reading the blurb on some website, somewhere, i thought that the sci-fi/fantasy elements and certain plot points could have b*sighhhh*
a not good book.
reading the blurb on some website, somewhere, i thought that the sci-fi/fantasy elements and certain plot points could have been super fun, in the manner of Heat by R. Lee Smith, or similar. i'm cool with shape shifting and magic and companion daemon-type creatures and especially the anthropology of worlds colliding. and i even am chill with an abduction-type plot, if the author treads carefully -- and, frankly, EARNS the risque' with excellent writing. i mean, see Heat or even parts of The Devil in Winter by lisa kleypas. or the better variations on beauty and the beast -- like robin mckinley's Beauty! and FOR SURE Willing Victim by cara mckenna. and much of The Spymaster's Lady by joanna bourne plays with the thrill of insane sexual chemistry between captor and captive. and on, and on, and on. my point is, "abduction with a side of titillation" + super alpha hero ≠ necessary disqualifier for a literate feminist. but this writer simply wasn't up to the challenge presented by the material she chose for herself, and i wound up this horrible melange of bored and squicked out -- theliteralworst combo when reading a romance novel.
let us detail some of the not good: (1) lots of "Flashes of Abby driving flashed through his head"–type clunkers (2) plenty of icky misogynist moments (e.g., the hero incessantly talks about "owning" the heroine; zero discussion of partnership; blech. and then he muses raping her while she's unconscious because, duh, she's so hot.* and she's forcibly kissed by some creeper dude and totally blames herself for somehow asking for it, even though she FOR LITERALLY THREE YEARS had been telling him she wasn't interested in him, which, NO. and the book is infused with primitive honor culture that in real, actual honor-culture life gets real, actual women beaten or disfigured with acid or sometimes even killed. i just couldn't suspend my disbelief and find this in any way a hott part of our hero's resume', this homocidal jealousy and overprotection). (3) our shaky heroine faints from fright a couple of different times and doesn't wake for hours, even though that's not how fainting works. (4) she was blowing glass "by the time she could walk" -- so, like, at nine months? fourteen if we're generous? #SuperAdvancedBabySkills #Prodigy (5) randos -- a whole host of them! -- are totally last-second shoe-horned into the plot NOT because it worked in this book (it didn't; they were very boring and very perfect and totally Stock Characters) but because the author wanted to set some shit up for her sequels. boooooo. (6) Mary Sue-ville, population: this entire book
so, no. very poor writing. very poor editing. ham-fisted handling of sensitive topics. do not bother. and, so sad, because i am decidedly pro–hot dragon lords who want to bone lady earthlings! *sigh*
i had this whole thing i was thinking about while listening to the audiobook where i was trying to track the fantasy with the real-life horror and figure out how the fictionalization and eroticization of a thing that is real-life terrible could just be a massive psychological coping mechanism. but i forget what i was gonna say. let's see. it was something like, "it's super gross when men are violently jealous and make their partnes fear for their lives. that's gross and sad, but it's a reality for many, many women. so, sometimes the mind KNOWS this is a reality, and that it's not going away, and so out of survival instinct manages to torque this ugly, misogynist, violent reality into a literary fantasy, wherein the violent jealousy of an alpha man and the resulting fear-arousal in the woman partner are flip-flopped into something sexual and desirable." like, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? in sum, the unavoidable, yucky thing that makes us queasy in the pit of our stomachs is doused with pheramones so we can cope with it. sort of, we're bedazzling domestic violence as a psychological crutch. which i get. i really, really do. i undoubtedly do this in SOMANY ways. BUT! i have recently learned that this need not be the path of every romance novel plot. in fact, there are a number of writers who have figured out that these disgusting things aren't the inevitable fate of all women, that we can all make the world a better place, and that they can write stories infused with a hopeful feminism even in an imperfect world. in fact, my fav writing is by authors who see through that bullshit and don't fall for it and instead flout the convention; they may write about realistic women in shitty, misogynist circumstances or populate their books with certain asshole characters who don't understand what a feminist is, but the authors help their heorines explore agency, and the ickiness of real life is more a sad backdrop to a tale of awesomeness and is less of a Life Lesson that says something like, "welp, he's gonna beat you for being looked at by that dude in the bar you didn't even literally make eye contact with, so we might as well decide it's sexy and at least ENJOY the beating." see what i mean? it reveals a very sad, small, stunted psychology, deformed by the misogyny in our culture. but if we learn to recognize it, we can learn to weed it out of the fairy tales we write for our own enjoyment.
* tho, to the author's credit, there is this mini-subplot where rape is explicitly discussed, and the hero makes it SO ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that IF his girl is raped, it is SO not her fault and in NO way makes her less of a person. which, that is a very good thing to think. now let us learn the dragon-man that he himself deserves none of the cookies for not raping. that's, like, BASELINE acceptable behavior. like, the LEAST of what i would expect out of my heroes. that they are unchill w rape. #NoCookie...more
AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION: voice actor was fine. her variation in dialogue for the many characters worked well eshaky 3 stars. i listened to the audiobook.
AUDIOBOOK PRODUCTION: voice actor was fine. her variation in dialogue for the many characters worked well enough, but the rest of her narration was pretty one note -- the same wistful, mystical, depressing angsty-voice almost the entire way through. THO: to be perfectly fair, the author wrote almost all of that main-character narration with that same, slogging feel, so i can only fault the voice actor so much.
THE BOOK ITSELF: i was actually fully expecting to give this book a two-star review; the subject matter was interesting, but the writing was too problematic too often: (1) right off the bat, the pace just lagged horribly; the author used three paragraphs when she could have used a few sentences. it felt like she was choking the plot with wordiness. (2) too many times i noticed her giving us important conclusions rather than letting us observe peoples' dialogue and interactions and the mood in order to let us infer important conclusions ourselves (which would have made for the most fun and engaging kind of reading). but since she told and didn't show, too frequently i was pulled out of the plot and left a bit bored and impatient. (3) the book has very little tonal shift (as i indicated above); it's almost entirely told through a dark, depressive, low-energy narrative. and the subject WAS dark and the narrator WAS depressed, but what i mean is there was almost no emotional modulation -- almost zero humor, little to alter the psychic landscape, i suppose, which, again, left me a bit bored. (4) and the character voices (not actual narration -- i mean their musings) were too homogenized. that is, the dialogue itself felt diverse enough, but whenever grace, the main character and our story's narrative voice, recounted a conversation with someone else in the second person, it was always told specifically in HER voice, through HER point of view. one case in point: when a body is discovered by a student (or maybe groundskeeper?), the student/groundskeeper rushes to grace's house to harriedly explain what he saw, but his garbled, frantic explanation, as recounted by grace for our benefit, is entirely in her mystical, depressive, wondering voice. i highly doubt he would have regarded the corpse in the poetically, depressively mystical way grace says he did. didn't track. and this happened a number of times. (5) occasionally grace narrates things to us -- perspectives, details -- that she couldn't plausibly have wittnessed/known for herself. for example, at one point grace's father has an altercation on the front lawn with a trespasser, which grace observes through her second-story bedroom window. grace talks about the details of her father's face and his eyes and small, minute observations she couldn't possibly have made from so far away. again, this happened a few times. sloppy writing.
so, all this caused me to mistrust the author and just want to get the story over with. i no longer trusted she'd taken the time to iron out the writing kinks and rescue what could have been an engaging story from the wrinkles.
but! maybe two-thirds of the way through the book, i finally found an emotional connection -- not coincidentally, i'm sure, when she finally makes an emotional connection to one of the characters -- at which point i began to care about grace and her journey. suffice it to say that her interactions at this point become more interesting and compelling, and she's less of a one-note sad sack, to mix a metaphor. it's her interactions with a specific character that lend her, her narration, and her plot arc much more interest and the story more energy.
also, at this point in the book, when lots of important plot details are emerging and we're getting closer and closer to our Bad Guy reveal, the author showed a restraint that up 'til now i wouldn't have expected of her. she had AMPLE opportunity to romp in cliche', and she resisted. her characters' actions were plausible and well-mapped within the confines of the world she'd created for them, but they were not expected. it was a wonderfully welcome pivot and frankly rescued the entire book for me. now i could more easily recommend this book to anyone who likes a dark tale.
so, great idea told mediocrely, but almost rescued from itself by the end. worth it in the end if you love dark thrillers with a wistful, mournful note.
also, btw, i noticed at that two-thirds point that the plot and a ton of characters were very strongly reminiscent of Veronica Mars, the first season especially. over and over i kept thinking, "the author was SO a VM fan." but i wouldn't say there was a noir, hard-boiled quality to this book at all -- which was a critical quality to VM's voice.
*** SPOILERS, IN WHICH I DRAW SPECIFIC COMPARISONS BETWEEN THIS NOVEL AND VM (view spoiler)[(1) nica baker = lilly kane = murdered spoiled popular party girl our heroine loves more than any other human, whose murder she is compelled to solve (2) grace baker = veronica mars with a meg manning makeover: she was our brooding amateur sleuth, but she had little or none of veronica's backbone or verve. she was meek and a goody-goody -- very meg -- and even wound up accidentally pregnant (see meg, season 2). (3) jamie = duncan kane, but the most spoiled, rich-boy, bratty, druggy version out there. like, duncan kane if Bad Logan had the mostest influence ever over him. (4) maddie (was it maddie? i can't even remember the names. nica's best friend. the dancer.) = madison sinclair, who is a two-faced friend turned nemesis who can't stand our heroine now that her fortunes have changed and she's depressing to be around. (4) reuben = the worst version of logan echolls ever, in a world where the author mightily shipped veronica and weevil and ain't got no time fa logan. (5) damon = weevil, but in a jock-edging-over-the-right-side-of-the-tracks sort of way. he's from the rough side of town, can definitely take care of himself in a fight, and has crazy chemistry with our heroine. it's sort of like we're seeing the version of weevil we catch a glimpse of in the VM movie, where he's cleaned up his act and become a family man. damon is a proto-that-weevil. EDITED TO ADD: OH! i just now realized that, JUST like weevil, damon has a sexual history with the dead girl BFF, nica/lilly! so, so many parallels. (6) jamie's mom and dad (can't remember their names) = reasonable facsimiles of jake and celeste kane -- rareified snobs, moneyed, looking down their noses at our heroine, wanting their precious son to have nothing to do with her or her family (7) our heroine's parents have effectively split up because the mother's walked out on her daughter; he's a sad sack, she's self-absorbed. (8) our heroine works a seedy part-time blue collar job in a bail bonds office -- tonally similar to the gritty Mars Investigations. her boss there even has a competent cheerfulness that maybe would have blossomed into a keith mars awesomeness had we gotten to spend more time around him. but we didn't. because he ended up in the hospital (LIKE KEITH DID AT THE END OF SEASON 1 WAAAAT). (9) there's even a friggin' Chrysler LeBaron, people. i'm not even kidding. (10) shocker incest plot twist goes down. (but this time it's for actual real. no fakeouts.) (11) very similar stupid-drunk-at-a-party-and-date-raped plot twist happens (but sans roofies). (12) our heroine sees her dead sister in very much the same way veronica saw lilly -- in a way that more left the audience/reader thinking they were seeing a window into veronica's grief and psyche and less convinced that the author was actually trying to infuse this world with the supernatural. (11) whole thing takes place in a snooty school full of rich kids (Neptune High, anyone?). (12) there's a young too-hot-for-his-own-good teacher who is icky and likes to sleep with his hotter students (see: that one episode in VM where blair waldorf [whatevs] accuses ben wyatt [. . .] of statutory rape). (13) our heroine is on the verge of death, and her bff sister's dead spirit won't allow her to die (see: lilly floating on the lake with veronica, in bikinis, wishing they were alive together, and lilly sadly telling veronica she has to go back to the world of the living, at which point veronica does)
i'm sure there are bunches of others i've missed.
but, like i say, important: while TONS of plot points or character elements mirror Veronica Mars, tonally the two are worlds apart. Dark Rooms reads much more "soap opera" than it does "noir." (hide spoiler)]...more