|Source: ReneAigner (DeviantArt)|
I had a very interesting comment on my review of Stands A Shadow yesterday by Josh,
"It still confuses me why people knowingly read books from series out of order (or just some without the others) and then talk about it as if it's a decision that is completely normal and fine. It's totally weird. Surely you would spend half the book being confused as hell? I've never done it (ever) because it's like driving your car down the road before you've turned it on, careening into a river and then putting on the brakes."
A very interesting point, and one that I've debated over myself for a while. Is it complete madness to start a series at any other point that at the very beginning? Well, in my opinion, yes and no.
Confusion and coherency in a fantasy series
I completely accept that jumping into a fantasy series in the second, third, fourth, or whatever number book that isn't book 1 will cause an element of dissonance. For many fantasy book series', book 1 is all about establishing the story and characters; getting them out of the way so the action and pacing can progress a lot more from book 2 onwards. Starting after book 1 means that you don't get that build up or establishing connection, and so readers can get a little lost. This is natural. It's like turning up at a movie 5 minutes late and not knowing who the hell anyone is.
However, it is my firm belief that any fantasy novel, even a follow up, should be able to stand on its own merits and offer a good reading experience no matter what novels have preceded it. Moreover, a good fantasy author should be able to provide a transition that essentially recaps the most important points of its predecessors, at least the ones that are prevalent to the overreaching plot and character arcs. This is similar to people who buy a comic and the inside front cover has a brief recap of the story and the main players. Fantasy authors should also do this, albeit in a much more subtle and integrated way. If you're relying on the information in your previous work to maintain interest in your current novel, there's a chance you could alienate some of your potential readers.
Don't get me wrong - for the most part I prefer hitting a series at the very beginning; it makes sense, especially when it comes to epic fantasy. However, when each book is essentially it's own story that merely forms part of an overall narrative, is it okay to jump in at any point? I'd really like to hear everyone's thoughts on this - from what I've read it's a highly debated topic. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there.
What are your preferences when it comes to fantasy series'? Are you okay with the idea of starting a series somewhere in the middle and working around it?