Monday, January 6, 2014

Subplots gone wild

Oddly enough, I find I have more to say about this book than I thought I did, when I wrote my speed reviewing post a few days ago. 

Even more oddly enough, I haven't read that many Juliet Marillier books. Which, if you know the reading tastes of my friend list, is kind of a sacrilege, because she has something of a cult following, from what I can garner. 

Having read "Heart's Blood" and loved it (LOVED it, just in case that wasn't clear enough) I approached "Daughter of the Forest" with a pretty raised expectation (really raised, especially since it's a retelling of the Seven Swans.) And... I read it... and.... I'm torn, guys!

On the one hand, I can see where the hype is coming from, Marillier has a very compelling writing voice, and the way she constructs her world, fills it with lush legends and magic and intrigue, really pulls you in and doesn't let you go until you've reached the end of the book. 

Except in this case, I think the legends and magic and intrigue were a little bit too lush for my taste. 

I know, I know. I bitch about under-developped plots all the time. I get it. And yes, I didn't think you could say "too Lush" either. Sadly, we're not talking about fancy soap here and a book, it turns out, can have way too many subplots and backstory. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, the French publishers split the book in two volumes, which, I gotta tell you, was really confusing to me when I first took it out of the library. I didn't understand why there was so much set up, and then the story just... cut off. I mean, I was glad when I finally figured out there was more to it, and when the second tome was due back (someone apparently had the gall of working their way through the books at the same time as I was *sniff*.)

I thought things would all wrap up in the second half...

Well, no need for me to draw out the suspense, you know already that it didn't happen. Simply put, this book was more interested in being a faithful retelling than it was on delivering on what the first half promises. (Although I didn't see any of the original bits where she has three children and then her mother-in-law takes them away and accuses her of having eaten them.)

And that's a problem. On the one hand, we've got this huge set up, with wars and blood feuds and family drama and brothers having individual conflicts and the complexities of being a man and coming to terms with killing people (among other things) and then half those subplots are either dropped by the wayside or glossed over.

I'm sorry, that just doesn't work for me. I mean, these characters are important to Sorcha (and me, since I spend so much time reading about them.) I can see she's deeply affected by that, but then her focus just shifts and it's suddenly about either Hugh or breaking the curse. There's no real resolution to half the stuff that goes down there, and I know that I won't see all the brothers settle their own conflicts because the next book in the series skips a bloody generation!


My point is, it's good to have backstory and world-building, but not at the expense of your characters, and definitely not at the expense of reader expectation. (Because while a reader can come into a book with the most generous of assumptions about the author's intent, the story will set expectations for the reader, and sometimes it comes down to the author delivering what they promised in the first half. Or, if they don't deliver, they should at least try to do it well.)

Like I said, I can see why the French publishers chose a certain moment as their cutoff point. It's like two completely different stories, or maybe like the second half of the book is a strange interlude between two giant showdowns. I just... expected more!

But hey, at least the French arranged for some pretty gorgeous covers. 

Note: Images via Booklikes. 

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