Origin stories: the best prequel novels

Backstory books that don't disappoint.

If someone mentions prequels, it's likely your mind goes straight to film (and possibly straight to Star Wars), but there are some brilliant prequels out there in book form. It's perhaps unsurprising that many are found under science fiction and fantasy, with author and reader alike keen to explore how their carefully created worlds came to be. But as you'll see from our list they're not limited by genre, or, in the case of Jean Rhys' rightfully lauded prequel to a Brontë classic, to being written by the author of the original book.

Fractal Noise

by Christopher Paolini

Set twenty-three years before the events of masterful space opera and terrifying tale of first contact To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Fractal Noise takes us to Talos VII, where an anomaly has been detected: a vast circular pit, so perfect it could only have been made deliberately. A team is sent to investigate. One is enthusiastic, one has doubts, one is desperate for something positive to cling on to. None of them are prepared for what they discover.

Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt

by Lucinda Riley

The final novel in The Seven Sisters series draws Lucinda Riley's saga to a stunning, unforgettable conclusion. Over seven books, a family of adopted sisters have followed clues to their true heritage across the world in spellbinding tales of love and loss. In Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt, they gather together to say farewell to their enigmatic father, and hopefully find out the truth about his past. As the story moves between the sisters in 2008 and diary entries that begin in 1928, everything is revealed. 

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The Evening and the Morning

by Ken Follett

Fans of Ken Follett's international bestseller The Pillars of the Earth may well be anticipating the next of his Kingsbridge novels, The Armour of Light, but there's also a prequel to the series for those who can't wait to read more. One hundred years before Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, sets out to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known, The Evening and the Morning finds us at the end of the Dark Ages, with England facing attack from the Welsh and the Vikings. In this harsh world of chaos and bloodshed, a young boatbuilder dreams of a better life for him and the woman he loves, a Norman noblewoman follows her husband across the sea to a shocking new world, and a capable monk dreams of turning his humble abbey into a centre of learning admired across Europe. 

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Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Book cover for Wide Sargasso Sea

Locked in the attic for more than a decade, Edward Rochester’s ‘mad’ first wife in Jane Eyre is dehumanised by both language (‘it’, ‘savage’) and her role in the plot, a horrifying Gothic obstacle in our heroine’s path to marriage. Depending on when (both in terms of your own age, and the age you’re reading in) you first come across Jane Eyre, it can take a re-read or two before you start to consider things from Bertha’s point of view, and it took a hundred years for her to be given a voice. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, written in 1966, offers readers Bertha’s life story and perspective, and an understanding of how and why she came to be the ‘mad woman in the attic’, finally releasing her from that image. 

Bookshops & Bonedust

by Travis Baldree

In Legends & Lattes, we met Viv, an orc barbarian who's hung up her sword and opened a coffee shop. In Bookshops & Bonedust we find out what she was doing twenty years earlier – and her career with renowned mercenary company Rackam’s Raven isn't going to plan. Injured on the job, she's been sent (unwillingly) to recuperate in a sleepy seaside town. But it seems adventure is never far away.

La Belle Sauvage

by Philip Pullman

Book cover for La Belle Sauvage

Get ready to add the Trout Inn to your Pullman-inspired Oxford pilgrimage. The Book of Dust trilogy from Philip Pullman is set in the same world as His Dark Materials, but so far only this, the first of the books, is a prequel (the second in the new series, The Secret Commonwealth, is set years after the events of The Amber Spyglass). The story captures the increasingly sinister behaviour of the Magisterium through the eyes of eleven-year-old Malcolm, who lives in a pub with his parents, across the river from a priory. There, the nuns suddenly and secretively become guardians to a six-month-old baby named Lyra Belacqua. . .