ID’ing the pattern
I’ve gotten a number of reviews of both Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie that say some variant on, “this takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s pretty awesome.” (Or sometimes, “this takes forever to get going, and I gave up.”) I fully expect that as more reviews come in for A Star Shall Fall, I’ll get a few that say the same thing.
And I’ve finally figured out how to characterize it in my head: these books are arrangements of dominoes.
That is to say, the opening stages of each book are about lining up the stones, creating patterns that will — once set in motion — crash into each other in (hopefully) interesting ways. And the important part of this epiphany is, I’m not sure I could write these books any other way. Not so long as they are both (1) historical and (2) full of intrigue. I have to set the scene (in terms of both time and place), and I have to set up the political board (to steal from the metaphor I had Walsingham use in the first book). If I skip either of those steps, the dominoes will not fall as they should, because the reader will have no idea who these people are and why they’re doing what I just said they did.
So I don’t feel like this is a flaw, per se. Just a “mileage may vary” kind of thing. There are better and worse ways of doing the setup, and my success with it has probably been uneven; I’ll certainly be looking at the opening parts of this fourth book with an eye toward making the setup as engaging as it can be. But my feeling that the current scenes for both Dead Rick and Eliza kick them into a higher degree of motion than they were before? That’s just how these books go. The dominoes have begun to fall, and pretty soon the various lines I’ve laid out will begin to collide with one another, revealing the pattern of the whole. It’s like Lune’s Act III conversation with Tiresias in Midnight, or Vidar’s appearance at the end of Part II in Ashes, or [redacted on account of spoilers for Star].
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go knock down some more dominoes.