I’ve read and been a fangirl of a number of series in my life, and I believe I can safely say that my #1 pet peeve in book series is what in my family has become known as “Mr. Sweeny’s Autobody Shop:” the need series authors seem to feel to summarize previous books and reintroduce established characters at the beginning of every single new book. And as I’ve come back around to Guardian of the Horizon, the worst offender in a long series of pretty bad Autobody Shopping, I feel like ranting about it.
I primarily hate this practice because it’s annoying to read. I don’t need to be told who these characters are because I already know them. I don’t need to be told what happened in the last book (or the book before that, or the book seven books ago) because I’ve read it. Not only is it a complete waste of my time, it’s also patronizing and insulting. But in addition to this (well, and in large part because of this), I think it’s just plain bad writing. Apart from the considerations I’ve already mentioned, if it’s coming from a character or a close POV, it’s often out of character as well.
An author sometimes has to walk a line when it comes to which parts of her readership she has more in mind. Even as a fanfiction author, I have to, for example, decide whether I’m more concerned with the readers that are following a story as it comes out and therefore have, say, a week between chapters, and the readers that may be reading the story all at once after it’s entirely posted and therefore get everything back-to-back — because the story will flow and information will be doled out differently in each case. And an author of a series of books will obviously be aware that some people will never reread the series (and therefore may not remember certain characters or events from previous books when they come into the new one), and that some dumbass dipshits may even pick up some random book in the middle of the series without having read any of the others.
However. Some of us do reread series, and/or have decent enough memories that, even if we haven’t read previous books recently, we still remember what happened in them and who the characters were and can therefore pick up a new addition without needing to be refreshed. But obviously, to judge by just about every series I’ve ever read, this subset of the audience is not the one the author has in mind.
When I used to be a fierce Star Wars fan, I had about eighty-five of the books, and every single freaking one of them did this. In Star Wars it made a little more sense, since the novels 1) were written by a lot of different authors, 2) were not published in chronological order, and 3) were generally either standalones or came in trilogies or whatever — so it was easier and more forgivable to start anywhere and not to have read them all… AND I STILL FUCKING HATED IT. Part of this was because, for a while, I had read them all, so once again I knew this stuff, but part of it was because I still considered it bad writing, and many Star Wars books were bad enough already that they didn’t need that kind of bullshit dragging them even further down. But, as I mentioned, it was at least a little more understandable in that type of series.
Except then they would start recapping the movies. And I was like, Really? You think someone’s coming into this who can’t remember that? This was before the prequels, mind, so there were only half as many movies in those days. Assuming the reader isn’t familiar with the previous fourteen miscellaneous books is kinda-sorta understandable; assuming the reader isn’t familiar with the seven or so hours of original canon is kinda-sorta unforgivable.
Sometimes I think that maybe editors or publishers insist on this practice, because I see authors that seem otherwise very savvy about how to put a story together and not treat their readers like morons doing it. What I don’t quite understand is why there can’t be a summarizing forward of some sort at the beginning of later books in a series. That way the artistic integrity of the book is not compromised, those of us that want to stab something every time an author starts in on unnecessary recapping can just skip the damn thing, but the forgetful people and/or dumbasses can still have their little reminder. It certainly wouldn’t waste any more space than is already wasted under the current system within the books themselves, or more time and effort than authors already spend trying to figure out how to work a recap into the text. It would solve everything. WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE TAKE MY ADVICE???
Well, I think I’m about done here. Back to Guardian of the Horizon, then. I think I’m still in the middle of Mr. Sweeny’s Autobody Shop (since I paused reading to compose this rant) — just in case I’ve forgotten all about The Ape Who Guards the Balance (which I just finished rereading two days ago) or The Last Camel Died at Noon (which, like the others, I’ve read about ten times).
In Guardian there’s some pity accompanying my severe annoyance with the recap. Since she wrote this book out of chronological order, the fact that the regurgitation of The Ape and Last Camel are so much more thorough than the recaps in most of the rest of the series seems to indicate not just that Peters was aware that people might have forgotten the events of the books in question but that she actually assumed nobody would ever be either rereading this series or picking it up later after it was all published… that people she’d managed to hook on Amelia already would read Guardian of the Horizon when it came out (i.e. after Children of the Storm), but that nobody would ever happen upon the series later and read it in chronological order and no current fan of the series would like it enough to reread in chronological order.
Because seriously, in chronological order, Guardian of the Horizon is REALLY REALLY ANNOYING in its stupid hammering of events from a book I just barely finished and another I also read not long ago, and I can’t imagine that Peters had that effect in mind when she wrote it. And it’s really sad to think of an author writing a series this good without thinking anyone was ever going to reread it or anyone new was ever going to pick it up once it was finished.
OK, seriously, I’m done now.