Liz's Reviews > Ironside

Ironside by Holly Black
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Sep 28, 2009

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** spoiler alert ** You know, this book is what made me decide that I'm not going to keep reading and re-reading Holly Black. I mean, sure, I'll read the last book in the series, but from there on it stops. The non-gay parts were good, but there were a lot of gay parts. I'm kinda over having to read swearing, sordidness, death, depression, etc, every time I go for an urban fantasy. I'm sticking with Charles de Lint from now on. He's nicer to read, a lot easier on the brain.
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Reading Progress

09/27/2009 page 127
39.32% "It's okay. It's technically better than Tithe, but I'm not enjoying it as much."
09/27/2009 page 130
40.25% "Okay, that's disgustingly well-done. I don't want to imagine it but I can't help it. Poor Lala."
09/28/2009 page 336
100% "Um. Yeah. Great plot, awesome riddle thing, but the whole Corny/*character who will not be named* plot just turned me off."

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Swankivy (new)

Swankivy I disliked Tithe to the point where I didn't want to read any more. The character motivations were so muddy and there were some inconsistencies I couldn't deal with, and it just seemed like the author was a lot more wrapped up in her modern fantasy "feeling" than whether anything made sense. Interesting to see what you've said about this later book.


message 2: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Thankyou :) There are some writers whose characters are easier for me to 'analyse', if you like, and Holly Black isn't one of them. It's like all her characters are similar, but it doesn't really bother me.

Half the time I go with the flow and don't question anything. It's only recently that I've learnt to think, 'would that character do this?' and actually let it bother me when the answer is 'no'.

What you said about the 'feeling' makes quite a lot of sense, too.

I'd be interested in hearing some of the bigger points you disliked about Tithe if you can remember. I was going to say something about it not bothering me, and then I went and checked my review for it. Apparently it did.


message 3: by Swankivy (new)

Swankivy One of the things that bothered me most about it was that the author didn't seem to have decided what the rules were in her world in some ways--like, Kaye was supposed to have been actually a faerie all along but in disguise until she was sixteen, but apparently the illusion was fickle enough that she occasionally saw glimpses of her real self through it (I recall some mention of her seeing through it in the mirror briefly once?) . . . but then somehow the spell on her is strong enough that before it's removed she can still smoke and come into contact with stuff that hurts her once her disguise comes off. There's also the fact that her disguise was supposed to make people think she was human, yet even with the disguise she had some very peculiar characteristics. Why not actually make her look pretty ordinary? Oh, because it's more fun to have a romantically unique-looking character, even if it wouldn't have made sense. It seemed like Holly Black wrote Kaye as if she'd just become a faerie, not been a disguised one all along.

There were also some reactions after "the reveal" that bothered me--she never felt to me like a real person who'd landed in this situation. That's actually one of my common problems with most modern fantasy--there aren't that many authors out there who know how to take actual human nature into account, and in this one it REALLY fell flat for me. In my review I gave this book two stars, because I enjoyed the concept enough to keep going, but I did think the writing was very choppy as well as the character motivations quite muddy, so I didn't want to put up with any more of it while reading the next book. The characters didn't interest me enough to want to know what happened to them.

I'm probably harder on authors whose character development doesn't pass muster because I'm also a writer and character development is one of my strong points. Real people can react to very strange situations in a variety of ways, sure, but the reactions have to feel real given their personality and context. For instance, my webcomic is a modern fantasy, and one of the storylines involves a main character having a baby who turns out to have superpowers. In readers' responses to my work, I've occasionally gotten folks who think I must be a mother because of how I wrote the character's pregnancy and birthing and the aftermath of raising her daughter, and they've been surprised to find that I don't have any children and am not writing about things that have happened to me. You don't have to have been in the fictional situation, as a writer, to write it convincingly (thank goodness for those of us who write speculative fiction!). But you do have to write it--both the mundane and the fantastical bits--as if you know exactly what it's like. If the mundane parts are convincing, also, they help lend a feeling of reality to the weirder parts of the plot.

I've also written one novel about fairies myself, but they're nothing like the characters in this series, so I suppose it's a different animal. ;)






message 4: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz It seemed like Holly Black wrote Kaye as if she'd just become a faerie, not been a disguised one all along.

Now that you mention it, I remember feeling that.

Actually, something I remember from the second book, Valiant. Ravus, a troll, says that when you're glamoured, something of yourself always remains the same--the eyes, backwards feet, a hollow back, something like that. But Kaye didn't have any of that.

There were also some reactions after "the reveal" that bothered me--she never felt to me like a real person who'd landed in this situation. That's actually one of my common problems with most modern fantasy--there aren't that many authors out there who know how to take actual human nature into account, and in this one it REALLY fell flat for me.

One thing I liked but hated about Ironside was that Ellen, after throwing Kaye out when she reveals that she's a fairy, eventually takes her back. So yeah, happy ending, but it wasn't the right one.

I find it very hard to get into my characters' heads when something happens to them, even if something like that actually has happened to me, because the thing is, they're not me. I guess I'm lucky that I can act and so I can try and get into their heads that way.

...I did think the writing was very choppy...

Sheesh, I have a long way to go, because I thought the writing was quite atmospheric! If it's not asking too much, a couple of examples would be interesting. (Can I keep you on my good side by stating that I just want to improve my writing?)

For instance, my webcomic is a modern fantasy, and one of the storylines involves a main character having a baby who turns out to have superpowers.

Dang it, spoilers! (I was actually reading the beginning of it a couple of weeks ago, and then real life got in the way, so I was going to come back to it later.)

In readers' responses to my work, I've occasionally gotten folks who think I must be a mother because of how I wrote the character's pregnancy and birthing and the aftermath of raising her daughter, and they've been surprised to find that I don't have any children and am not writing about things that have happened to me.

Did you do any research on pregnancy and pregnant women, etc? Or did you just jump in and write it?

But you do have to write it--both the mundane and the fantastical bits--as if you know exactly what it's like. If the mundane parts are convincing, also, they help lend a feeling of reality to the weirder parts of the plot.

Good advice. I'll remember that.

I've also written one novel about fairies myself, but they're nothing like the characters in this series, so I suppose it's a different animal. ;)

I actually have one about fairies simmering in my brain as well. It's light(ish) urban fantasy about a school talent show, the characters, and the fairies that try to mess it up. Except I haven't gotten the characters yet. I'm more of the sort of person who gets inspired by a plot idea, and then when she writes it, her characters grow from that.


message 5: by Swankivy (last edited Oct 04, 2009 11:06PM) (new)

Swankivy I find it very hard to get into my characters' heads when something happens to them, even if something like that actually has happened to me, because the thing is, they're not me.

Hmm. That's kinda backwards from me. I definitely feel you on "because they're not me," because my characters never act like I would in a situation (though sometimes it might be similar in some ways because, well, there are some standard reactions to certain things). This is what drives me CRAZY when people close to me read my work and make assumptions about me. If I write a character who's similar to me in any way but reacts to a situation differently, all of a sudden people think I'm writing about myself, and it's really annoying. Some people actually think I must secretly have romantic inclinations because I can write about them. Given how my mom thinks everything I write is autobiographical, when I gave her my last novel I felt like I had to reassure her that I don't actually go into a fantasy land when I'm asleep and fall in love with cute boys who play the drums.

I have a long way to go, because I thought the writing was quite atmospheric! If it's not asking too much, a couple of examples would be interesting.

As mentioned I did not read the second or third books in this series, so I dunno if the writing got better, but how about from Tithe:

"Kaye touched her hair, blond as her mother's. It was the hair that baffled people." Er? This was such a lumpy way to introduce her hair color. Made me wrinkle my nose big-time.

Ordinarily it's the lack of fit with their environment that makes the writing feel choppy to me, though--the way it frames scenes with feelings that just don't feel right. Out of context, quoting lines probably wouldn't do much. But I remember being annoyed at a lot of the jagged edges of those introduction-to-protagonist bits.

(Can I keep you on my good side by stating that I just want to improve my writing?)

What'd you imagine was gonna put you on my bad side?

Dang it, spoilers! (I was actually reading the beginning of it a couple of weeks ago, and then real life got in the way, so I was going to come back to it later.)

Boo. Well, at least I didn't say what the superpowers are. ;) I generally have no problem dropping that spoiler when I'm describing the comic because that's one of the big draws of reading it, and if you don't give the audience something to chew on and something to look forward to, they don't have any reason to think they might like it. My webcomic has a very slow-building story arc, so I worry that people will get bored of it in the first few before they start liking the characters.

Did you do any research on pregnancy and pregnant women, etc? Or did you just jump in and write it?

Not really. The only research I did was academic--specifically the stages of pregnancy and what the development of the baby is like at what point, but the main character is reading that stuff too when she researches baby books while she's pregnant. I didn't read any blogs or ask people about the stuff that goes through a woman's head when she's expecting--I just stepped into the character's shoes and let her think what she was going to think. Seems to be similar enough to what a real pregnant woman (and later mother, of course) would think that it was believable, which helps when the story becomes less "believable" later.

I actually have one about fairies simmering in my brain as well. It's light(ish) urban fantasy about a school talent show, the characters, and the fairies that try to mess it up.

Groovy. My only novel with fairies in it is medieval period fantasy, which would NOT have been my choice except that I had to set it then/there because of its being a retold fairy tale. . . . I did write a novella/short story about a modern fairy, and in a few ways it's a little similar to this Holly Black series because it's in today's world and it's got a self-aware character who's not sure how she fits in. . . .

I'm more of the sort of person who gets inspired by a plot idea, and then when she writes it, her characters grow from that.

I'm totally the opposite. Heh. That's how come some of my earlier writings don't, strictly speaking, HAVE a plot. . . .


message 6: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Hmm. That's kinda backwards from me. I definitely feel you on "because they're not me," because my characters never act like I would in a situation (though sometimes it might be similar in some ways because, well, there are some standard reactions to certain things). This is what drives me CRAZY when people close to me read my work and make assumptions about me. If I write a character who's similar to me in any way but reacts to a situation differently, all of a sudden people think I'm writing about myself, and it's really annoying. Some people actually think I must secretly have romantic inclinations because I can write about them. Given how my mom thinks everything I write is autobiographical, when I gave her my last novel I felt like I had to reassure her that I don't actually go into a fantasy land when I'm asleep and fall in love with cute boys who play the drums.

Wow. Did you secretly get into my head and write my autobiography instead? The cute drummer boys, I mean, not the fantasy land when I'm asleep. That only happens when I look into wardrobes.

Perhaps your solution is to write a bunch of characters, all of whom are similar to you, but in different ways, throw an event at them, and watch them all react completely differently. Then give it to your mother :)

"Kaye touched her hair, blonde as her mother's. It was the hair that baffled people." Er? This was such a lumpy way to introduce her hair color. Made me wrinkle my nose big-time.

I guess I sort of see what you mean there. Sort of... *cringes*

Ordinarily it's the lack of fit with their environment that makes the writing feel choppy to me, though--the way it frames scenes with feelings that just don't feel right. Out of context, quoting lines probably wouldn't do much. But I remember being annoyed at a lot of the jagged edges of those introduction-to-protagonist bits.

Ah, I get what you mean, now.

What'd you imagine was gonna put you on my bad side?

Well, I am asking you to put actual effort into this post--going back to the book, etc.

... if you don't give the audience something to chew on and something to look forward to, they don't have any reason to think they might like it. My webcomic has a very slow-building story arc, so I worry that people will get bored of it in the first few before they start liking the characters.

That never bothers me unless I'm in an impatient mood. So the book I'm writing now (first serious, grit-your-teeth-and-just-do-it attempt at a novel, yay!) is a lot like that, with a slow buildup which mainly consists of characters and minor events, a big, hopelessly dramatic climax, and a slightly faster ending. Just the way I wanted it, lol. Years from now I know that I'll look back at it and be like, 'did I really write that?'

But anyway. I think you made sure that we'd like your Chinese-American girl (was her name Mei-Lin? I've forgotten, I'm ashamed to say) by putting her in that scared position in the first 'episode' of your novel. I know that from the start I sympathised with her and hoped that everything would be all right. Plus the drawings were good, too.

I just stepped into the character's shoes and let her think what she was going to think.

I know what you mean there. Sometimes I have to actually act out the character's reactions before I can write or outline them, which sounds dorky, but there you go.

Groovy. My only novel with fairies in it is medieval period fantasy, which would NOT have been my choice except that I had to set it then/there because of its being a retold fairy tale. . . . I did write a novella/short story about a modern fairy, and in a few ways it's a little similar to this Holly Black series because it's in today's world and it's got a self-aware character who's not sure how she fits in. . . .

Have you posted any of this stuff on the net? I'd love to read it. My urban fantasy's going to be more of a serial rather than a novel, beacause I'm working off a stage program. But I want to write it out fully, first.

"I'm more of the sort of person who gets inspired by a plot idea, and then when she writes it, her characters grow from that."
I'm totally the opposite. Heh. That's how come some of my earlier writings don't, strictly speaking, HAVE a plot. . . .


I can't write things like that. Well, I mean, I can, but they always end up gearing towards a plot.

I worry about not being a character-inspired writer now and then. After all, most of the time, you read about writers who are like, 'this character became so real to me, until finally I just had to write them'. I'm not like that. It's more like my worlds and plots are so real to me that I just have to find and cast the characters who will make it work. So I guess I just do my best.

...that wasn't entirely related, was it?


message 7: by Swankivy (new)

Swankivy Did you secretly get into my head and write my autobiography instead? The cute drummer boys, I mean, not the fantasy land when I'm asleep.

Mwahaha! Maybe?

I made this "trailer" about my book for YouTube. (The one with the girl who falls in love with a cute drummer boy from a dreamland.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfm1Zt...

You can tell me if it's secretly your life. Somehow I do doubt it though. LOL!

Re slow-building storylines:

That never bothers me unless I'm in an impatient mood.

Good. My webcomic does require people to be patient, but not everyone is. . . .

I think you made sure that we'd like your Chinese-American girl (was her name Mei-Lin? I've forgotten, I'm ashamed to say) by putting her in that scared position in the first 'episode' of your novel.

Close--it's Meri Lin. Yeah, probably a lot of people can relate to her fear and anxiety even if they haven't been, uh, pregnant out of wedlock by a guy their parents don't approve of. . . . Hooray for random interracial bastard babies! (Weirdly, I had to kinda raise my eyebrows a bit when Tithe also included a blonde main character who was supposed to have Asian ancestry. I was like oh wait, me too.)

I know that from the start I sympathised with her and hoped that everything would be all right. Plus the drawings were good, too.

Aww, thank you!

Have you posted any of this stuff on the net? I'd love to read it.

Yeah. The novel is called Bad Fairy, and since it's something I want to publish I can only offer excerpts, but those are here:

http://swankivy.com/writing/fiction/b...

And the short story--which is really long enough to be a novella, actually--is called "Wind," and the whole thing is on my short stories page:

http://swankivy.com/writing/short/win...

You'll probably like li'l Windy. :) Er, feel free to leave a review if you like reviewing fairy stories. The writing sections of my page have feedback buttons if you're so inclined, and I'm always in the market for feedback. You know how writers are.

I worry about not being a character-inspired writer now and then. After all, most of the time, you read about writers who are like, 'this character became so real to me, until finally I just had to write them'. I'm not like that. It's more like my worlds and plots are so real to me that I just have to find and cast the characters who will make it work.

I guess it's hard for me to imagine it your way because my stories are always very character-oriented, and they're really a lot more about "A PERSON (to whom stuff happens)" than "STUFF HAPPENS (to this person)." It makes for a lot of internal dialogue and interaction between people. The plot, for me, grows out of people who are in situations. I don't see why the situations can't come first as long as the characters seem real in context. I just know I couldn't do it the way you do since it seems like it'd feel backwards. My Bad Fairy book is a "situation" book of sorts, since I knew before I invented the character that I was going to be retelling "Sleeping Beauty," but as soon as the character developed it immediately became her story, not a story about the things that happened. This is also why I have trouble with "epic." The scope is too broad for me to focus properly when it spreads too far beyond a person's perspective.

Then again, I'm a "pantser" type writer, and I pretty much don't sit down and plot anything, do any worldbuilding, come up with schedules and events. LOTS of people (especially epic fantasy writers) prefer to construct deliberately and then actually do the writing (which involves "casting"). That may be part of why I can't get into the plots of a lot of that sword-and-sorcery stuff--the people feel inserted to play a role. It's very important to me that a character is a whole person and doesn't appear to have started living when page 1 starts.


message 8: by Liz (last edited Oct 07, 2009 04:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Oh, believe me, the characters themselves still develop and get a bunch of screen time. I do my best not to have robotic characters that do what you tell them to. That's why I have to cast them, you see. Some of them just aren't right for the role. The thing is, they also get to interpret the role, do some improv, change the scene slightly, lengthen the story. I still have to work on my writing skills, but my characters are fine. The upshot is that I mold them and create them, and then they develop as they see fit and just go where they go.

Most of the time, I don't have a plot that's been planned out to the utmost detail (that only happened once and), I more have a situation and a few ideas of what I want to happen in a story, and that's when I dream up a character. How he or she gets there is totally their choice.

The ironic thing is that what I'm writing right now is a character-driven story, but I've plotted it out the way I want it to go. So I had a few character traits that had to be there, but the rest of them go where the plot goes. It's not like Paolini who said that 'characters are born out of necessity'. Every so often I've actually had to force myself to let them do what they do, even if the route is slightly twistier.

I know what you mean about being a 'pantser'. It doesn't really happen with me about characters, because I can see what's going to happen from a way away. Once they rock up, I get to know them quite well and I can predict what's going to happen (not forcing them, you understand). But it definitely happens with situations. I'll drop something on them and they'll react how they react. Eventually we get to where I intend to go.

I really hate the sort of casting where the characters are interchangeable. I mean, I'll read it, no problem, but I would never write that.

To most people, this method definitely is backwards--but I still love my characters just as much. They are just created differently, that's all. And I do my best to stay in character. As I write, I keep a list of how they behave and what characteristics they have, and that becomes canon for me. And sooner or later, I stop needing the list.

Does that make any more sense? I've probably repeated myself a dozen times.

Edited for clarity :)


message 9: by Liz (last edited Oct 07, 2009 04:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Oh, and of course I'll review! I love reviewing things, partly to give feedback, and partly because I know how great it feels when you get them. (This is where my fanfiction roots betray me.)

I just read Wind and really liked, but I'm not in a physical situation where I can give any concrit, so I didn't want to waste a review. I will do it, though.


message 10: by Swankivy (new)

Swankivy Oh, believe me, the characters themselves still develop and get a bunch of screen time.

That's fine--and don't worry, I wasn't saying you can't or shouldn't do it that way. I don't think it would work well for me because a lot of the time the situations the characters get into are directly caused by their personalities. I've never had an experience of "casting" someone for a role, because the roles don't exist before the story is created by the characters.

It's not like Paolini who said that 'characters are born out of necessity'.

I can't believe he said that and still doesn't realize he's ridiculous.

I do my best to stay in character. As I write, I keep a list of how they behave and what characteristics they have, and that becomes canon for me. And sooner or later, I stop needing the list.

The list sounds pretty foreign to me too. I guess that since you've got a "casting" for "roles" idea going on, perhaps they do behave like actors in your situations, and "improv" unexpectedly at times just like real people do. I just can't think of my people in those terms. It's probably partly because I write in first person almost all the time, and when I enter the mindset of the character I'm writing, I don't have to consult an external list to know how "I" act in context. I can later go back to read their words in my own (authorial) perspective and see if anything sounds fishy, but ordinarily it will be how I chose to phrase something, not what was expressed, that is fishy. I don't think I've ever come to the conclusion that one of my characters has acted in a way he or she would not act.

For instance, now that you've read "Wind," would you believe that I had no idea whether Windy was going to come back or not until the story ended? I think that kinda helped with the way Thomas handled it. Because I truly didn't know, so he acted like he didn't know. I wasn't even a hundred percent sure when I wrote it that Windy was what she said she was, and like Thomas, thought there might have been some other explanation. It's weird how I am actually mystified by my own stories fairly often. It's probably a terrible thing for having a good plot. I just have to chance it that it's going to make sense in the end.

Looking forward to the review if you send one. Thanks for reading it.


message 11: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Thinking it over, I guess I keep the list because I'm not quite sure my way of finding characters is 'valid' in a sense, cause it's not the way anyone I know does it. I don't really know if I need the list or not, but I'm scared to do away with it entirely.
That's my bit of psychoanalysing done for now, I hope.

Oh, also, once I've figured out the right characters for the story, I don't think of them as actors anymore. Just to make that clear. I think I got a little TOO carried away with that metaphor... :)

On Wind: I was tearing up when Thomas said he wasn't sure if she'd come back or not, even though I could actually see that there was more to the story. So that worked, and I thought the plot was nice, too. Not disjointed in any way, or whatever.


message 12: by Swankivy (new)

Swankivy I'm back! Thanks again for looking at that story. Glad you cared enough about the fictional people to "tear up" on their behalf. :) As for your actor metaphor, I guess since acting is connected to your life experience, you'd use such a metaphor. Heh.

Ciao for now. :)


message 13: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz Thanks for the great conversation. I've got exams right now, but I swear I haven't forgotten about that review!


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