So, I recently happened across this post by Sara Brady at Barnes and Noble, suggesting decent starting points for someone wanting to come into a long series, but not necessarily wanting to start right at the beginning. Interesting idea!
The series Brady mentions include:
1. The Pride series by Shelly Laurenston, a UF/Paranormal series I’ve never heard of that does sound possibly like fun, though do I really need another long UF/Paranormal series to get into? Even if there are honey badgers and male lions exclaiming (in human form) about their beautiful hair?
2. The Animal Magnetism series by Jill Shalvis, which from the description sounds like a romance series involving veterinarians and small-town life. Brady says, “Like all Shalvis heroes, the dudes are great big burly manly men, and in this series they do things like heal wounded puppies.” I must admit, that sounds charming.
3. The In Death series by JD Robb. I’ve listened to a couple of these, chosen at random from the local library’s collection of audiobooks, and they were just okay for me. Evidently the series is up to 49. Wow. Brady suggests reading at least the first couple in order. I didn’t and it was fine, but I’m not saying she’s wrong, maybe I’d have rad the whole bunch if I’d started properly at the beginning.
4. The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, a paranormal series that I’ve heard of but haven’t tried. Brady suggests reading in order.
Well, this was all very interesting, so I wandered down to my own library, perused the shelves, and I think I’ve identified six series of each type. I think in some cases particular authors have written both series that can be read out of order and series that really ought to be read strictly in order. Here they are:
Type A: Series that may actually be better if you start in the middle:
1. Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes series. Guards! Guards! is readable, I guess, but the series gets massively better as it goes along. If I’d started with the first one, I doubt I’d have gone on to the second. Instead, I happened to start with Night Watch, still probably my favorite of all the Diskworld novels. Then I worked my way out from the middle until I’d read the rest of the series. This worked really well and I always recommend Night Watch to someone wondering where to start the Diskworld books.
2. Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Whimsy mysteries. There is such a sharp division between the ones that are cool, clever detective stories and the ones that engage the reader’s emotions. Gaudy Night is the novel that demarcates that line. I would definitely suggest anyone start with that one. Then read the successive ones in order. Only then would I suggest going back to the earlier ones.
3. Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Vorkosigan series. They all stand alone, but I can see that different books would very likely have greatest appeal for different readers. I can think of one person who started with the early Miles books, but since she is especially into romances, I would have suggested starting elsewhere – with Shards of Honor or possibly even Komarr, though I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest starting with that one. But for someone who loves space opera best, then I wonder if, Warrior’s Apprentice wouldn’t be the best starting point.
4. If someone wasn’t keen on tackling CJ Cherryh’s immense Foreigner series and wanted to skip the introductory part, where would you suggest they start? You probably know that the series is broken into fairly self-contained trilogies, but that doesn’t give as much guidance as it might because after all there are five trilogies in the series now (and the start of a sixth).
As it happens, my favorite single book in the series is Explorer. Unless you have a better memory than I do for the very unmemorable titles in this series, you won’t remember which book is which, but that is the one where Bren et al go out to the abandoned station, meet the kyo, and rescue the people on the station. I absolutely love seeing Bren at his best as he deals with the station personnel and with the kyo. That is the third book of its trilogy, and it’s the second trilogy of the series, so that forces me to suggest that a new reader skip no more than the first trilogy and start with the 4th book, Precursor. I know skipping just the first three books doesn’t get you very far ahead, but there you go.
5. Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. Although I really, really love the first couple of books — Jhereg and Yendi — the different books are all so distinct that even though the storyline is continuous, the reader can start anywhere. After all, Brust didn’t write them in internal chronological order, so that makes sense. Although I sure wouldn’t suggest anybody start with Teckla, by far the low point in the series. And Athyra would not be my first choice of a starting point, either. And perhaps not – well, never mind, the point is that although there are places I wouldn’t suggest a new reader start the series, there are lots of books in the series that would make good entry points.
6. I’m of two minds about Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniel’s series. I think it takes off at the 3rd book. But I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to skip the build-up provided by the first couple of books either, so I don’t know that I’d suggest someone actually start with the third one. It’s a tough question.
Type B: Series you ought to start at the beginning:
1. Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany series. I suspect this set of novels works best if you start at the beginning, with Wee Free Men. Not that you couldn’t enjoy them out of order, but Tiffany’s character arc builds so smoothly from one book to the next that I would never suggest starting in the middle the way I do, routinely, with the Vimes series.
2. Barbara Hambly’s Ysidro series. It’s hard to beat Those Who Hunt the Night as a place to start the series. Also, it’s a really good standalone novel. Yes, yes, all the novels in this series stand alone. Even so, I think the series would probably not work as well starting anywhere but at the beginning.
3. Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger series. This space opera story is a set of five novels and they do not stand alone very well. The storyline flows straight though from front to back. I can’t remember whether there are actual cliffhangers, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Unlike the Vorkosigan books, I would never suggest starting anywhere but the front or going in any order but straight through. Incidentally, this is quite a good series and I definitely do recommend it to anyone who enjoys space opera.
4. While we’re on the subject of space opera, Tanya Huff’s Valor series is another one that undoubtedly works best read in order. The books are fairly self-contained, but various important plot elements flow from one to the next. I don’t think keeping to the published order is as important as it would be for Moon’s series, but probably more so than for the Vorkosigan series.
5. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series. The story is just too continuous. There’s nowhere to start but at the beginning. Straight through, that’s the ticket.
6. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles. Really, you must start at the beginning. Very dense, complicated books; you’re liable to get lost if you go wandering around out of order.