Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Sequels that stand alone

Here’s a good topic for a list! From Deborah Ross at Book View Cafe: sequels that work well as standalones.

One of the challenges of writing a sequel is the balance between giving the new reader all the necessary background, developing the characters well enough, and yet not boring readers who are already familiar with the cast and setting.  I picked up God of Broken Things unaware that it was a sequel to Traitor God. For most of the book, however, I could not decide if God of Broken Things was indeed a sequel (to a book I knew immediately I wanted to run out and read) or a stand-alone with a rich and brilliantly handled back story.

That’s a good way to decide whether a sequel would work well as a standaone: if it comes across as “rich backstory” rather than as confusing. I haven’t read either Traitor God or God of Broken Things. In fact, I haven’t read any of the (few) books Ross mentions in her post. But this is a good theme for a . . . not top ten list, because I’m sure there’s an infinite number of sequels that work well as standalones, but a list of ten good examples.

Let me see what I can come up with.

In no particular order:

  1. The River South by Marta Randell. Because of the thirteen-year gap between the first book and the second, the latter absolutely does read like a standalone.
  2. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett is a fantastic standalone. It’s the first Sam Vimes book I read, and it got me into the whole Vimes subset of Discworld books. It’s still my favorite of all of Pratchett’s books.
  3. Paladin of Souls by LMB could easily be read as a standalone, and in fact in some ways it should be. Ista is re-imagined in a pretty significant way from how she is presented in Curse of Chalion; that inconsistency disappears if you treat the two books as basically standalones.
  4. Okay, now I’m not completely sure because I read these in order originally. But I think the second two Sharing Knife books by LMB are significantly better than the first two. I wonder how those would seem to a reader who came to them without reading the first two at all?
  5. A Wind in the Door by L’Engel. This is another sequel where Time Has Passed since the first book, though unlike the first book on this list, only one year, as I recall. Still, any sequel where that’s happened is likely to read well as a standalone, and I think this one does.
  6. The Tombs of Atuan by LeGuin. This is actually the only book by LeGuin I ever re-read more than once. It’s by far my favorite of hers. It very definitely stands alone.
  7. The Broken Kingdoms by Jemisin. I think this one stands alone perfectly, with no need to have read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms first.
  8. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers would probably work fine as a standalone, though I’m not completely sure since I did read the first book first.
  9. The second books of the Griffin Mage trilogy: Land of the Burning Sands. IMO that one works very well as a standalone.
  10. Your Choice Here

What’s a sequel you can think of that belongs on this list?

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7 Comments Sequels that stand alone

  1. Elaine T

    I haven’t read anything on the original list, either, although I sampled at least one.

    Since I read Zelazny’s Guns of Avalon (back when it was new) without a clue it was a sequel and followed it just fine, I nominate that.

    Most LMB Vorkosiverse novels, with the exception of Mirror Dance and Memory, Or at least the latter.

    congrats on Leda’s major.

  2. Mary Catelli

    Terry Pratchett’s Discworld isn’t really a series, but a setting with a number of series — the Death series, the Watch series, etc.

    Andre Norton’s Witch World is much the same.

  3. Rachel

    Mary, yes, but within each of Pratchett’s series, some individual books stand out as especially easy to read out of order. Of those, I think Night Watch is the best. In contrast, I think the Tiffany Aching series is better read in order, for example.

    Not sure about the Witch World. I read almost everything else by Andre Norton, but for some reason never liked those.

  4. Rachel

    Thanks, Elaine! That was Leda’s second major, so she is essentially guaranteed to complete a championship now. All she needs is to whittle away the single points, which we can do at local-ish shows with small entries. Now if Kim will just hurry up and re-grow her coat, maybe she can catch up to Leda …

  5. Louise

    Interesting, Night Watch was the first Pratchett I ever read (it was the only one my library at the time had), and I was so confused throughout it that it put me off Discworld and Pratchett for a really long time after.

    I would DWJ’s Castle in the Air reads more as a stand-alone than a sequel, ditto House of Many Ways. To my sadness, actually, as I always just really wanted more Sophie and instead she kept getting sidelined in those books.

  6. Rachel

    Louise, that IS interesting. Night Watch was just about the first Pratchett I read, after being turned off long ago by The Colour of Magic, and I loved it.

    I do completely agree about the books linked to Howl’s Moving Castle. I liked the sequels — but I would have really preferred stories that were direct sequels rather than just related to the first book.

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