Written by Steven Brust
I’ve often been asked why I wrote the books in the series out of order. I’m afraid the answer is pretty prosaic: I’ve just been telling the next story I feel like telling. And for those of you who are inclined to accuse of me having done something original and clever (not that I mind the accusation), I should point out that mystery series are often told without thought to the detective’s chronology, and that, in our own field, there is no special order to the Darkover books by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley and the wonderful Vorkosigan books of Lois McMaster Bujold.
Having done this, however, brings up the inevitable question: in what order should someone read them? The trouble is, I’m exactly the wrong person to ask. One thing I wanted to do, when I finally admitted to myself I was writing a series, is make each book fully self-contained, so the reader wouldn’t have to worry about just grabbing one at random. The fact that I was trying to do that makes it hard for me to give an answer to the question of what order to read them in, even though, well, the fact is, I was not successful.
I mean, good try, you know? And to some extent, sure, some of them stand fully on their own, but there are several that, based on the feedback I’ve gotten from readers and reviewers, leave too much unexplained to fully qualify as stand-alone.
So then, if I admit the order does matter, what’s the best order? The obvious choices would be publication order, chronological order, or according to the Cycle. This last is one that I don’t recommend for first time readers. That is, given that you sort of have to read the books to know what the Cycle even is, that wouldn’t be my first choice. Yes, I am playing a bit of a game with that, that I hope will make sense and add a new dimension if and when I finish the books, but for now, don’t worry about it.
So that leaves chronological order or publication order. I tried very hard to make it so either of those work, keeping track of what I was and was not spoiling, foreshadowing, or hinting at.
I’m trying to make the books build on each other, and, ideally, do so in interesting ways in whatever order one reads them. Insofar as one might find themes in the books, or ideas playing off each other, that is the order they emerged in. For example, Orca deals with, among other things, the relationship between trade (and associated finance) and the state. This led me naturally to consider other aspects of the state, one of the main ones of which is war, so I wrote Dragon. Dzur was about (well, in addition to food) the whole question of the role of the individual in an effort to change complex systems. I hadn’t felt like I’d gotten very far in that, so I continued looking at the same thing in Jhegaala.
My point is that if you’re interested in the development of the character, read them in chronological order; if your interest is more thematic, then read them in publication order. If you’re just interested in a good story, then, I hope, it doesn’t matter.
Chronological order: Taltos, Dragon (main arc), Yendi, Dragon (interludes), Tiassa section 1, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix, Jhegaala, Athyra, Orca, Issola, Dzur, Tiassa section 2, Iorich, Tiassa section 3, Vallista, Hawk
And one last note, just to make things even more difficult: most of the people whose opinions I respect believe that publication order is best. Take that as you will.
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