Where to start with Martha Wells

Over at tor.com, this, from Leah Schnelbach: Where to Start with the Works of Martha Wells

Well, now, there’s a post I’ll be able to weigh in on properly, since I’ve read everything by her (except some of the media tie-in novels).

Also, I wonder if one’s opinion is likely to depend on where one actually did begin. In my case that was with the Raksura books — a fine beginning. The best possible beginning? I’d have to think about that.

Let’s see what Schnelbach says … ah, she does not actually suggest a starting point. She merely mentions and describes various works, including the Murderbot novellas, the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series, City of Bones, Wheel of the Infinite, and the Emilie duology. That actually annoys me a little — that Schnelbach poses the question of where to start without suggesting an answer.

Fine. I’ll suggest a starting point. In fact, I’ll suggest several:


1. …You enjoy classic epic fantasy, start with the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. Or Wheel of the Infinite.

2. …You enjoy historical fantasy or historicals in general, start with Death of the Necromancer.

3. …You mostly read SF, start with the Murderbot novellas and then go on to the Raksura series. The latter has an oddly SF feel to it . . . well, it’s not that odd. It’s because of a) the total absence of normal fantasy tropes such as wizards, princes, and dragons; and b) because the Raksura species was built like an SF species, with coherent behavior and social organization.

4. …You are mostly a YA fan, probably you should still start with the Raksura novels. I say this because Moon’s story is so very much a finding-your-place-in-the-world story, which is definitely a YA thing; plus there’s enough romance to please a YA reader who may be used to romance in every story ever; plus I just think this series is stronger than the Emilie duology.

5. …You dislike romance, then possible City of Bones, especially if you aren’t put off by claustrophobic settings.

6. …You would like a story with an older female protagonist, then definitely start with Wheel of the Infinite.

7. …You would prefer a story with a non-European setting, again, Wheel of the Infinite. Or the Raksura series.

8. …You are a completist, then read ’em in order of publication. That means start with The Element of Fire.

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6 thoughts on “Where to start with Martha Wells”

  1. I started with the Raksura series, and that’s been my gateway for introducing family and friends: fantastic characters, world, and themes, and Moon is a more immediately accessible and gripping protagonist than some others. (It took me a couple of tries to really sink into The Element of Fire or Death of the Necromancer). For the Ile-Rien books, for the same reason, I’d recommend starting with Tremaine and working back to her ancestors.

  2. Perhaps by chance I did start with Tremaine and then go back in time — which for me worked perfectly. As far as I’m concerned, Death of the Necromancer is quite different in tone and presentation from the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. The former is so very much a historical fantasy set in an alternate London, whereas the other is definitely epic fantasy. Personally I loved both, but Tremaine is one of my all-time favorite protagonists, so that trilogy is the one I push on people more.

  3. FWIW I did start with _The Element of Fire_, which turned me off trying anything else of hers for years — not because it was bad, but because it was merely OK. On the one hand, a true completest isn’t going to be put off by a single unexceptional volume, on the other, starting out somewhere else might get you into things more quickly and thoroughly.

  4. I didn’t care so much for Element of Fire either. So fine, I’ll agree that even a completist should start with Death of the Necromancer or something else and finish up later.

  5. Death of the Necromancer is just a jewel of a book: you can almost taste the coal-smoke in the atmosphere. I would always recommend it first, certainly ahead of Raksura books.

  6. The Cloud Roads starts faster and moves briskly and Moon is an instantly sympathetic character. The Death of the Necromancer is a slower-paced story, very atmospheric, but if you’re not inclined to like a whiff of coal dust to accompany your reading, you may not really like it. Especially in the beginning. I genuinely think many readers who emphasize YA in their reading will prefer the Raksura books.

    Granted, it would be a shame if they missed out on Nicholas and Ronsarde.

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