Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Wheel of Time book series: the dynamics of sequel ratings

I am reading The Wheel of Time series. I've just finished volume 3, and by now I am somewhat tired, but not quite tired yet to quit. Still I am kind of unsure and undecided about whether I should go further or not. Or maybe take a break. Or maybe skip a volume or two.

To answer this question I downloaded book ratings from GoodReads, and visualized them. So for those of you who care, let me share the results =)

Most books are rated by quite a few people (about 30 thousands at least), so in terms of the spread these values should be quite tolerable. The biggest methodological problem with these numbers is that the further into the series, the more faithful and fantasy-oriented the readers in the pool would become, and it should certainly introduce a bias. I prefer to ignore this bias however, as I have no idea about its direction! More faithful readers may score the books slightly higher (because they are faithful, and so like them!), but at the same time they are also humans, and so they should gradually get tired, and thus score the books lower compared to the first volume. Also faithful readers may have higher standards for the books of this kind, as presumably they read dozens of them; unlike those who only "tried" the series... So, I don't know how to correct for this bias. Let it be.

Another thing we could look at in the GoodReads data is the "Readers retention score": share of people who managed to read book #i+1 after finishing the book #i. There's a pretty stable decline in reader numbers through the series, with the first book scored by 96 thousand people, and the twelve-st scored "only" by 38 thousands. At the same time, surprisingly, if you calculate the retaining index, it doesn't change that much across the series, except for a huge outlier at the book #11: the last one R. Jordan managed to write before he succumbed to cancer. I don't yet know whether the book is really that good, or whether it is just extremely intriguing, or maybe fresh, or maybe people paid attention to this whole real-life story around the fantasy world, with one author dying, but leaving extensive notes to his colleagues to finish the series... It may be. But it means that at least this book should probably be read, even if I decide to skip a few in the middle.

I can not use this index to measure books #13 and 14, unfortunately, as book #14 is the last one (i+1 doesn't exist), while book #13 was published too recently, and so has a relatively low number of readers. I guess, it also means that this plot has an even stronger positive bias just because of unequal exposure of books to time, so to say. It does probably also have a positive bias due to the "self-selection of faithful readers" described previously... Still it is funny that the "retention values" don't correlate with the rating at all (r = -0.2; p = 0.5). It's kind of weird.

Anyway, for me personally this data probably means that I'll try the fourth book. But if it doesn't quite work, I'll skip straight to book #11.


  1. Generally speaking, it's recommended that you read books 1-6, skip 7-11 and pick up with the last three that Sanderson wrote.

    Jordan got a bit... wordy... with his last five books, especially since the world time for each book decreases as you go on. (The whole series covers two years)

  2. Thank you! By now I bought all of them, just in case. But if I find number 7 too slow to handle, I'll follow your advice =)

  3. Oh, God no. Do not listen to anyone if they tell you to skip any part of this series. If you hit a point where you stop enjoying the series, it would be better just to stop. There are so many intricate plotlines and callbacks to earlier books throughout that skipping any piece could seriously undermine your understanding of what happens later. I've read each of these books at least three times, with the exception of the last book, and it's still sometimes difficult to keep things straight. You cannot skip anything and still understand what happens.

  4. I've read this series multiple times, and will freely admit the middle books slump and kind of suck. But I really, REALLY recommend not skipping any. As someone else has already said, there's a lot of references to what has already happened ... it's a sequential plot, not separate books like Discworld or some such. I can't imagine just deciding to skip the middle of the story and trying to pick up again down the track.

  5. Thanks for your comments! Yes, I definitely get the "one long book, not many independent books" point. I'm at number 5 now, and it's the first book in which the author does not explain every little fact from scratch in the beginning, and it is so refreshing! In books 2-4 these "reminders" constituted major parts of several initial chapters. Yeah, absolutely, let's learn who Aes Sedai are for the 4th time in a row. Just to cover for the fact that some strange person may start reading the series from book #4, skipping the first 3 alltogether... It would not work like that.

    But at the same time, at least theoretically, there are all these Wikis on the web, with detailed descriptions of what happened with every character in each book =) I hope to read all the books, and not resort to the help of these wikies, but at least principally one could use them, if lost in the plot. I guess.

    The only major problem with wikis being that you can not read them exactly up to say book 11, avoiding spoilers from the later books...

    But hopefully I'll just read them all =)