Book 1, Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not optional. After all, it’s how Amelia and Emerson meet. 😉
Book 2, The Curse of the Pharaohs, and Book 3, The Mummy Case – Fairly skippable. Ramses is still very young at this point and not as actively participating in the plots.
Book 4, Lion in the Valley – Not skippable just on the grounds that this one introduces Sethos, although be warned that the initial stretches of the book are pretty slow going.
Book 5, The Deeds of the Disturber – I have great love for this one as I mentioned in last night’s review post, but if I absolutely had to make the call, and you’re trying to condense your reading down to the most important books in the series, you could skip this one. But I’d encourage you not to!
Book 6, The Last Camel Died at Noon – Critical. Introduces Nefret.
Book 7, The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog – Skippable, despite the fact that it’s an amnesia plot and I’m a sucker for those. It’s a fairly self-contained story involving Amelia and Emerson, since Ramses and Nefret are left behind in England. Nice callbacks to the early days of their relationship, but you won’t miss anything major if you skip it.
Book 8, The Hippopotamus Pool – The main point of interest for this one is that this is the book that introduces the last major critical character to come into play, and that’s David. However, the plot is mostly skippable. I didn’t even remember it, or that it’s the one where David shows up, until my recent re-read.
Books 9-12, Seeing a Large Cat, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, The Falcon at the Portal, and He Shall Thunder in the Sky, form an internal quartet of sorts as they are the books that form the major arc of Ramses and Nefret. Strongly recommend that you do NOT skip any of these. They’re also the ones where Peters starts writing quite a bit of the story from Ramses’ point of view, as well as putting in occasional letters written from Nefret’s POV.
Be warned that Book 11, The Falcon at the Portal, has things in it that annoyed the hell out of me on my first read of the book and which still annoyed me on my recent re-read. Be warned also that the ebook version I read of this on my nook was very badly done; there were typos all over the place, missing words and broken formatting, and in several places the name Selim was read as Scum, and the word Sitt was shown as Sill. I’m seriously wondering if this ebook was put together as a bad OCR job.
That said, read it anyway (in non-ebook form unless there are better ebook versions than the one I have), as there is critical stuff in there that sets up the book that comes after, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, which more than made up for Falcon‘s transgressions. 😉 Note also that Book 12 has a Major Reveal involving Sethos as well, another reason that this book is arguably the high point of the series. Do not skip Book 12 under any circumstances!
After Book 12, though, things get fairly optional. (I have review posts to come for these.) It is important to note that two of the later books actually take place chronologically earlier in the series–and in fact fall right between The Ape Who Guards the Balance and The Falcon at the Portal. These are Book 16, Guardian of the Horizon, and the most recent one, Book 19, A River in the Sky. In my opinion both of these are fairly skippable since they’re just going in and filling in missing time, and don’t really bring anything new to the overall saga of the Emersons.
I’ve only read books 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18 one time each and barely remember anything about them, aside from how you get new child characters that come in as the next generation of the Emersons. Books 13-15 were solid enough as I recall, and I remember being charmed by book 15. However, it was round about book 17 that I found that Peters’ writing was starting to feel pretty perfunctory, without the same vivacity and spark that her earlier works had shown. (This may just be a matter of Peters’ age; she’s in her 80’s now and she showed the same problem with Book 6 of the Vicky Bliss series too.)
So if you’re in the mood to keep going after Book 12, Books 13-15 I think go more into depth with Ramses doing intelligence work during World War I, and Book 15 is a good stopping point for that. But 17 and 18 were both fairly skippable.
Any questions? 🙂