In What Order Should I Read These Books?
...Or indeed listen to these audio dramas? This is a question which I get asked a lot, and hopefully the following will assist you.
There are a couple of factors, which you might already be considering. For people who need short and long answers I will be both brief and detailed.
(Q = Question / SA = Short Answer / LA = Long Answer)
Q: When and where does New Century take place?
SA: 1883 on parallel Earths.
LA: A series of alternate 1883s spanning several parallel dimensions. These are detailed in the 'Ten Worlds' section of the website, but three are most important. The primary Earth timeline is named Centrum. This is the one which the grand saga revolves around, the Middle-earth, the Westeros. It is the one detailed in The Cartographer’s Handbook, the one that is in serious trouble. This timeline diverged in 1872. Up until then it was identical to our own Earth. Another key alternate timeline detailed in Tiger's Eye is Rama, wherein Great Cats evolved over millions of years to become the planet's dominant species, rather than apes, and developed their own civilisations. A third world in The Princess Thieves, named Celador plays host to various intelligent and advanced species, including Duart, who are similar to traditional fantasy Dwarf races, and Akka, similar to Orcs. Both races have moved to occupy the London of the primary Centrum timeline. The overall story will proceed beyond 1883 and into further worlds at the climax of SteamHeart which closes out Phase 1.
Q: Does each book release follow a linear continuity?
LA: The continuity of the currently released books is a jigsaw. To exemplify this, in Tiger’s Eye the protagonist comes across a ruined cathedral. Inside is an enormous mural, detailing the history of her world, and it is made up of various smaller images, each telling their own story. New Century is that mural. If you look at the 'timeline' that can be found on this website, you’ll see that these stories overlap in terms of when they occur, though they are almost always separated by geography. Crucially though, each book is self-contained, rather than a sequel or a direct continuation, introducing its characters in such a way that any of the books could be your first New Century story. The only exception is The Christmas Thieves. While this takes place a few months before The Princess Thieves, it will have maximum impact if you already know (and possily love) the various figures who turn up.
Q: But is there a reading order you, personally would suggest?
SA: Yes. Secret Rooms – Tiger’s Eye – The Cartographer’s Handbook – Arlington – The Princess Thieves – The Christmas Thieves – SteamHeart.
LA: My order is a suggestion, though there are many other combinations you could go for and order of publication isn't necessarily the best of them.
There are various reasons for this. The Cartographer’s Handbook is short and serious and while it paints a vivid picture of the world of Centrum and how bad things have gotten, it takes the form of a reference book, an artefact within the world of New Century, so while it's replete with accounts from colourful characters it's not a character-driven narrative like the others. Thus it makes for a challenging (but brief) entry-point, when compared to the more engaging novels that follow.
Also, let’s be honest, all writers need to hit their stride, few pilot episodes rival the series finales or the standout dramatic arcs that follow. The second book, Secret Rooms, is a thrilling little novelette, shorter any of the following three volumes. It introduces several major characters and starts their stories off. It lays down, with what I hope is clarity, the multiple worlds concept, and a major event happens that will ultimately have lasting effects upon the history of Centrum and the protagonists involved. Tiger’s Eye is more serious in tone, more epic in scale, and it is many people’s favourite of the series so far (though Arlington and The Princess Thieves also hold that honour for a lot of people). This is down to the change in style, tone, and even genre. While Secret Rooms is a Western, Tiger’s Eye is a jungle adventure, Arlington is a political thriller and The Princess Thieves is a fantasy comedy. All of them run on the drama at their core, but in very different settings.
This is why your first book, your entry point, really is down to what type of story appeals to you most. If you’re not sure you want to commit the money or hours, Secret Rooms is ideal, if you want to start with something that is lengthier and more involved, go for one of the next three. Both Arlington and Secret Rooms reference The Cartographer’s Handbook, as its release within the world causes social changes and controversy, and while it's not essential to enjoy Secret Rooms, you might like to read it before Arlington, as that story is all about the man who wrote the Handbook, as well as his family, and their struggle to prevent Washington from falling apart during a time of crisis.
If you love The Princess Bride, Robin Hood, Guardians of the Galaxy, Final Fantasy IX, and the Arthur Legend, then you might want to make The Princess Thieves your first port of call. It was created as both a loving homage of Disney’s Animated Classics, and an acerbic satire of fantasy genre tropes, starting off with a balance of serious world-building and irreverent tone. The whole thing is staged as a play within a play, with frequent fourth-wall breaking, but the story underneath is serious with both personal and high stakes. This is, in fact, a dynamic most of the stories share.
SteamHeart is the culmination of the first phase of New Century, but it was also designed to be a great entry point for people who want to get a feel for the overall story. Exactly like the original Avengers movie, it brings together the heroes of the earlier instalments, but while familiarity gets you excited to see their paths finally cross, so many more people saw Avengers in the cinema than the numbers who saw Thor or Captain America, and most were able to understand the characters and what made them tick fairly quickly. This was again, my remit with SteamHeart, a self-contained epic Western odyssey which draws together established characters and themes.
And at the end of this book, the world of Centrum changes, and we will begin Phase 2, which will kick off on Rama again, with the Cats. The heroes who survive SteamHeart will of course return for future adventures.