Friday, 2 October 2009

Sword of Shannara

I gave up for now.  It was ticking me off.... I was actually bookmarking pages where the prose struck me as so horrible I wanted to hit myself in the face with the book... except it's an e-book reader and I don't want to break it.  So we'll give it ago... next time I run out of books.

Honestly, it may be a good story (I don't know.. I stopped 400+ pages into it), but it's too much the same "hero's journey" story, and too much that screams "I LOVE LORD OF THE RINGS!!!" and not good enough writing to make up for it.  The whole story up to this point has been told, his favorite technique being to jump from mind to mind of all the characters present, which is the only device he uses to describe anything, and let me count the ways that part alone is enough to make me never pick up a book again until I run out of books to read... For one, don't jump perspectives on me mid page, much less mid paragraph!  For two, I really don't care what the characters are thinking every moment they're awake.  Nothing's changed, quit mulling over the horse that you hacked and diced and thoroughly minced already.   And the story is in third person.  Third person means you, as the writer, get to narrate as God, so why in heaven's name, excuse the phrase, are you only using the characters' "Oh, I hadn't noticed this about this situation or that person before, even though they've been wearing the same clothes since I met them, unless they somehow changed in the middle of our journey which they barely packed for," rambling observations to describe everything?

The writing is clumsy at best.  I'll give it points for grammatical correctness, but the sentance length makes me look brief sometimes.  There are random "big words" thrown in that stand out like a super-nova when the rest of the story has been told with a fairly average vocabulary.  "Irascible" was used twice in succession to describe the same character, and come on, if you're going to think up a word like that to describe someone, they'd better well deserve it (which, I note, the character in question occasionally grunts at people when they tick him off, hardly worthy of being labeled "irascible").  Either way, twice??  In succeeding scenes?  Show me he's irascible.  Don't tell me he's that and then have him sit through a tense meeting and just listen.  Oy ve.

This whole show don't tell thing is kinda one of those basics for writing fiction.  It's probably why this book is over 1400 pages long.  You also run into the problem of telling too much.  Brooks destroyed the only character I was remotely interested in (and by remotely interested, I mean extremely, minesculely, I'm-reading-this-book-and-bored-out-of-my-mind-gah!-need-something!! interesed) by using his thoughts as a tool, and a bad one at that, to tell the reader how hard his decisions were.  Don't kill your sorcerer like that! Seriously, now!  And quit telling me that there's some dark secret that he has to keep, oh me oh my what shall I do?  Must.not.tell.theothers.....  Also occuring problems related to telling too much are repetative trains of thought in different characters.  And then having a character think something and on the next page repeating the thought (in the same character) as though it was the first time he'd thought that.  There's another problem of characters coming to terms with their fate... over night?  "Hey son, by the way, you're a descendant of kings, albeit removed (still direct though!!) to the point of obscurity.  Sucks to be you, cause now the Warlock Lord is gonna kill you unless you run now and leave behind everything you know, possibly forever.  Oh, one more thing, you need to take over his newly clamed fortress and get this sword back, that we don't know how to use, so you can fight him.  Hoo-rah! Cheerin' for ya buddy!"  Come on!  I don't care if you're the hero of a fantasy novel.  These things take time to get used to.  But Brooks's narration keeps going in the character's head, and (400ish pages in and a day after finding the last bit out about the sword) the character is completely at peace with his fate and trying to prove his right to be in the party?  There's over a thousand pages left of the book!

Character reactions are completely unbelievable.  Adapting too quickly.  Thinking too conveniently.  God-knowledge and intuition all around.  They also all have the same voice, even the irascible dwarf.  The peasant half-elf-hero who grew up the adopted son of an inn keeper in what appears to be a medieval (minus the kings in patches of the land?? cause that's likely...) society has a very conflicting opinion about politics and what type of government best serves the people and can ponder, cause the characters do a lot of thinking, in modern terms the fine details of political science.  Not likely.  If so, give me a reason.  You're telling me so much, you might as well tell me some more to explain your characters since you're not showing me much.

There's an attempt at history, which might have worked if it was more carefully written.  This was one of the places where my palm met my forehead and I had to put the book down a while.  One of the first actually, the next was several pages later where the same history was repeated by the same person to the same people.  Shortly before I gave up on this book, the history is expanded upon somewhat, which again kinda makes me want to hit the book against my face because it came out as completely laughable.  Mankind blew itself sky-high, but small pockets of people survived.  This was written in the 80s?  Yup, we had nukes then.  If we were gonna blow ourselves up, the nuclear fallout (cause you know somebody'd launch one) would more than likely cover the whole planet.  Small pockets survived and reverted back to the equivalent of animals.  Elves were already in existance, somehow finding a way to avoid getting blown sky-high with the rest of the planet.  The pockets of men that evolved from that point branched off into Gnomes, Dwarves, Men, Trolls, and people who inexplicably preserved the old books and could still read the language centuries later when there was time to sit and read them and a thousand years later attempted to put verbal pieces of the science puzzle (accidentally finding magic instead) together known as the Druids.  The shape of the continents also changed.  It seems this apocolypse also created Moria-style squid-like marsh monsters, half robotic man eating tenticle blobs, and old men of the river that smack of Bombadil without the completely confusing and not helpful.  Oh, and man eating trees.

This brings me to my next issue... 

Really though, for all his forward brought up how he waited to write the story so he wouldn't write Tolkien's story again (fantasy writers, follow his example!!), I had completely forgotten about his even mentioning that until the bridge at the end.

Yeah... Props to King for not rewriting The Lord of the Rings.  Massive minus to Brooks for dancing around waiving a "Tolkien fan!" sign in his novel.  The hero, Shae, and his adopted brother, Flick, don't start off initially in Frodo and Sam costumes, but they all but grow hairy feet without the depth of personality and interesting characters before they even start on their adventure.  The Skull Bearers are black, cloaked, wraith like things that skuttle across the ground searching for the hero.  The winged Skull Bearer has a tendancy to always know exactly where they are and fly directly at them before getting distracted.  Okay, that was just bad writing.  Frodo and Sam Shae and Flick are completely immobilized by fear before they even see the Skull Bearers.  That's a rip off.  The other party characters are more combinations of typical fantasy good-guys, though the prince of Leah (so memorable I forgot his first name) had an incredibly "Boromir at the council of the Ring but justified because he was helping his friend make a choice" moment at the council that took place just before our heros started out on their journey from the haven they'd run to for the belly of the beast.  The monsters, aside from the robot-tenticle beast, have all been from the Fellowship.  They're just dressed in different colors.

I don't know how the story turns out, obviously, and maybe it's good.  Someone thought it was good enough to use as the launch point for a major publishing company, and it has a lot of fans.  My biggest problem was that the writing was so clumsy, I had trouble seeing past that by itself.  When I got to the next layer, all I saw was a sloppily dressed version of Tolkien's story.  Maybe if I'd never read fantasy before I would have been able to enjoy the book.  But the same could be said about Eragon, which is a blatant rip off of every popular fantasy and sci-fi story out there.

Anyway, enough ripping apart of that book.  I could keep going, but anything else would be nit-picking.  I started Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.  It was recommended to me prior to me striking several names off my list of people to take recommendations from following the Twilight horror.  Though I doubt the person who told me to read Moon Called is a Twilight fan.  Actually, I can pretty much picture her having the same impulse to stake Edward on sight as I do.  So far, actually after the first page my interest was piqued enough to be tempted to walk through the station reading.  I didn't, mind you.  I hurried with my glasses on and got in line at my turn over and opened back up.  There are a couple of grammatical errors, possibly editing errors, that I noticed... like putting a comma between two clauses.  It's not a difficult rule to follow, but people always do it!  See? Example.  A little bitty comma.  But the train ride felt wonderfully short, and the only thing keeping me from curling up with it on my couch is my promise to myself to exercise 6 days a week, starting today, which I have happily avoided for the last two hours since I've been home.  I should get to that....

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