13 October, 2014

What's in a world? part 1

I just finished Catch Me When I Fall, by Vicki Leigh, which gets 2.5/5 stars. Maybe I'm terribly picky about my YA lit, but it just didn't do it for me. I think I gave it two stars just for being basically decently written, with fluent grammar and no evidence that a thesaurus was abused in the writing of the novel. I think the author has potential but this felt like a first effort that needed a lot of revising - plot, characters and world-building. It appears that this is a series, but I don't think I will be giving it another shot.

The plot was so-so. The basics, without spoilers, are that creatures called Nightmares feed on human fears while they sleep, and humans who gave their mortal lives to save others are recruited to act as protectors against the Nightmares, called Dreamcatchers and Dreamweavers. One of these Dreamcatchers falls in love with the girl he is supposed to be protecting.

The book bills itself as a mystery surrounding who or what this girl really is, but unfortunately, the backstory is overly simplistic and so too much is given away too soon, for lack of enough world-building and character development to generate subplots that would enrich the story.

The character development was weak. Plots involving ancient, supernaturally powerful male characters falling in love with disturbingly younger, mortal female characters who are often just discovering their own supernatural powers (or sometimes not) are a dime a dozen. I'm a girl - I get why they sell, and I've raved about some of them. But I need more. I don't believe in vampires, and I don't need my self-esteem bolstered by reading about superheroes falling in love with average women. I was never the sort of teenager who did either, and while again I appreciate the niche market here, I'm skeptical that these kinds of fictional relationships provide much cushion for real adolescents struggling with self-confidence, body image issues, bullying, etc.

In short, if you are going to write this type of relationship into your novel, you damn well better provide some really convincing character development to show why these two people, specifically, would be drawn to each other. In Catch Me, the girl is absolutely stunningly gorgeous - that's the guy's excuse. Her rationale for falling for him seems to be mainly that she doesn't have a lot of other options - she's in a mental institution - and that he believes that she's not crazy. Pretty thin ice for eternal commitment, huh? In one the stupidest scenes ever written, she gets jealous thinking about his arranged engagement (not even marriage) to an English noblewoman 200 years before she was born. She has known the guy for maybe four or five days. And she tells him she's jealous! Age-appropriate behavior for a 12-year-old, maybe, but a romance with a 205-year age gap is obviously creepy in a way that a mere 200-year age gap is not.

On the other hand, I've never had anyone save my life - maybe finding your soulmate is easy when you're about to be eaten by an evil, dream-devouring monster.

If the characters fall flat, it's not just their fault. They quite literally don't have a world to stand on.

Here's another thing: if you're going to mix the "real world" with another one of your own invention, you have to give some thought to the why and how of it. Great novels have spun wildly disparate settings out of bits and pieces of the world. In books that blend the two well, it appears that the author put some thought and care into choosing how the real world was portrayed, how the tone would complement (by being both similar and different) the tone of the writing in the fantasy world setting. The best example I can think of is Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor), in which the real world setting of an art school in Prague is rich with whimsy and color, in contrast to the wild, war-torn fantasy world setting of Eretz. The whimsy gives the Prague scenes a sense of magic in the mundane that prepares the reader for the fantastic to occur, to enter the world of Eretz; the darkness of Eretz is seen in stark relief next to Prague. See? Complementarity and contrast.

Which leads me to…what's in a world, exactly? And which comes first, world or characters?

(I'm calling this part 1, because I'm hoping to come back soon with some answers to those questions.)

On my nightstand: Far from the Tree (at nearly 1000 pages, this will be there for a bit); The Walled City; The Mirror Empire