Thursday, March 17, 2005

So Good Yet So Bad

I mentioned yesterday my frustration with Sherrilyn Kenyon's Night Pleasures. Perhaps one of the reasons for my disappointment is that the premise of her story seemed so very good. Immortals fated to walk the Earth forever in darkness as they rid the planet of evil creatures out to harm innocent humans. A Buffy episode in written form. I'd never before read a paranormal/vampire book, and I figured this seemed like a good place to start.

Problem is, the premise that held so much promise was neglected so badly. Actually, in the case of NP, it seemed like Kenyon decided that the basic premise wasn't quite enough to make an interesting story. So she added to it. Rather than establish her world at the outset, imbuing her original characters with their various abilities and peculiarities, then explaining the lot of it to us readers in clever ways such as dialogue and action scenes, we got only dribbles at first. And then throughout the remainder of the book, more and more things got added in kind of a Mr. Potato Head way. Doesn't matter if the nose fits the face, it's a nose so in it goes.

Not only that, but I felt like Kenyon had some sort of checklist sitting next to her computer. Good-guy vampires - check. Bad-guy vampires - check. Werewolf references - check. Greek mythology - check. And on and on. Mrs. Giggles' review summed it up nicely - everything is in this book, quite possibly even the kitchen sink. But never does she go into depth enough on any one aspect to make it seem important.

Anyway, my point of this entry isn't a slam on Night Pleasures. It's to discuss how sad and disappointed I am when a writer seems to have found an amazing premise - the kind of premise other writers kick themselves over and lose sleep wondering why they didn't think of it in the first place - but then lets the story down in some way.

Could be that the characters aren't fully formed enough to carry off the good story. A story with a dark, brooding premise populated by cardboard people too perfect to be true. Or, as a subset of the Dismal Premise Execution Syndrome, a nicely formed character paired with someone so unworthy as to make the reader wince in pain. A wounded-soul hero or heroine, resigned to a loveless life, finds love with...annoying heroine/hero who consistently acts TSTL but is in every other way in-humanly perfect. Dang! Dropped the ball again.

Could be that the resolution comes too quickly or too easily. Three quarters of the story has built up some amazing conflict or problem, the characters teeter on the edge of crises, and BANG! some silly duex ex machina saves the day. Like, the hero, after pages and pages of self-loathing, all of the sudden decides if the heroine loves him, then he must be okay and the epilogue shows the couple cooing over a perfect baby, all smiles and sunshine and little fluffy puppies. I'm not talking about forgoing the HEA, I'm just talking about giving me a sufficient closure to balance the proportional build-up.

Could be that the writer doesn't have enough confidence in her (or his) original idea, so she feels compelled to add to it. And add. And add. And add. Finally the cool premise is buried beneath layers of nonsense that only confuses me and makes me want to weep over the wasted idea, not to mention the wasted time I've spent or the wasted cash.

It is true that ideas are everywhere. But original ideas - compelling ideas that haven't been done to death - they are a rare gem. As writers, when we get one we have to hold on with both hands and nurture the idea gently and carefully. Take the time to let it grow slowly, be willing to backup and start over if the entire train veers off the tracks.

Granted, the way one writer handles a perfect premise is not necessarily the way another writer would, and to claim that one way is wrong as compared to the other is arrogance in the extreme. I'm just saying that writers cannot allow silly mistakes to be the downfall of a great story. Poor characterization, three-dimensional portrayals, situations that don't make sense or fit into the scope of the original story. All of this is the stupid stuff that will totally blow it all to pieces, and for no good reason.

I've picked up Christine Feehan's Dark Prince, the first book in her Carpathian series. The premise is mind-blowing to me. A race of human-like people who live forever. The Carpathian women have died off, leaving the men desperate to find the lifemates that will keep them from running mad. Very cool stuff.

Proves that even after disappiontment, the human spirit picks itself up and gets back on that vampire!


Anonymous said...

Of course, tastes in reading are entirely subjective, so it's perfectly understandable that a novel which gripped me from start to finish might fail to enthrall you. :) Though I have to disagree with the 'too easy to the HEA' thing - Kyrian didn't trust in love because the last woman he loved betrayed him to his death. What made him trust again was that Amanda held his life in her hands - literally! - and went through extreme pain to return his soul to him. She could have betrayed him but didn't. Plus, once he had his soul back, he was no longer cursed from daylight so they could have their HEA ;)

I agree that the first time I read the early books in Kenyon's series there seemed to be a lot of seemingly-irrelevant information there - but now I'm reading all seven novels again together I'm realising just how much work has gone into creating a universe with incredibly detailed mythology. There are characters and events introduced in Night Pleasures which seemed incidental at the time; now I realise they're highly significant towards piecing together the major 'mystery' of the series. I'm in awe of a writer who can create such a world, who drops clues throughout her books and yet still hasn't given away the full story about the key character who appears in all of the books.

Still, it's not for everyone - like Christine Feehan's vampire books, which I simply can't read.

Lynn M said...

Totally agree with you on the different tastes thing and respect that you liked this book, so please know this meant as just some friendly debate and not an argument :))

Problem for me was that Kryrian seemed to have fallen in love with Amanda long before the ending when she helped return his soul. He was lusting after her pretty much the minute he met her - which is okay because that always happens in romance novels. But around mid-way through the book, every third or fourth page repeated how he'd never felt this way about a woman before. And I guess I never quite saw what Amanda had done up until that point to evoke such a strong emotion. Sure, she didn't whine too much about about being handcuffed to him, but other than that, I didn't see it.

I suppose I found this book to be an example of being told that the heroine and hero loved each other but not really feeling as if I've been shown reasons why.

As for the multitude of seemingly irrelevant details, I can see what you're saying about Kenyon creating a world that will continue in other books. I, too, have tremendous respect for writers who can do that - create entire mythologies from scratch. I'm just wondering if there wasn't a more graceful way of weaving these details in.

And sorry for the vagueness, but when I listed a too-easy HEA as one reason a premise might fall apart for me, I didn't mean to imply that this was the case in NP. I was speaking more generically and perhaps need to make that clearer in my blog. In fact, I think the HEA in NP was very appropriately reached based on the prior buildup. :)

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I've not read Kenyon's vampire hunter series. I have read most of Feehan's Carpathians. The first three were really good. After that, I got a little bored (alpha male hunting down his innocent, reluctant lifemate). Still, the premise/concept is great, and I learned a lot from reading them. that I'm a little further in my craft, I can't stand Feehan's headhopping. ARG! I didn't even notice it in the first few books, but now it drives me nuts!