What I’ve read: Death’s Mistress

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Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind. I am going to change my normal format for this review because this was hard for me. I am a major Terry Goodkind fan, have been reading every new book of his since Soul of the Fire came out in 1999. I have read the original Sword of Truth arc multiple times over the years (every new book required a new read through!). Faith of the Fallen is my second favorite book of all time, there is just so much in that book that makes it perfection to me. Nicci, Death’s Mistress, is one of the most interesting characters in the entire SoT series.

But that said, Goodkind has lost it for me. Ever since the main arc of SoT ended (which was amazing!), his books have become something altogether different, lackluster and boring. And, the writing aside – which I will get to later, the main reason why I think these last handful of books are so disappointing is that Goodkind is trying too hard to stay within the world that made him successful.

The Richard and Kahlan four book series was a complete and utter joke. Goodkind introduced a worthy plot of a second series, but failed miserably on all levels with it. And the characters suffered, became shells of who they were in the original arc. Even the deaths of some characters felt like an attempt to push the boundary like Game of Thrones, but instead of the magnitude of their deaths, they were handled poorly and with little fanfare.

To me, a diehard SoT fan, it just seems like Goodkind is fearful of stepping away from the world he created to create a new fantasy realm and that is where Death’s Mistress failed.

Like I said, Nicci is an amazing character. I think she is the epitome of a redemption character, but in this new series – which is focused on her – she is not as interesting or worthy as a protagonist. Nathan, the cheery, fun-loving, jokester prophet joins her and they set off on their own journey to save the world – as they find out from a witch woman. Three different times in this novel – three! It was like Goodkind wanted to put three separate plots into one book, all under the banner of Nicci has to save the world.

Now this is where Goodkind loses me in this book. I loved these two characters, but they fall incredibly flat. All Nicci does is try to do things for Richard Rahl and her love for him, but it is her choice -or so she says. In SoT, Nicci is conflicted about her beliefs, going from darkness to the light, all because Richard showed her the way. And in this book, she harps upon her leaving Richard, her mission for him and all the things in her past. It bogs her down and makes her boring, makes her a husk of who she became after Faith of the Fallen. It was like Goodkind made a puppet of who Nicci was and then focused on her past as Death’s Mistress. She becomes just another boring female character pining after a man, which she wasn’t in the original arc. There was only one single moment in this book where I felt the old Nicci and that was toward the very end.

Nathan also became frustrating. He always was a fun character to read, but in this story he was too focused on his clothing and his sword. With prophecy gone from the R & K arc, he is useless with magic and this hurts his character. His humor was not strong enough in this story to offset this change in him.

My main flaw with this book is the world and the writing of the world. What I mean is this: if this was a brand new story in a brand new world, I would have thought this a better story.

But its not, it is firmly planted in SoT, which was the wrong choice. There are so many times throughout the novel where the backstory of the previous two arcs are defined. Repetitively too, I might add (like literally the same exact things explained multiple times, this is what also drove down the second arc). If Goodkind had spared those words for building a brand new world, it might have made this story so much more stronger and engaging. The idea behind the plot is intriguing, but it doesn’t fit into the SoT world. It was almost like a buddy cop movie with multiple episodes and that doesn’t work in the world Goodkind created.

And then comes the writing itself. While it is much better written than the R & K arc (which was atrocious) there is much to be desired. This book teeters back and forth between adult and young adult, where I think Goodkind wanted to write a simpler story like young adult, but couldn’t let go of the adult themes that were present in SoT (another reason to ditch that world for a new one!)

One thing that really bugged me was that he had to color code every description every time he wrote about something. For example, Nicci wears a black dress, we all know that from the previous arcs. Every time her dress is mentioned, the words black dress are on the page. Same with a new character’s ginger hair. It really bogged the reading down because, as a reader, you only need to tell me once that her dress is black or his hair is red. I don’t need to see it 100 times. Again, use those extra words to world-build.

The three main characters were all denoted by titles, not their names when talking to one another. Nicci = Sorceress, Nathan = Wizard, Bannon = my boy. It was so frustrating to see Nathan call Nicci Sorceress every time he spoke to her (like it was literally every time for these characters) and vice-versa. It made no sense that none of the characters could use a name. And then Nathan calling Bannon “my boy” was a glaring misstep. Zedd used to call Richard “my boy” not Nathan. It was almost like Goodkind making up for mishandling Zedd in the previous arc. This using titles thing was so frustrating to read and made me roll my eyes more times than not.

The biggest misstep of the writing is the focus on sex and rape. Goodkind used to struggle with this in the original arc, but it was better done. Jagang and his forcing the Sisters of the Dark -like Nicci – to undergo force of rape made him altogether more evil, it made him a force to be fearful of. The aftereffects of the rape shaped the characters, influenced their decisions, was haunting. In this new series, there are scenes of potential rape that bring nothing to the story, in fact, it made me angry they were there. Rape is nothing to be happy about reading, but when it is done properly to show how there is evil people in this world and the crushing affect it has on the victims, then I can see it has merits in a story. But this story didn’t have that. The readers are reminded of Nicci’s past with Jagang, but the new would-be-rapists don’t serve the story, and this angered me to have read it.

And the sex thing was also poorly done. Too many times the readers are reminded of this woman’s breasts, or that woman’s curves, the color of her nipples. It was unnecessary and out of place. The whole second half of the book focused on these four strange women who thought of nothing but sex and fertility. It was just odd choices and decisions.

But those aspects were mashed together with a young adult story. The writing is fast-paced, the journey quick, the chapters very short (some only two pages), the overcoming of obstacles way too easy for adults. It all felt pushed together without much thought. Pick one or the other and stick with it. Make it great, not bland.

As I said, this was hard for me. I will still read the original SoT arc with great joy, but these new books are a slog to get through. I wish Goodkind would leave this world for a new one, I know he has it in him. I will read his new ones after this, still, even though it pains me, he bought my loyalty with Faith of the Fallen. I just hope he returns to form.

Rating:

2 out of 5

The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

What I’ve Read: Graceling

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore is a young adult fantasy set in a world where people can have  a magic-like power, called a Grace. But unlike magic, Graces only enhance one particular ability, such as cooking, fighting, or swimming.

Brief Summary:

Now, this is a young adult, so there is only one POV character and the story is all about her. Katsa is a Graceling, one Graced with what she believes is fighting. Katsa, a seventeen year with two different color eyes – the symbol of Gracelings – lives in a kingdom where she does bully work for her uncle, the king. When we meet her, she is rescuing a prisoner of another king, because since it is a young adult novel, our hero must also be a saint – she forms a council of do-gooders – all at the ripe age of 17. Then she meets this guy named Po, who of course she has to fall in love with later on, who can stand up to her fighting like no one else could. Turns out, this guy is the nephew of the prisoner she saved, so the two of them must journey to find out why the guy was kidnapped in the first place. Along the way, they learn her Grace is survival, not fighting and the other guy has mind powers – you know, pretty standard fare. They save a princess (cousin to the guy Po and named Bitterblue for crying out loud) and they defeat the evil king – super quickly by the way. They love each other, but don’t want to marry one another for reasons and they go their separate ways to promise to come back to one another for more reasons. Everyone wins!

The Good:

Let me just say this up front: I typically don’t read young adult, even fantasy novels which are my jam. However, I read this because I was toying with writing a young adult story and wanted to dip my toes in the genre to see what it was like. That said, I did enjoy this novel quite a bit.

While I normally don’t enjoy single POVs (mainly because I love epic fantasy with big scopes), Katsa was engaging and fun to follow. When I think of YA, I think of kids not acting like adults or learning to be adults. Katsa was neither. She was dark and brooding and interesting. Ms. Cashore doesn’t spend too much time exposing Katsa’s emotions, but rather lets them come out in the course of the story. Katsa was a hidden person, keeping emotions at bay, but then she slowly learns to grow and interact with people. It was a slow burn that made the story excellent.

I truly enjoyed the “magic” system in this story. It made the characters human and it was interesting that Graces could manifest in anything, not just badassery, though Katsa got one of the better ones. It was cool how Katsa and Po both had this initial idea of their Graces and because people with Graces in this world are semi-loners, they were totally wrong about it. But what was great storytelling was how these characters brought it out of each other, though it did resolve itself a bit quickly for my taste (see further below).

Like I said above, even though this is YA, it was a darker tale than what I am used to in this genre. Though it isn’t gritty or super dark, there is an underlying shadow on this world, not all ribbons and rainbows, which makes it more enjoyable for someone like me. There is intrigue in the kingdoms and Ms. Cashore doesn’t shy away completely from the truths of reality, which was a breath of fresh air.

The Bad:

Since I don’t typically like YA, this part is only “bad” because it isn’t my favorite genre level. I thought things moved too fast and too conveniently. For example, the defeat of the evil king was so easy and over so quickly, that I was disappointed. And the way in which they figured out the king’s Grace was way to simplistic for the characters to deduce. Like they literally had a thought about it and then poof, its true. Then they win. It would have been way more satisfying to draw out the Grace of the king, because it did have some serious potential.

Also, Katsa, though only seventeen, was way too adult for my vision of the character. I understand that she lived this crazy life of fighting from a young age and that makes a person grow up quicker than others, but I found it difficult to envision her starting this global secret council doing public service. Just seemed like she wouldn’t have had the experience to do something like that, just too young in the sense of the world. But then again, teenagers were considered adults way back when.

Another thing that bothered me was Katsa always called Bitterblue “child.” I understand Bitterblue was like ten, but Katsa is not all that much older. Just sounded strange to read/hear from Katsa so often in the book, way too grandmotherly.

The last thing that bothered me, and again, this is small potatoes in the scheme of things, I didn’t like how the evil king was defeated and then there were some 50-100 pages left to go in the story. This is where the YA/romance trickles in and they have to set up how Katsa and Po are going to live after they won. I think it could have been scaled back tremendously since this book is standalone (though there are very loose continuations by Ms. Cashore).

Rating:

4 out of 5