A Call to Order

In 2020 the average American family size was 3.15 people (how is that even…?). I grew up in a household of nine, which qualifies as a large family by today’s standards. Queen Charlotte, who presented George III with fifteen assorted princes and princesses, scoffs. Loudly.

As I put the final touches on Sycamore Dorning’s story (youngest son of from a brood of nine blended siblings) I was struck by how often I write a series from the top down. The Windham sons, being the oldest, made up the first trilogy for that family and Lady Eve brought up the rear. The Haddonfield tales began with Wee Nick, the oldest, and finished with Max/Adolphus, the youngest son. The first two Dorning tales were Jacaranda and Grey, followed by Willow, et cetera and so forth.

Mary Balogh, with the Slightly series, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that having the oldest sibling as the eminence gris who occasionally does secondary hero or secondary villain duties, can really build suspense. By the time we get to Bewcastle’s tale (Slightly Dangerous) after watching him sashay through five other books (and never once smile), we are pretty well panting for His Grace to fall hard.

But I seem to prefer to watch the younger siblings develop and mature as their elders take center stage first. I’m indebted to my niece, who has a master’s in social work, for splaining me why this might be.

It’s apparently a trait of younger siblings in large families to take on whatever roles aren’t already spoken for. If the parents and older siblings lack financial sense, the youngest might become the family bookkeeper. If nobody else in the family pays any attention to the Aged P’s, the second-to-youngest might take on that job.

Last-borns and later-borns apparently often develop an ability to size up their tribe–or any tribe–and see what’s lacking. Sometimes, the moment calls for a joke, other times, what’s needed is a hard truth nobody will admit. The later-borns are more facile at reading and meeting these needs, and the family as a unit is stronger and healthier as a result.

That dynamic can leave the later-born child in a quandary though, trying to sort through what’s familial duty and what’s personal preference.

It’s a theory. In any case, I apparently believe that saving the best for last in a sibling series means finishing with the younger, cannier, more chameleon-like later-borns. But I absolutely loved the Slightly series, and Slightly Dangerous in particular.

Do you have a preference for series order? Do you think there’s anything to the idea that younger siblings adapt to meet familial needs? My oldest brothers would probably say the shoe goes on the other foot, with trailblazers getting stuck with the hardest jobs…

I’ll add three commenters to my e-ARC list for The Last True Gentleman, and PS The pre-order links are up for Miss Delectable, Mischief in Mayfair–Book One.



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22 comments on “A Call to Order

  1. I was the oldest girl (one older brother) in a family of six children. I don’t know if it was my birth order or my personality, but I always felt a sense of responsibility for the others. Even if I didn’t want to, I felt it was my responsibility to do the difficult things. Even now, with just the three of us who are left all being in our seventies, I still have that feeling, even though I’m in no position to be responsible for or help to anyone (smile).

    I don’t have a preference for the order in a series, but I do like it when one character has a dramatic build up. Mary Balogh did much the same thing in her Huxtable Series. The cousin (Constantine) is in and out of each book and you never know for sure if he is a hero or villain until the last book.

  2. I don’t have a preference of series order BUT I do like it when you begin with the older siblings. And it’s not just ’cause I’m the oldest of six siblings, as is my Hubby. We can see the younger Sibs before they’re the center of attention. We see them younger (mostly)and see them as the mature and evolve into what brings them to getting their HEA.

    My youngest sister was 11 year old when I got married and I have NO IDEA why she chose the life she did (single and a massage therapist). I feel like I missed out on knowing her. She’s always behaved like she doesn’t want to know me–it’s sad really–but I’ve tried. 🙁 Hubby also doesn’t have the greatest relationship with his youngest sibling who was 16 when we got married, who knows why. Sigh.

  3. I am the oldest of three and realize that not everyone finds a career or their HEA in family order. I am 9 years older than my brother and felt responsible for him until he was in his mid twenties. It was a huge relief for my husband when my brother married. Now, I see how kind and patient my brother is to my Mom as their roles have reversed.

    I don’t have a preference for reading order. I love reading how family members interact and understand letting a character “stew” in the background adds a bit of mystery and intrigue to the storyline.

    I have read the Windham and Lonely Lords series out of order. I enjoyed each story individually. However, I did go back and read books 1-3 in order. I enjoyed Nicholas’ journey- he was a background character in a couple of the lonely Lords and I waited for him to get his story. Wondered who would capture his heart. And I loved how he grew as each of his sisters found their husbands. Loved that he bartered sheep for Nita and found a soulmate for George.
    Let me know when the paperback links are available in your store for Miss Delectable.
    Enjoy the week- we’ve snow headed our way tomorrow night.

  4. As a late-born only child who immediately fell into early adulting because there WAS no one else, I love to wallow in the familial ties I’ll never know. My mother was the youngest of 14 to live past infancy, so everyone was elderly by the time I surprised the clan. My dad was an only, too, and bless him for teaching me self-sufficiency from an early age.

    I’m completely fascinated by the notion of anyone sharing the load.

  5. Both you and your niece have a valid point, so although you can delay the eldest sibling’s story a bit (e.g., Wulfric Bedwyn or Anthony Bridgerton), the reality is that the youngest siblings are frequently too young to be romantic, especially the large families. You can’t write a HEA for a 9 year old — they need time to grow up! Besides, you’ve got to follow the stories as they reveal themselves.

  6. Huh, your niece’s comment seems very logical. I had never considered it in that light before!

    I enjoy both, starting with the eldest and moving down in age, and also the reverse, starting with the youngest first. I simply like it to be orderly in a family. If it’s a group of friends, that desire for age-determined book order is out the window. I had never realized that until you mentioned this, haha

  7. I have given this week’s blog some thought and of course taken my own family’s situation into account.I am a middle child of three girls.My eldest sister was born with brain damage due to being born 12 week’s early and not expected to survive.But she did and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.I was born 3 years later and my younger sister 8 years after that .This upset the dynamics a bit because each of us felt on our own much of the time.My eldest sister needed care and attention.I soon became independent,I looked after myself but I also ran errands for mum.When my other sister arrived I was approaching my teens and though I had to look after her a lot she grew a very shy child.We lived on a farm miles from a town.So I can honestly say I don’t think this week’s theory applied to my family in that way .What I can say is that for us our mum and dad shared love to us all and prepared us to tackle life’s ups and downs.We turned out okay and have contributed much in our lives.With our own families we have received so much in return and so it goes on.Families and all its complex characters making a go of it.I was lucky with my family—we were loved.My younger sister and I are all that remains of that part of our lives but we are close and we cherish our children and their children.Time rolls on and somehow seems to speed up but it can never take away memories.

  8. We all take our own paths. I’m the oldest of four and married first at age 19, but divorced at 21. I’m now 70 and have had many relationships, some long-term, but have never remarried. My two youngest brothers married and have grown children. The 2nd child/oldest brother has been in a relationship since the 80s but they’ve never married or had kids. I call his partner my sister-out-law.

    I love family series. One of my all-time favorites, which doesn’t start with the oldest sibling, is Jo Beverley’s Malloren family, where eldest child Beowulf blames himself for not preventing his mother from killing his baby sister. He becomes Marquess of Rothgar at 19 with the death of his father and stepmother, and feels a terrible responsibility for his four younger half-siblings, meddling shamelessly in their lives. The youngest, Cynric (twin brother to Elfred), is the first to find love in a scandalous way, and the other three follow. Rothgar has sworn never to marry because of his mother’s madness, but in the fifth book he finds a woman he can’t resist.

    The series was so popular that Beverley wrote nine more books featuring Malloren relatives and friends. Kind of like your Lonely Lords, Jaded Gentlemen, and all the rest. 🙂

  9. I like both yours and the Mary Balogh books, so no, no preference. Just prefer good books.

    I was one of six kids, and have one child. Two of my sisters have no children, my brother had 3, and the other two sisters had 2 kids apiece.

  10. I am sure I am too late for you to even read this Grace, but; I read Slightly Dangerous because you mentioned it in a blog post or some such. I then read the entire series backwards and ended with A Summer To Remember which is sort of a transition book I guess between 2 different series. I have to say it was kind of fun reading Slightly backwards although it is better reading it forward.

    I guess I don’t have a preference for which direction the author prefers. I am pretty sure Cam started out as brother number 4 and mysteriously slid down to 7 in there somewhere. Looking forward to his story.

    • FYI: I am sure you are all dying to know that I am the middle of 3 although my brother is 9 years younger so maybe I am also the younger of 2. I think who I am has mostly to do with our unique family dynamics than to birth order.

  11. I prefer to read in the order written, if possible. Many authors write characters in from past books. The reading experience is richer for knowing them.

    As for birth order, I tend to agree with those who said it truly depends on circumstance. The sociologists have huge data banks on which to draw. However, create a blended family, consider the age gaps among children, throw in a special needs child, have a sick, ailing or absent parent and the dynamic changes.

  12. I do not have a preference for series order. I usually am more concerned that all siblings having a book than the order in which they are written (or published). I grew up with 2 siblings and only had 2 children, so I can’t speak about large families. The traditional roles of each siblings don’t always play out in my experience either for example, I’m the middle child but became the ‘overacheiver’ because my sister was more interested in ‘trailblazing’ ways of rebelling and getting involved in activities that I wasn’t very interested in.

  13. I don’t care youngest to oldest or vice versa as long as the series flows chronologically by the events in each story. Children don’t always marry in order of birth but it makes sense that in large families when many years separate the oldest sibling from the youngest, that the youngest’s story would be last.

  14. I’m the third of four and our romantic lives did not resolve in birth order. My oldest brother was married and divorced first but then I married and over the following 6 years the others all settled down. Reading, I don’t mind if siblings don’t marry in order but I prefer the oldest one or two first, then anything goes.

    • Like your brother, I was the oldest and married young but divorced soon after. I think my siblings learned from my mistake as they were much more careful about to whom they committed. Perhaps y’all were similarly observant. 🙂

      • Yes, I definitely think we were a bit more cautious for having seen a young, quick marriage and divorce up close. The result is that all four of us are very happily situated now, so I do not in any way regret the think twice strategy.

  15. I am the oldest in my family and can relate to the feeling of responsibility for the younger siblings. Although statistically these family ‘norms’ can look legit on paper, good or bad parenting can make or break those sibling dynamics.

    I don’t have a preference for book order in respect to a character’s birth order. I really enjoyed Balogh’s Sligtly series, and I love your various series and frequently reread or re-listen to my favorites (which just happens to be whatever story that pops into my brain at that time.) (I should know Darius by heart.) But I’ve also reread entire series of yours multiple times.

    When they are well written, when the stories are wonderful, age order doesn’t matter. I love series, period. Because I love when either a group of friends or a bunch of family members show up in each other’s books…to irritate, commiserate, tease, or lend support.

    I’m so excited about Cam’s book, I didn’t think it would every come! I know that was an exaggeration. I’ve preordered so I won’t submit my name for the ARC this time. But I wish everyone luck with your very generous offer.

  16. I used to think I would prefer oldest to youngest. But, having now read two series where it gets mixed up a bit, I am changing my mind and saying, “whatever works!”
    I do prefer that older go before younger _in general_, but can totally work with mixed up HEA order.
    It wouldn’t make sense for the youngest to go first if they are 12 and the oldest is 27. (In my grandmother’s family, there was a 24 year age gap between oldest to youngest… and I have a number of great and 2x great aunts uncles cousins who also had similarly large and dispersed families.) So, agreeing with others that it has to work situationally and story-wise… there may be a big, important reason for the youngest to marry first!

    I am iffy on the youngest meeting the familial needs… fitting in where there are gaps. I feel like it’s more of an oldest and middle kid thing, but I did not come from a large family. Youngest siblings tend to have to shoulder less responsibility… Middle kids can get overshadowed by the eldest and the youngest… and are known to be quiet and even-tempered. (I was told often that I was the most patient kid the adult knew.) We are great team players, cooperative, and trusting in friendships. We are independent because our parent(s) are too busy dealing with the eldest and youngest who are creating trouble. ;p (I’m kidding about them creating trouble… although that _did_ happen in my family!)
    Middles are driven, but in justice/social issues vs. earning power.

    My younger sibling did not have to meet familial needs. (But, again, not a large family.)

    Birth order stuff can be affected by how many years are in between siblings.

    For instance, my older sibling and I are only 13 months apart and because we are so close, we both exhibit traits of oldest and middle. She is more oldest and I’m more middle, but we aren’t “strict” on birth order descriptions.

    If two children are born far apart, they may both exhibit “oldest kid” or “only kid” traits.

    However it works out, it’s all fascinating in my opinion!! 😀

  17. I have a mixed opinion on this one, I love that Slightly series, In fact just finished a re-read a couple of weeks ago. In that case it made sense to finish with Wulfric, it was a grand culmination to wrap it all up! In general, i care less about birth order, and care more about is the story sequence logical. In large families, it feels artificial when if happens sequentially. At least in my life nothing is quite that neat and tidy!

  18. I have read the whole series and I believe that is absolutely perfect the way it is. I am not certain that there is a right or wrong way of doing this. I think it all depends on how the characters develop and interact with each other and on how that adds to the overall picture. For example, starting with the courtship of the middle siblings could seem strange but it may create opportunities for developing conflict between the siblings, which may enrich the plot. Your books are pure joy either way

  19. I love love love love the Haddonfield books. I’ve read them all but can’t find anything on Afolphus Haddonfield and would love to know what happened to Leonie.