Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Cool World is Not Enough

I've just stopped reading another YA novel about 65% of the way through. And it's one I'd been really looking forward to reading. It's not a massive bestseller, but it definitely got some buzz and sounded cool.

But it didn't work for me.

First the good stuff: This book has a very interesting and imaginative world. And it subtly explores some really interesting ideas about gender roles and society, not to mention cool sci-fi stuff, even though it felt more like fantasy than sci-fi.

But even that is a cool thing about the book. For a long while you don't know whether it's fantasy or sci-fi, whether it's in some imagined past or the future. And the answer to that, once we learn it is satisfying enough.

There was so much about the world building of this book that I admire and/or I wish I'd thought of first. :) And the opening chapters were intriguing and exciting. I was sucked in. For a while, I thought that I was going to LOVE this book.

But then it failed to go anywhere and nit-picky things started to nag at me more and more and more.

1) The world, while fascinating, didn't fully make sense. That's the kind of thing I can easily let go if the story and characters are pulling me along but, well, see below.

2) The character's personality does a 180. To me, she becomes a totally different person after the "inciting incident". She goes from a sullen, silent teen, who's completely in her own head and doesn't share something pretty freaking important with her family, into a smart-ass who talks back to everyone, flirts with everyone, acts up to the point of putting herself in constant danger--just to be difficult. Two-thirds of the way through the book, I still didn't know who she was. And she made me more and more angry.

3) Her acting out made no sense. Even if she wanted to undermine the authority, the things she did made no logical sense. Rather, she seems determined to be punished. For no reason other than maybe the author thought that her being punished (again) would count as a plot point? And the reasons for her punishments, now that I think of it, weren't really because of her legitimately bad behavior. No. The antagonist (an adult) would punish her out of jealousy... because the protagonist kissed her favorite servant boy. Because she realized the protagonist looked good in a party dress. Because she realized the protagonist had talent and would one day be her superior. It was all such petty motivation.

4) And back to that thing she kept from her family at the start... In a nutshell, she knows that the authorities will be coming for her. In fact, she knows they're coming that night. She knows her parents don't want it to happen and have been working her whole life to make sure it won't happen. Yet.. she doesn't warn her parents that it's about to happen. Maybe because it will put a damper on her sister's birthday party??? But doesn't she think that the authorities storming in to take her away might also ruin the party??? Why not warn her family? Why not take the opportunity to say good-bye?

It didn't bother me that much at the time. Because what happened was exciting and I assumed she had a reason for not warning them, but no such reason is ever revealed. And because of her silence, her family all ends up DEAD. Worse, not once after that does the protagonist even have a passing thought that maybe she bears a tiny bit of responsibility for their deaths. Not once. Not up to 65% of the way through the book, anyway...

5) Another thing that bugged me was that characters were constantly having "big realization" moments about things that I was 99% sure they already knew, or should have known... Even the main character has this "I'm no one special" moment after it's been made abundantly clear to her over and over, that the only reason she hasn't been killed for all her bad behavior is that she is VERY special. In fact she's the key to the ongoing survival of the entire world they're in. And yet, she thinks, "They won't care about me. I'm no one special." WHAT???

6) So, it's clear the main character is an important girl. Okay, maybe not everyone knows this or knows why... but when the antagonist does things that could seriously hurt the main character, and therefore threaten their entire world... no one does anything about it or punishes the antagonist or tries to stop her! It was like nothing was connected in a world where, well, the whole point was that everything was connected and visible to the authorities. (See what I mean about the logic problems?)

7) Even though they died for it, it's hard to understand what her parents hoped to save her from in the first place... She gets taken away into what seems like a way better life than she'd been destined for if they'd been successful in "saving" her. Sure, there are subtle threats about "power corrupting the powerful" but is it worth risking death to (unsuccessfully) keep your kid from being one of the powerful few?

I suppose that question could be debated and perhaps it's one of the things the book is about... but to the point I'd reached, it had yet to be explored. And, again, the character felt no guilt about her part in her parents' deaths.

8) I found the book riddled with inconsistencies. I do know, as an author of books set in imaginary worlds... that if a reader wants to get picky, he or she can always find something to pick at... But in this book, they just piled up for me. In addition to the stuff mentioned above, at one point, the character has already seen that the authorities have wiped her sister's mind clean, and given her a new life and new memories, and the character has learned that in a few days she has to go in for a procedure that sounds like it might wipe HER mind clean, or at least alter her mind. And she thinks and worries about that. And then a page later she thinks something like: at least they can't mess with my thoughts. WHAT??? You know they can. Idiot.

9) But the biggest sin for me in this book, is that at 65% through, there was still no evidence of a plot. Worse, the main character did not have a goal. I had no idea what she wanted or how I'd know if/when she got it. The author's entire point of the story seemed to be: show readers this cool and interesting world I thought up, by making my character travel through it and to make it fun, why not have her flirt with two boys--and a creepy grown man--none of whom have any real personality.

I saw part of an author interview, and based on what I read, I don't think I"m far from wrong in my guess of the author's writing process.

Sounds like this was a first book by a seat-of-her-pants author, who had a cool idea, but really didn't have a clue as to where it was heading, or even what the story was about, other than the world ideas.

10) But the reason I finally stopped reading was that (growing frustrated) I read a few negative reviews that revealed that, even at the end, there's no indication of where the story is heading. The book ends on a cliffhanger that sounds like the author simply didn't know how to finish the book, so she didn't. If I'm this angry now, just imagine the rant if I'd taken the 3-4 more hours to finish!

Now, I actually think that it's possible to have a book that's largely about revealing cool and interesting things about an imaginative world. But only if there are fascinating characters to care about and only if that cool world holds together...

With this book's story world, if you tug on one tiny logic thread, the entire thing unravels.

(I don't want to mention the title... because I dread the idea of someone picking apart my books like this... but that last line contains a hint for anyone who might have read it.)

Can you think of a book that works with mostly world building and character development and no plot? I'm sure there must be some...

Oh, this rant got WAY longer than I meant it to. I must be on a deadline. #responsibiltyavoidance #selfsabotage


Anonymous said...

Such a good point. A great idea will carry me a portion of the way through a novel, and I'll even overlook gaps in logic as long as the plot is great, but if the plot doesn't show, then I'll get annoyed. Probably long before you did.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I think for me it has to be the characters. It's why the last Hunger Games fell apart for me. The world was still as cool as it ever was but I lost touch with Katnis.

If I'm not invested in the people - the coolest world around won't make a difference.

smittenkittenorig said...

I had the "cool world wasn't enough" issue with Mystic City. The characterisations were too flat for the mains & the plot... well, I'll just say it lacked. I had been excited to finally read it because scifi/romantasy had all my bases covered but the only thing that stood out as well done by the end was the world.

Maureen McGowan said...

This book would make you crazy, Sinead. if I didn't have the kindle version, I'd want to loan it to you just to see you fume. :) We both know there were some others that I enjoyed (eg. Matched) that didn't have enough plot for you... In this one, stuff happens... it just has zero structure.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wow - you are not a fan.

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