[Please note: The views expressed in this post are mine alone, and not representative of the opinions of my co-bloggers. In addition, this is not a vendetta against anybody, it is merely an expression of my concerns and opinions regarding the YA industry.]
Saturday, April 16, 2011
City of Fallen Angels: Everything that is Wrong with YA Today!
Posted by Just A Girl
#1: MILKING THE CASH COW DRY
Jillian wrote a brilliant piece a while ago on the sequel syndrome and the death of the stand-alone novel. It’s true that series have become the norm in YA publishing these days. In fact, I can’t think of a single YA paranormal that has released this year as a stand-alone. But CoFA has taken this to a new level.
I don’t know how many people remember that Eragon was originally supposed to be a trilogy. But the unexpected success of Books 1 & 2 spawned ambitious dreams in the minds of both author and publishers, and the series was extended and renamed The Inheritance Cycle. Worst. Mistake. Ever. The series, which may just have been readable in a 3-book format, had to suddenly be stretched to cover an additional book, with the result that the third book, Brisingr became a mish mash of slow moving plots that served no purpose other than to bore most readers to tears.
Now CoFA has taken this to a new low. The Mortal Instruments Trilogy, which was concluded, wrapped in a bow and boxed for all eternity in City of Glass, was suddenly revived when Clare and her publishers realised that the series could well continue to be a money maker. In the wake of talks about a film adaptation of the trilogy, it was announced that The Mortal Instruments Trilogy would now be extended to an additional three books.
Here is where things become dicey. Most readers were given the impression, initially at least, that the new trilogy would be a sort of spin-off of the original, focusing on the Daylighter Simon, and his struggles with his new life as a vampire bearing the Mark of Cain. This sounded good to most people, since it would have new protagonists and new plotlines. But no. Instead of following through on these hints, CoFA makes Simon a peripheral supporting actor to the big drama of Jace and Clary’s love lives. Which leads me to the second problem.
#2: FANGIRLS DON’T CARE ABOUT STORYLINES
The problem, I have found, with successful series, is that authors seem to think that as long as their favourite characters make an appearance, nothing needs to actually happen. There are series that have been extended way beyond the lives originally allotted to them, notably the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast, which is now weighing in at a whopping eight books, with another four in the works. Considering the plot bunnies went rabid at around Book 4, there is no excuse for the continued massacre of trees for the publication of this series. What do these books contribute to literary society, apart from slut-shaming themes and endless teenage angst about a variety of hot boys?
And now we come to the grandmomma of them all, City of Fallen Angels. This book has NO plot. I am not exaggerating here. There is, quite literally, no reason for the existence of this book, apart from pure greed. This is a classic example of fan exploitation. Toss in a few familiar characters, write enormously long descriptive passages about what each person is wearing, and how painful their love lives are, bring in a convenient villain towards the end when you have no choice BUT to set the hook for the next book, and send it off to the publishers. The author seems to be working on the assumption that as long as her name is on the cover, anything will sell. And the sad part? She’s being proven right.
#3: ONCE YOU’RE A SUCCESS, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT QUALITY WRITING
Here’s the deal. I actually thought the original Mortal Instruments trilogy was entertaining, even if it wasn’t ground-breakingly original. The plot moved quickly, there was a certain amount of chemistry and tension between the characters, and it was a satisfying read for a rainy afternoon. CoFA, on the other hand, is a regression to fan fiction-quality writing. The editorial input in this book was nil, I’m assuming, because I find it hard to believe that any editor would allow her author to get away with sentences like "Of course, she also couldn’t believe he was also dating Maia Roberts [...]” and “Shadowhunter.” The creature on the left spoke in a hissing whisper. (Umm, Clare, you can’t hiss if there are no sibilant syllables. Writing 101.) “We did not know of you in this situation.”
The sheer number of similes in this book made me want to poke my eyes out. “She folded into his arms like delicate silk."; “Wind blowing leaves like handfuls of thrown confetti.” And my personal favourite: "Leaves rattled across the pavement like dry bones."
There are factual inconsistencies galore. A Coca Cola sign flashing “blood red and navy blue” (where is the blue in the Coca Cola logo, again?); a character who first has “black hair in longish curls”, which later magically transforms to "light brown" *facepalm*; a Shadowhunter who can’t recognise Sesame Street, or a bloody mango, but makes a pop culture reference to I’m with the Band.
There are $.99 self-published books available on Amazon that are written better than this. And provide more entertainment. There appears to be a certain sort of hubris prevalent in very successful YA authors today (Stephenie Meyer, I’m looking at you) that seems to imply that as long as your books are selling in the millions, there is no need to actually work on your art. Do I even need to explain why this is so very wrong?
#4: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT = WANGST
There are just way, way, waay too many YA novels these days that seem to equate character development with endless internal monologues about tru wuvv. We’ve discussed this before, but here’s a quick snapshot. Look at most of the YA paranormal characters you have come across in the last few years. What do you remember best about them?
Bella Swan: Her undying love for the animated corpse who wants to kill her
Nora Grey: Her undying love for the psycho immortal who wants to kill her
Luce Price: Her undying love for the overprotective asshole who wants to smother her personality
Schuyler Van Allen: Her undying love for the cheating vampiric angel who’s betrothed to his sister
Clary Fray: Her undying love for her cocky, arrogant brother
Are you seeing the theme here?
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. What do you remember best about Katniss Everdeen? Her courage? Her intelligence? How about Rhine Ellery? Her love for her brother and her overwhelming desire for freedom? And Sophie Mercer — her sparkling, sassy personality is what really stays in your mind. So, you see, it’s not impossible to write characters with personality, and relationships with real chemistry and tension. Instant, undying love is just a get-out-of-jail-free card that lazy authors use to not have to deal with the trouble of endowing their heroines with a personality.
City of Fallen Angels is all about lazy characterization. Again, I find that Clare has regressed as a writer, instead of progressing. Her characters had the saving grace of being somewhat likeable and relatable in the first three books. In this book, you can’t stand any of them. There’s Jace, who seems to have lost his trademark cocky charm, drowning instead in a morass of angst about a silly nightmare and pushing Clary away time and again. There’s Clary, angsting endlessly about whether Jace is going to leave her. Then there’s Simon, poor Simon, caught in a love triangle between two girls, neither of whom seem to strike the slightest spark in him. There’s Alec, who returns three-quarters of the way into the story to immediately begin angsting about Magnus’s former love life. In short, this book would have been better named City of Endless Angst.
There is no life to any of these characters. You could pick them up and put them in the middle of Any YA Paranormal, and you wouldn’t be able to spot the difference.
#5: CHEATING YOUR WAY INTO A SERIES: THE CLIFFHANGER
There is nothing, NOTHING! that annoys me quite so much as a cliffhanger at the end of a truly terrible book. I am no fan of cliffhangers, but if the writing is truly exceptional, and the cliffhanger ending makes sense, I am willing to forgive it. But the serious overuse of the cliffhanger ending in YA books is testing my (admittedly limited) patience. So far this year, I have read Demonglass, Bumped, Queen of The Dead, Starcrossed, Blackveil, Catching Fire and Jealousy, ALL of which end in a cliffhanger. If I tear out any more of my hair, I will be facing severe baldness.
But City of Fallen Angels, once more, takes this to an extreme. The book drags on and on, with meaningless insertions and endless description, before suddenly realising in the last fifty pages that the reader needs some motivation to come back for the next helping of sludge. What to do, what to do? Put in a cliffhanger, of course!
And so, to set the hook for rapid sales of the next book, CoFA ends in the world’s stupidest, worst-thought out cliffhanger. I find it hard to imagine what purpose this “shocking” ending serves – after all, since CoFA was a random, meaningless collection of incidents with no overarching theme, Clare is going to have to rebuild the plot from the ground up for City of Lost Souls. Maybe she’ll do it, and do it well, but you can be sure I’m not going to be waiting for that miracle with bated breath.
#6: “I DON’T BELIEVE IN ‘MESSAGES’”
I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I believe strongly in the power of subliminal messaging in YA books. Whether you believe in messages or not, the fact remains that as an author, you have a responsibility towards your readers to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong signals.
I’ve never liked the use of the Shadowhunter term, ‘mundane’. The Oxford dictionary defines mundane as “lacking interest or excitement; dull”. The Shadowhunters’ use of this word is contemptuous and derogatory. In short, racist. They are conveying the message that people without power are beneath them, and that this is decided by birth, rather than merit. You, and I, are mundane – people to be looked down upon because we aren’t born with the advantages of power.
There is a singular lack of humanity in the characters from the Mortal Instruments. For example, in the opening scene of CoFA, Isabelle describes to Simon the way in which human are made into vamp subjugates. Instead of feeling horrified by their de-humanized condition, Simon uses it as an excuse to make a quip.
Similarly, there is a scene at a bridal shop where Luke explains to Jace that white is the color of weddings for mundanes. Now I’m assuming that mundane is a universal term for everybody without magic, including the Japanese and the Indians, for whom white is NOT the colour of weddings, but of mourning. Way to be multicultural and inclusive, Clare.
This may seem like I’m nitpicking, but in fact, it is symbolic of a larger problem with YA fiction, the assumption that everybody is set in what Ceilidh calls the default mode. For the majority of Western civilization, white is the color of weddings; ergo, it must be so for the rest of the world. There is a term for this, and it’s called cultural imperialism.
So in the end, City of Fallen Angels is not just a terrible book. It is a terrible, exploitative book with a host of uncomplimentary underlying messages. It is not the only offender, as I have demonstrated, but the overwhelming success of this book, coupled with the sheer number of disturbing trends it exemplifies, makes it stand out. It is the symbol of all that is wrong with the YA industry today – the greed, the lack of quality, the assumption that readers are cattle who will accept whatever is fed to them. So maybe, instead of enabling this consumerist frenzy, it is time we took a stand and said, ‘we want better books’?