Thoughtful Thursday • Favourite Series Type

Thoughtful Thursday

Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Is Fun Again. This week:

Favourite Series Type

There are lots of different types of series. For example, there are series that are just one long story (e.g., The Lord of the Rings), there are series that follow a character on a set of different adventures (e.g., The Dresden Files and the Sookie Stackhouse novels), and there are series that are a collection of stand alone novels all within the same universe (e.g., Star Wars Universe). What is your favorite type of series?

There’s another type of series not mentioned in the examples: the series that follow the same character(s) but where each book is basically a standalone. For example, the Hercule Poirot series and the Sebastian St. Cyr series are both mystery books, but while you can read Poirot in any order you want because he never changes, Sebastian goes through a lot of character development and finds out family secrets over the course of the books, so if you don’t read his books in order you wouldn’t understand why his personality changed or why he’s not speaking to his father or what’s up with his love interest. Out of the two, I think I like books like Sebastian St. Cyr better, because I like to see the characters’ evolution and how they get on with their life, while Hercule Poirot is flatter and two-dimensional as a character.

I read a lot of series, and they’re all different types, but I have to admit that my favourite (and the one I usually look for) is the series with an overarching arc but where every book is self-contained. There’s something satisfying in knowing that the fourth book is the one where Harry is entered in the Triwizard Tournament, or that Red Seas Under Red Skies is the book about pirates. Much more satisfying than saying, er, I think A Storm of Swords is the third ASOIAF book? It’s the one in which Robb… or did that happen in the previous book? There was a battle, or possibly a wedding, or something like that…

I like series that are one long story, I’m just not good at keeping characters and events straight in my head. It’s fine as long as I have all the books and I can read them one after the other, but if I have to wait a year (or more!) for the next instalment to be published, then I start getting confused, and by the time the book comes out I’ll have to read the previous ones as a refresher or risk being completely lost. And if you’ve read some of my reviews you may know that a pet peeve of mine is the pointless cliffhanger: I don’t like it when authors put a cliffhanger at the end of a book that’s simply a not-so-subtle way of saying BUY MY NEXT BOOK!!!

My favourite series (The Lies of Locke Lamora, Discworld, A Natural History of Dragons just to mention a few) have self-contained books, but I’m still looking forward to the next book because I grew attached to the characters and the author’s writing style is great and the plots are satisfying. I hate it when an author drops a bunch of plot hooks on me and doesn’t follow through with any of them, which is why I didn’t like Peacemaker very much: I felt like I was cheated, like I read a book but it was just a bit of a larger story and nothing at all was solved, it was all up in the air. I had the same feeling about the first Lunar Chronicles book, but at least that book had resolution for some of the plot points (like the ball) so I kept reading, and I’m glad I did because by now I’m hooked and I don’t even mind the cliffhangers, because I trust Marissa Meyer will be able to deliver.

That, I think, is the crux of the matter. If an author keeps piling up mysteries but never gives any answers, I become suspicious that they’re pulling a Lost and that they have no idea where the story is going. Instead, if the author gives me a self-contained first book with a satisfying conclusion, I’m more inclined to trust them with future cliffhangers because I believe they’ll be capable to write a good ending for their story.



Thoughtful Thursday • Series reading order

Thoughtful Thursday

Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Is Fun Again. This week:

Series reading order

Assuming that you are late to the party with a book series (and the entire series is completed) and you want to read every piece of text within a series’ universe that you can get your hands on, in what order to you read the books, short stories, and novellas within the universe? Do you read the books first and then the short stories and novellas if you want more? Do you read the books, short stories, and novellas in order (either publication or chronological)? Do you read them in some other order?

Isa seems to think I insisted to answer this question myself… It’s true that I’m a bit of a stickler about reading order. I could never read books in the wrong order, or start with the newest instalment. I’d have the constant feeling that I was missing out on something, be that plot or character development. So I usually start with the first book and then I go in order, unless it looks like there might be some other order, in which case I look for a reading guide. Goodreads is very helpful in this regard, but Google works too. I usually stick with chronological order, so I can follow the story along with the characters, but sometimes I make exceptions. For example, if there’s a prequel book written years after the rest of the series, I’ll probably follow publication order in that case and read the prequel after the other books.

My aim is always to minimize confusion and spoilers for the other books. I expect that the books written first will explain about the series’ world, while books written later will expect the reader to be already familiar with it. I follow this same idea for short stories and novellas too. Usually I read them in chronological order, so if a story is labelled #2.5 I’ll read it after the second book and just before the third. It doesn’t always work, for example a short story was marked as #1.5 in the Lunar Chronicles series but it turned out to contain some minor spoilers for the second book… But I try to check beforehand if some of the additional material contains spoilers, by skimming reviews and author notes, and if I find that it does I’ll just read the books first and then come back to the rest at the end. Of course, this only applies to series that I really like, because unless I’m a fan of a series I won’t bother reading all the bonus material. If I like it, though… gotta catch ’em all!

This is what I do most of the time, but there are two notable exceptions: Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett. Agatha Christie because I started by reading the ones that my mum had, and the bookstores had a limited selection. Luckily reading order doesn’t matter much in this case, because there is no character development and no links between the stories. As for Terry Pratchett, his Discworld series is a mess and people always have problems figuring out where to start from because there’s several different subseries. There are a couple of novels that would be good starting points, but I myself started from the earliest book and went by publication order. However I wasn’t a fan of the Tiffany Aching books (which are YA unlike the rest of the series) so I skipped those, and I’m only getting to them now. That only works because Discworld is not as linear as most series, though!

Thoughtful Thursday • Do you need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book?

Thoughtful Thursday

Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Is Fun Again. This week:

Do you need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book?

Assuming that the protagonist is well written, do you need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book? Does the protagonist need to share similar values to you or be an extension of you in some way? Can the protagonist be completely different from you and you still enjoy the book?

Definitely not! There are plenty of books that I like even though I don’t particularly care for their protagonist. The first example that comes to my mind is The Diviners, which I read last month. The protagonist, Evie, is a spoiled brat who has very few redeeming qualities (especially at the start of the story). Would I be friends with Evie? Hell no, she’s a terrible person. But did I enjoy her story? Yes, I did! Because Evie was an interesting and well-written character, and while I personally disagreed about some of her choices I could understand her motivations and I wanted to see how her storyline played out.

So I don’t believe it’s necessary to like a protagonist to enjoy a book. The converse is certainly not true, there’s plenty of times where I liked a protagonist but disliked the book — especially with longer series, where I still like a character but their development goes nowhere and the author keeps using the same old plot until I’m sick of it. (Case in point: loved Lady Georgiana, gave up on Her Royal Spyness after the terrible fourth book.)

That said, my favourite books are usually the ones where I fall in love with the protagonist, and where the protagonist shares some (or most) of my values. I think that’s inevitable. I love Hero Jarvis from the Sebastian St. Cyr books because she doesn’t want to get married and is big about social reform. But I’m also fine with reading books with characters who want to get married and have kids, as proven by the ridiculous amount of Regency romance novels that I read.

As long as the characters are interesting, I don’t mind if they’re different from me. I don’t like wishy-washy protagonists that are meant to have no personality just so the reader can imagine herself as them. I don’t want the protagonist to be me, I want the protagonist to be herself! To be honest I judge people who dislike a book just because they didn’t like the protagonist. I understand that it’s an important factor, but if it’s their only reason, as in “I would have liked this book but unfortunately the main character is a monarchist and I’m a supporter of the republic” I’m sorry but I think that’s stupid.

Anyway, many of the books that I read have multiple protagonists, if not multiple points of view (hello, A Song of Ice and Fire!) so even if I don’t like one of the protagonists I will at least like someone else. It’s very difficult for me to finish a book if I hate all of its characters, in that case I usually give up on the book within the first couple of chapters. Then again, if all of the characters are unlikeable there’s usually other problems with the writing that will turn me off the book.