same group of characters, each book devoted to a different main character.

    Typically I would never do that. I highly recommend asking your group to locate the first book in the series, perhaps at the library, and start there.

    If they want to continue reading book 3, it's important to bring them up to speed. Without the knowledge of the previous books, their experience reading book 3 will be different than those who have read it.

    However, it might make for an interesting discussion group...

  • 9 years ago

    I personally think that reading a book in the middle of the series is a bad way to start if you think that the series will be a good read. I have done that before though when I received the fifth book of the series when I still needed the previous books from 2-4. It was very confusing and still I think I'm missing some parts.

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  • 9 years ago

    Oh, I've had this experience before with a certain vampire series. I bought the third book of a six book series and understood the story, but what mainly made me want to buy the first two books was the lack of feeling I had yet for the characters. The story, the plot, and even the world of the series were executed nicely enough in the third book, but I just couldn't get the characters "emotionally". You know, like, by their explanations I'd gathered the adventures they had in the first two books, but without actually experiencing it the consequences that unfolded in the third book was just a bit "bleh".

    So anyway, I would go ahead and finish the book I bought, and THEN, if the story really does grip me, read the first two.

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    I like to start from book 1 of any series but i have mistakenly jumped in without knowing (I did this with Millenium actually and had to stop and go to book 1).

    I've noticed in fantasy most series are trilogies. If I start book 1 of, say, the 2nd or 3rd trilogy I will continue reading even though I don't know many of the characters (I did this with the dragonlance series, by reading the Twins trilogy before the first 3 books). If I am in book 2 or 3, though, I backtrack.

  • 9 years ago

    I've accidentally gotten the third or fourth book in a series out from the library by accident many times. I used to bring it back and get something else, but recently I've become more opened minded and will read the book if it interests me. I've always been able to follow the story quite easily.

    However I'm not crazy about the way some author's refer back to the previous books in the series. It just seems forced most of the time, although there's a way to do it subtly. I haven't figured it out yet.

  • A C
    Lv 5
    9 years ago

    I'd start from book one, if it was interesting enough. But knowing me i'd probably do me research before hand, on the book/author before reading and see if it was the first etc.

    I mean, I know this is different, but I got Mass Effect 2 before one... sounds stupid I know, but I thought i'd play it without the first and was thrilled by the game play and the story in itself and could be done on an individual game play. So much so I bought the first and re-done the second game, so i'd likely do that with a book if I had read a second or third book in a series, i'd go back to the first book and re-read the one I had done then progress with the series from there.

  • Beth
    Lv 5
    9 years ago

    I imitate my mother by going straight to book one, but, if I did find the book in a shop, I buy it anyway. Might as well start collecting :) Usually, I do prefer to read in a chronological order, no matter if the author has made each book standalone or not. You see the story and characters develop that way :D

    My general rule of thumb is that each novel in the series that I'm writing, has to be like a standalone novel even if it isn't. That said, I won't expect myself to introduce the characters as slowly in book two as I did in book one. I think it's just preference: would you rather each book in your series be well enough for a standalone, even if it's part of a series, and just continue the story, or add references to past books?

    My advice is that, assume the reader has read book one and two, otherwise those who have read book one and two might get impatient that they have to be refilled on what they already know happened. It'd be like the Harry Potter series (I found it irritating in the first few that I had to get told again what I already knew).

    If they'd be labelled 'book one', 'book two', etc, then you've given the heads-up to those who are new to your series. If they pull of really well as standalone novels, then they might be impressed and start from book one.

    Aren't you writing a mystery set in a wizard school? (Correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm sorry if I am.) There's the other option that you give subtle references to past books, if things in book one and two continue into book three - if you get me.

  • 6 years ago

    For one series I got the seventh book first and accidentally read most of it before I realized it was a series.

    I also once picked up the second book to a series, but I wouldn't read it until i had read the first one (this one came before the one listed above).

  • 9 years ago

    If it says it's book 1 of X then I will always start with the first one. I've noticed in some series they will have very brief recaps of important events (like one or two lines) just to remind the reader what happened in the previous book, especially if there were several years between publishing.

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