Let’s Talk Bookish: Should You Review a Sequel Without Reading the First Book?

Let's Talk Bookish

Let’s Talk Bookish is run by Dani@Literary Lion and Rukky@Eternity Books. I’ve seen several book bloggers participating in this and it always looks like a ton of fun. When they came out with the October topics, I couldn’t resist talking about this one.

Some time ago, I wrote about dropping into the middle of a book series without having read the first book, which I, sadly or funnily, need to update. One of them even turned out to be the 6th book in the series! And the most recent was the last in a series. Then there was one that was the middle book in a trilogy, so, yeah, that was fun. So of course I just had to discuss this one because I’ve done it at least 5 times, and have had to write the review for the requesting author and Netgalley. Someone help me!

I always feel bad about writing a review for a sequel without having read the first book, but, most of the time, they either catch the reader up in the first few chapters or are actual standalones. Still, I feel like I’m missing out on something, so I always make a note of the fact I did not read the first book in my reviews. One author very graciously gifted me a copy of the first book in her series and it really helped bring the second book to life, but I still thought that second book was brilliant.

So, considering it’s something I seem to do, should you review a sequel without reading the first book?

I think it’s harder to do, but, if you have an obligation, I feel that obligation should be honored. It just requires a more delicate touch.

For one, I think the reviewer should mention the fact they haven’t read the first book. It’ll tell the reader to take the review with a grain of salt. It also, interestingly, says a lot about how well the author can carry off the story (if it’s meant to be a standalone) or catch the reader up (if it’s a continuing story). There have been some books where I was a bit perplexed throughout the book and others where I didn’t feel I needed to read the first book at all, though now I’d really like to.

For another, I think the reviewer owes some grace to the author. I know that, in my case, I ended up not starting with the first book because I didn’t take enough care to look into it, so I can’t feel comfortable ripping apart the book because I didn’t understand something in it, like the world or the relationships. Instead, I accept the constant buzz of “I don’t really get this” and just move on to find other things more pertinent to the story at hand to offer my thoughts on. And I’ll constantly note that it was probably developed in the first book and I just missed out.

If, however, there is no obligation to provide a review, I wouldn’t bother because a chunk of story would be missing and the sequel might feel incomplete without it, so it wouldn’t be fair. I also think there wouldn’t be a reason why the reader shouldn’t pick up the first book and read that first.

What are your thoughts? Have you done what I do and routinely pick up sequels instead of the first book?

6 Comments

  • Autumn

    Some time ago, I came across the advice for writers that every sequel should be able to stand on its own. Makes sense to me, because if someone stumbles across book #5 in a series, you can’t reasonably expect them to research the author and read four other books just to get to the one they found interesting — they should be able to enjoy it without all the work, and hopefully end up hooked enough to follow through on the rest of the series afterwards.

    • kat

      Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I remember browsing through bookstores about 20 years ago and picking out books that may or may not have been part of a series and may or may not have been part of a series within a larger overarching series and never felt like I was really missing out on much. I suppose writing these days is different and every author depends on readers reading from the start.

    • kat

      I think that’s why I haven’t yet picked up any of the books preceding the sequels I have read. Sequels inevitably have spoilers for the first book, so it takes some of the surprise and tension out of it.

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