(This post has been edited/updated November 2018.)
I would argue “no.” Case in point: prequels.Or one better–is there ever really a beginning? (or an ending for that matter?)
What about those books that are told out of order (I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult’s first book, Songs of the Humpback Whale)? How about the Chronicles of Narnia? Maybe it just depends on the series.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently in relation to my own book series. When I was on a recent book tour with the first three books in my five book series, some people thought it necessary to begin with the first book. Others asked if the books “needed” to be read in order, and still others asked me which one I thought they should start with. In response I often referenced Star Wars–not told in order. Here’s the thing with the first three Seed Savers books: book 1 is written for a slightly younger audience, so for the kids I suggested they start there. Book 2 is slightly older, and book 3 even more so since there is more politics. For the adult readers I assured them they could easily start with book 3 (Star Wars reference inserted here).
If I have the chance to talk with people personally, I also explain that I like to try out different techniques. Book one is told in third person point of view, book two in first person, book three with dual storylines, dual POV. Sometimes readers have a preference.
I have tried my best to give enough backstory at the beginning of each book that you can jump right in without being lost and also without being too bogged down. I firmly believe you can start reading the series starting with any of the three books. There are two more books before the series is complete; it is not a trilogy.
This is what Portland Book Review said about Heirloom without having read the first two books:
“While it would be helpful to read the first two books prior to this one, it’s not strictly necessary.”
Another reader who read only book three (Heirloom) told me that she felt like not knowing everything was good, it was very engaging that way–and that’s what I mean in my above comment about is there ever really a beginning. Good stories tend to start somewhere in the middle. Her summation, “I think it works as a stand-alone just fine.”
Heirloom is a futuristic book about reconnecting to our past. In it we have a young teen searching for a father she never knew. We have a brother and sister separated from their mother, living in Canada as gardening refugees. There is a long distance solar-powered motorcycle ride, young romance, and eccentric characters. There’s politics and fresh apple cider, the heat of summer and the cold of winter, poetry, food, and gardening.
The new Seed Savers-Heirloom from Flying Books House releases the first week in January 2019 … I’m so excited!
And let me know what you think–do you ever read a series out of order?