When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?
No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.
One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.
The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.
Every time the H&H got into really dire straits, either the heroine discovered hitherto latent magical superpowers, or she called on the gods, who intervened to help her survive and/or smite the baddies. Worse still, there was no way the reader could have anticipated what would happen. As a reader, I was infuriated. I thought the author cheated, and I felt excluded. It was as unsatisfactory as reading a murder mystery where the important clues were withheld and the detective identifies the culprit by means unavailable to the reader.
Fellow Eight Lady Michille has said in the past that she doesn’t read fantasy/paranormal because (paraphrasing here) she doesn’t enjoy this kind of plotting. At one improbable juncture I thought I heard Michille’s voice in my head saying, “And suddenly…I can fly!!”
Memo to self: force your characters get themselves out of trouble, and make sure the reader knows in advance exactly what weapons and superpowers they have at their disposal.
Now I’m back to wrestling with my WIP, refreshed and enlightened.
What did you learn this week?