Prequels you don’t want to pass over

I’m generally not a fan of prequels or the companion e-novellas that have become increasingly popular in recent years; I often find they either give too much information that is better left unsaid or fail to develop a secondary character from the main story into a compelling narrator. A well-executed prequel, however, is a wonderful thing, something that stands as an engaging story in its own right and enriches the reader’s understanding of the story it precedes.

The three books I’m recommending today all have a different approach to the word prequel, and all take a different form: one is a novella told from the villain’s point-of-view, another a series of novellas about the main character before the opening of the series proper, and the third a trilogy of full-length novels set more than a hundred years before the action of the main series. What all of them have in common is that they’re enthralling tales that draw the reader in in their own right and offer some new understanding of character and world.

Fairest, by Marissa Meyer:

FairestThis novella tracks the life of Queen Levana of Luna, from her teen years into adulthood. It tells of the bullying she faced at the hands of her sister, her struggles as a young queen, and her efforts to murder her niece, Selene.

Why you should read it:

Besides giving depth and backstory to a villain (something I always love), Fairest also provides insight into Lunar society. We see the problems the nation faces, living on an inhospitable planet, her efforts to remain independent in the face of more powerful Earth nations, and the practical and moral issues that can arise in a culture where people change their appearance at will.

When you should read it:

I think this book is best read where it falls in the publication timeline: after Cress, but before Winter (which is out in two months!). Levana’s character development (as well as that of her sister) is, I think, more interesting with some understanding of her later actions, and the same goes for the exploration of Lunar society, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it before starting the series proper, though I think it could be worth reading between Cinder and Scarlet or between Scarlet and Cress, too.

The Assassin’s Blade, by Sarah J. Maas:

The Assassin's  BladeBefore she was imprisoned in Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was one of the most skilled and feared assassins in Adarlan. The five novellas in The Assassin’s Blade chronicle her fall from grace and eventual enslavement.

Why you should read it:

When we meet Celaena in Throne of Glass, she is a woman who has lost everything and is now given the chance to scrape her life back together. There’s a lot of baggage there that stems from the relationships depicted in the novellas, so reading them gives more depth to Celaena’s character.

When you should read it:

At the latest, you should read these novellas before Queen of Shadows. While the backstory is nice to have for Heir of Fire and even Crown of Midnight, a significant portion of Queen of Shadows deals with the fallout from events in the novellas, so if you haven’t read them you’ll be missing out.

If you haven’t started the series yet, however, I would recommend beginning with Throne of Glass. Celaena grows tremendously as a character over the course of the series and for many readers the perspective offered by her later character development is necessary to appreciate the more arrogant and abrasive girl she is in the novellas.

The Infernal Devices, by Cassandra Clare:

Clockwork AngelThe last prequel I’m going to recommend is a little bit different from the other two. While Fairest and The Assassin’s Blade directly tie into the stories they precede, The Infernal Devices has a much looser relationship with The Mortal Instruments. It’s set more than a century beforehand, and its core conflict is entirely discrete from that of The Mortal Instruments. Even so, I think it warrants inclusion in this list because there are enough links between the two series that I think The Infernal Devices qualifies as a prequel.

Why you should read it:

The Infernal Devices has everything I love about The Mortal Instruments – Shadowhunters, vampires, badass women, Magnus Bane – but in Victorian London, rather than contemporary New York. If you’re more into steampunk than contemporary fantasy, then this series is worth reading as a standalone.

On the flip side, if you’ve already read (or are reading) The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices provides character development for some of the more long-lived characters, as well as elaborating on the world of the Shadowhunters. Clare wrote this series in conjunction with the later books in The Mortal Instruments, and so as The Mortal Instruments goes on there are more and more links between the two series. A lot of them are small things, like the Herondale scar, but reading the backstory provides a richer reading experience overall.

When you should read it:

Anytime! Like I said above, this series was written at the same time as the later part of The Mortal Instruments, so if you’re looking to get the most benefit from it as a companion to The Mortal Instruments, I’d say it’s best to read it between City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels. However, it stands on its own as a series, as does The Mortal Instruments, so you could read it before, after or instead of The Mortal Instruments if you so prefer.

Prequels are, in my opinion, difficult things to get right. Sometimes they give too much information or simply fail to engage the reader. These three, however, get it right. If you’ve read any of these series but haven’t been sure about the prequel, then I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try.

Nicola lives and reads in Edinburgh, where the indrawing nights make for the perfect opportunity to curl up with a good book and a mug of steaming tea.

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6 thoughts on “Prequels you don’t want to pass over

  1. I’m almost finished with Queen of Shadows, and I have to say this series has truly grown on me. The Celaena Sardothien we are introduced to in the first book is so overly obnoxious, I almost quit reading. Luckily I gave it time and she toned it down about 30% of the way through. Strong female characters that don’t fit the mold are my fave.

    I’ll have to check out these novellas – I can’t believe I missed them. Thanks!

    • Word of warning: if you don’t like Celaena in the first book you’ll probably find her irritating in the novellas, but I promise you, it’s worth it to see her earlier relationships with Lysandra and Arobynn.

      • I’ll definitely check out the novellas, thanks for the heads up- I’m particularly interested in her relationship with Sam. It hasn’t truly been fleshed out in the series.

  2. Get the tissues ready! Sam breaks my heart every time </3 (And, seriously, it's So. Much. Worse when you've read the books and you KNOW what's going to happen the whole time).

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