Thursday, November 3, 2016

Too much mystery or not enough?

...and other musings.
Below are excerpts from my Goodreads reviews of two books and a review of another that is more inside-baseball than I would prefer to post there.
Castleview by Gene Wolfe
This story reminds me of Castle Perilous where so much of the exciting stuff happened off-screen (or off-page). I found the style of switching POV with a cliffhanger every stinking time to get annoying pretty quickly.
The cover tells you it is an Arthurian epic set in Illinois but that is only mostly spelled out in the final chapter.
I think this story is supposed to be experienced as a dream or an LSD trip (as one character remarks), where things happen with no explanation, people change and random people appear and disappear often.
If you choose to read it, do so in as short a time as possible as there are a lot of characters and the POV changes frequently. It actually reminds me of my own Nanowrimo attempts in that there are too many incomplete ideas and what would only appear to the author, who has researched the subject specifically, to be an appropriate amount of mystery.

The library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The one technical aspect of Hawkins' writing I was most impressed with was his control of mysteries. We start with the hero walking along the road covered in blood so we start with a lot that is unexplained. As a question is answered, another one appears. The book never crossed my frustration point but remained close to that level throughout. I had enough questions but not nearly so many I discarded the book in exhaustion.

The Furies of Calderon 
This story goes at a breakneck pace. I kept expecting the groups to reunite but they never did, no matter how close they occasionally came. I also expected Tavi to gain some enormous power but he never did. Clearly, he didn't follow any set trope.
One trope he did follow was the use of a magical device that controlled a person.  There are many stories with such a device and my own half-written novel contains one, too. The use of such a device takes a story into the Horror genre and it didn't fit my own desires for fantasy. In his story, it wasn't wrong but in my own story, the use of such a device upset me so much that I had my character released from it pretty quickly. Butcher, too, soon has his character escape from the effects of the device.
What does it say about me that I could imagine myself using it as a tool to control bit players or NPCs in the story? Don't use it on my favorites but on the extras, that's okay.
At the time I introduced the device, I was making the story up as I went along. The consequences of the device was as unknown to me as to the eventual reader and I didn't like it.
I have already begun to read the second book in Butcher's series. The first was thrilling but I am not sure I would read another book in the series except that my Kindle died and I don't have a lot of variety in my reading choices right now.
The second book starts with Tavi being again threatened by a bully. He is now at a school and I am as interested in reading how Butcher uses or avoids 'magic school' themes as I am in the story as a whole.
A lot of the issues I brought up here will be important when I work on the second draft of my stories. For the first draft, it is enough that I get the ideas down. Then I can work out how to share those ideas with the reader. My steampunk story is more like Butcher's Furies than the other two in that it describes a chase and battle scenes rather than mysteries to be solved. There is at least one of the latter and I like it but I don't feel the whole arrangement of the books is like that.

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