Monday, 30 April 2012

Quick Update

Hello! This is just a quick post to say that I may not be posting much this month (or, on the contrary, quite a lot) because I'm taking part in a flash fiction writing challenge thing. And sort of running it. As if I didn't have enough to do. Anyway, you can check the project out here: http://flash-31.blogspot.co.uk/

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

DIVERGENT

Yup, another young adult dystopian novel.

This one's about Tris (formerly Beatrice, see my comments about the name Wendy in my previous post about Switched), who lives in a world where people are divided up by their aptitude into communities, which they are expected to be more loyal to than their families. When Tris takes the test, however, she comes out as 'Divergent' rather than one of the five factions - Amity, Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite and the other one. Oh, Candor. Apparently being Divergent is a super big deal which will probably get Tris killed, and so she has to pick another faction and then hide what she really is. She chooses Dauntless, which turns out to be a huge mistake, since it involves jumping off building, jumping onto moving trains, getting tattoos and learning to fight. She also meets Four and essentially falls in love with him (this isn't a spoiler, it's clear from basically the moment she sees him what's going to happen).

Okay, so I really liked this book. My synopsis probably makes it sound like I wasn't keen, but I did enjoy it. It takes a phenomenally long time to get going, an unacceptably long time but I didn't happen to have another book handy, but once it did it turned out to be pretty good. Until the end, which was kind of rushed. Again, it's the first book in a trilogy that doesn't have the balance right. The first two-thirds of the book should have only taken up a quarter of it. And the final fifth should have taken a third. (I'm just making these numbers up, by the way. I didn't go through and plot my theory and check page numbers to make fractions. That would be lame).

Also, the name Four. First off, it's a stupid name. Second, it's confusing because although it's a stupid name, it's an actual word. Lines like "Four heads across the room to the table" are utterly confusing, because I don't know about you, but I read that line as meaning that there are four individual heads on the other side of the room, not that the character named Four was heading across the room. It's hideous, quite frankly. And thirdly, when his real name is revealed (because apparently Four is just a stupid nickname), it's utterly disappointing. I started to miss him being called Four.

It's also quite violent, which I wasn't expecting. I know it's been billed as a thriller, but I figured it would be a case of everything going on in the mind since it's all about people's true personalities. There's a lot of fighting, and an incident involving a butter knife that I'd rather not go into.

It's quite different to anything I've read before. I mean, sure, the love story element is achingly predictable - so predictable that you'll be yelling at Tris in your head to figure out what's going on because she really has no clue - but other than that it's different. I was really interested in the idea of dividing people up according to their personalities and core values, and I'm keen to see where it goes in the second book. I think I'd recommend this one, though my recommendation would have to come with a warning about the necessity of persevering, because it really does take a long time to get going.



SWITCHED

I didn't really know anything about this book when I picked it up. It caught my eye because there are shiny bits on the cover and I'm drawn to shiny things. Don't judge me, we all are.

Switched, by Amanda Hocking, follows Wendy Everly, a teenage girl whose mother tried to kill her when she was six because she believed her to be a changeling. Fast-forward a decade, and it turns out Wendy is in fact a changeling. Some pathetic danger/threat means she has to leave the mortal world and her adoptive (I'm gonna use adoptive and biological to make things easy, since I don't actually know the terms for when changelings are involved) family behind to return to her troll family. That's right, she's a troll. And the story sort of staggers along from there.

I've been hearing about Amanda Hocking for a long time now, without really registering who she was, so it came as a bit of a surprise when I made the connect three-quarters of the way through the book. She is essentially the poster child for self-publishing - she sold a bunch of books online and that got her a two million dollar deal with a proper publishing house. Switched was, I believe, originally self-published as an e-book, but was re-released last year with bonus material. Or my copy, the second edition, has bonus material that wasn't in the first edition. I don't really know. The point is, Amanda Hocking is a big deal in the publishing world. She sold millions of books online by herself, and the love of her fans got her a deal with a publishing house.

And I can't see why. I mean, the book's not terrible, but it's not brilliant either. Maybe it's not her best, but if her other books are anything like this one, I can't see how she sold millions of copies.

Firstly, her character is called Wendy. Wendy. A teenage girl called Wendy. Yes, I am fixating on this, but it almost ruined the book for me. What kind of teenage girl is called Wendy? I had some hope when her initiation into the troll tribe meant she had to change her name, but the ceremony never takes place! She gets to keep her stupid name. Luckily, it's all written in first-person from her perspective, so I didn't have to read it very often, but still...it was distracting. It's so important to get your character names right and she just didn't. She flat-out didn't.

My other major issue with the book is the trolls. I think she calls them the "Trylle" maybe half a dozen times in the novel, and the rest of the time they're referred to as trolls. Which is fine, except we all have a pre-conceived notion of what trolls look like. If I said the word troll to you, you'd think ugly and warty and just generally unpleasant, right? The trolls in this book are pretty. Beautiful, even. And it just doesn't work. What really irritates me about is that there was never any need to use the word troll. Just calling them the Trylle would have been fine, maybe it's a little close in spelling to troll, but that could easily be changed. There was no need to even mention the word troll and utterly confuse the reader's impression of the creatures.

Details like names aside, the book just isn't very good. It's not captivating and it stumbles along without ever really going anywhere. I think the problem is that it's the first book in a trilogy and because she didn't have an editor demanding a properly structured plot with a beginning, middle and end, she didn't bother with one. It's average. So-so. That being said, however, I have just purchased the second book. Thing is, in the second one, Torn, Wendy falls in love with the bad guy, who I think has kidnapped her, and I find that utterly compelling. Hocking might well make a total hash of it, but I've always been fascinated by Stockholm Syndrome and that alone convinced me to buy the second instalment. I'll let you know how it turns out.