Last week someone asked a question about sequels on a forum I participate on. The basic question was, ‘do you think sequels should stand alone, or should you assume that the person has read the previous book.’
I didn’t follow the whole discussion, but one of the strong opinions on the board was that all books should stand alone.
I disagree. A lot.
I personally think it depends. In some worlds, like Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, all the books can be read alone. However, the deeper you get into the series, the more you will get out of each book by having read the previous ones.
In other worlds, like C.S. Friedman’s Cold Fire trilogy, you absolutely should start at the beginning. They can be read alone, but I don’t recommend it. Another example is Michael Stackpole’s Dragoncrown War series. In this one there is even a prequel, and it’s best to start there. I find these stories in no way diminished because the books don’t stand alone.
Now, that being said, I believe a lot of my bias comes from being a fantasy reader/author. No need to recap/rebuild a world if everyone already knows the rules – for instance if the book is set in our world – but if it’s a whole new world, recapping every time would be impossible.
On the other hand if it’s such an established universe that many authors are playing/writing in it, then by no means do you have to read every book in order, nor should you have too. For example the Star Wars universe has many small stories and series within a much larger universe. I generally expect that if I pick up the beginning of any of the smaller series within the world, I’ll know what’s going on in the bigger picture. Then I just need to get involved with the specific story. There’s no need to explain what a lightsaber is, or how the Force is used. I already know, because I know that world.
So over all, it probably depends on what kind of books you read as to the best answer to that question. I would just say that there is no absolute answer. Books should not always stand alone, but sometimes they should.
And if you want my honest opinion… I love trilogies, so I almost prefer books that don’t stand alone. But that’s just me.
I wrote another blog on Sequels last summer if you are interested in reading more on how to write sequels. It went up as a guest blog on Jon Gibb’s awesome blog here: jongibbs.livejournal.com/203818.html.