Reasons I Have Quit Reading Your Novel This Evening

The cover copy of your novel made it sound like the plot was kind of stapled together out of cliches. But a) cover copy can undersell the originality of a story, and b) the cliches you are using are ones I kind of like, so I was willing to go with it — especially since your setting, being not the Usual Thing, was interesting to me in its own right.

Unfortunately, you have not managed to transcend these cliches. I skipped ahead to see if you would, once the story actually got moving; instead I discovered that it takes a regrettably long time for the story to get moving. Furthermore, you seem to lack the courage of your convictions where the setting is concerned: the names are a random mix, some appropriate to the culture, others not, with no apparent pattern or reason for this blend, and the first fifty pages are littered with small details that contradict the rest of the picture. (Example: the presence of a food that is not only non-traditional to that culture, but traditionally considered disgusting.) While I do not demand 100% fidelity to a real-world culture in a secondary-world fantasy, I cannot find any compelling aesthetic rationale to explain why you diverged from it; the result therefore feels watered down, rather than interestingly varied.

It’s a pity. I was quite hoping to enjoy your novel. Alas, it is simply not doing enough to hold my interest, but instead far too much to push me away.

0 Responses to “Reasons I Have Quit Reading Your Novel This Evening”

  1. Anonymous

    Can’t figure out how to phrase this without sounding like a jerk, so yay cowardly anonymous screened comment, but…isn’t _Warrior_ full of redheads with inexplicably Japanese/Japanesque names and titles? I’m sure the rest of this unnamed book sucks just as much as it sounds, I’m just tripping over this one complaint.

    Maybe blind spots and being frustrated by others’ stylistic choices that show up in one’s own (admittedly early) work could be fodder for an SF Novelists post. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      I will cop to that one; you’re right that the witches’ appearance and their names don’t match up. My thoughts on it come from several angles.

      First, and most honestly: I was seventeen when I thought up that novel and its setting; nineteen when I finished the first draft. (Twenty-four when it sold, but it changed very little along the way.) There are lots of things about the setting I would do differently now. In fact, certain things that happen in the sequel, like the stuff with the Cousins, are born out of my twenty-five-year-old self trying to patch, or at least answer in some way, what I saw as flaws in the original.

      Second, and this is in part my seventeen-year-old logic: there’s no reason phenotype and phonology have to remain locked hand in hand. You could, in theory, have redheads with Japanese-looking names, or black-skinned people with Russian-looking names, or whatever. And other cultural details can be mixed-and-matched along with that; this is, in fact, the approach I use on my Nine Lands stories, though not as successfully as I’d like. (Most of those date to my college years, so again with the less than ideal results.) But that works better, I think, the more variation you work in — which is one of the reasons I don’t feel my Nine Lands stories succeed as well as they could. The witches in the doppelganger books have Japanese names and Japanese-style honorifics, but they don’t wear Japanese clothing, or have Japanese architecture, or Japanese religion. (Their architecture is Gothic; their religion, of course, is mostly Wiccan-ish, though the Elements are taken from Miyamoto Musashi. I don’t think I ever did describe their clothing very much.) I can’t promise this approach works for every reader, but it’s the one I was aiming for. The book I quit reading, however, was enough X to make the non-X details jarring and unexpected.

      Third: I did my best to be consistent, within a given aspect. All the witches in the doppelganger books have names based on Japanese phonology; I don’t have three characters named Miryo and Satomi and Ashin and one named Catherine. (I honestly can’t remember, right now, if I changed the few that originally had minor variations on Japanese phonology, like using the letter L. I think I did.) Furthermore, there was a reason why witches had names of a phonological type different from everybody else. In the novel I’m complaining about, it just seemed all over the place, within a group, and I saw no hints of ethnic differences or anything else that could explain it. (Frankly, lots of secondary-world fantasy is extremely inconsistent when it comes to nomenclature. It bugs me there, too, but I think I can cope with it better when the setting is Vague Pseudo-Europe, simply because I’m resigned to VPE being a generic mess.) Likewise, the food thing was jarring because it followed after descriptions that clearly pointed me in the direction of the real-world cuisine; then, randomly, it tossed in things that didn’t belong. The equivalent of talking about curry, and then mentioning a character with a hamburger. WTF?

      My rationale may not work for everybody, and similarly, the book I bounced off may not bother other people at all. (Probably doesn’t.) But those are my reasons, at least. And yes, this may become an SF Novelists post. 🙂

  2. Marie Brennan

    Check your e-mail. 🙂

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