Because of my affliction, 300 pages into Juliet Marillier’s first book in the Bridei Chronicles (clocking out at 720 pages and 217,006 words) I did not put the book down despite everything in me telling me to. Instead, after finishing the tome, I reached for the second book. Mercifully shorter, this one only reached 214,043 words. And I finished it with only one feeling left in me: loathing.
There are many things I dislike about this book but there was one moment that stuck out for me, one moment that made me actually start yelling at the book like it could hear me and I wanted it to be ashamed of itself. That moment came when the author had the potential to work with an interesting, imperfect character and instead of doing so she cheaped out of it in a big way.
Perhaps before I rage I should go back and explain. A good part of the story is focussed around a love… Quadrangle? (I think that’s right) A beautiful princess, Ana, is sent to marry a barbarian in the north, Alpin, in order to seal a treaty. On their journey to meet Alpin, Ana’s bodyguard, Faolin, struck by her beauty (read: boobs) and wisdom and whatnot, falls in love with Ana but knows they can’t be together because of their different stations. Turns out Alpin has a brother, Drustan, (keeping up with the names?) who has been declared insane and been locked up these past seven years because he apparently murdered Alpin’s first wife by running her off a cliff during one of his wild times. Naturally, through crazy happenstance and bizarre coincidence, Ana and Drustan meet and fall in love.
Just to recap, Faolan is in love with Ana but must deliver her to marry Alpin in order to seal a treaty, Alpin has a crazy brother who’s in love with Ana who reciprocates but is duty bound to follow through with the treaty. Alpin is just a douche who sees Ana’s beauty (read: boobs) and wants to tap that.
So, turns out that Drustan is actually a shapeshifter (It’s that kind of book) and he needs to shift between his human form and his animal form (a hawk) regularly or he tends to get a little… batshit insane. It’s during one of these times that he allegedly killed Alpin’s wife. He doesn’t remember committing the crime but there were witnesses so he submits to his imprisonment willingly believing himself to be guilty.
One thing leads to another, and Ana, Faolin and Drustan all escape from Alpin, who it turns out was never going to honour the treaty in the first place (and was also a total douche). Ana declares her love for Drustan, Drustan declares his love for Ana and Faolin gets rejected something hardcore.
And then it happens.
Around page 590 it is revealed that, miracle of miracles, Drustan isn’t guilty of murder after all! It was Alpin who killed his wife! He then blamed his brother and locked him up for seven years! (Remember how I said Alpin was a douche? Yep, no redeeming qualities there) Conveniently for Alpin, Drustan didn’t remember any of this. Ain’t life a bitch?
Are you shocked? Are you simply BOWLED OVER by this amazing twist? Or are you like me and kind of feel the need to break something?
I HATE it when authors do this. They set up a story that could be interesting (A man afflicted with attacks of the crazy is locked up because during one of these attacks he killed an innocent woman. Now he has to learn to deal with the guilt because he wants to move on and be with the woman he loves) and then SNATCH it away at the last second and instead give you two cookie-cutter perfect people who fall in love and ride into the sunset, blameless and guilt free.
I guess it makes me angry because of the wasted potential. I’d MUCH rather read a story about a man whose done things that he’s not proud of but is mature enough to realise that life continues on regardless. I’d prefer a story where Ana is forced to deal with the fact that her beloved killed an innocent woman while he was out of his mind. I’d like to see how she rationalises her choice to remain with him. I’d like to see the way she deals with her lover’s darker side. Why? Because that’s the more interesting story. It has more interesting characters, more interesting conflicts and doesn’t end with me yelling obscenities at your book.
If I wanted to read a story where two physically and mentally perfect people fell in love I would. And, as my friends will tell you, I often do. There’s nothing better than sitting down and reading a romance where the characters are simple, the problems are trivial and overblown and you know that by the end they’ll be married with the possibility of a baby on the way. If that’s what you want to read.
However, after battling my way through 431,049 words of prose in an epic, high fantasy novel, I guess I expected better. I expected characters more complex than those I can read about in the two hours it takes me to finish a romance novel. I expected plots and conflicts that would leave me amazed at the complex moral questions it brought up. Instead I’m left with this. I’m left angry and bitter because there was so much potential that was simply wasted.
So here’s my plea to all aspiring authors and all published authors and all people who are even considering ever writing something fictional ever. Please don’t do this. Please, if you’re going to introduce something morally questionable about your character, something in their past or something within their personality that isn’t quite ideal don’t shy away from it at the last minute. Instead, run with it. So your character murdered someone while they were having an episode. How does this affect them? How does it affect how others treat them? What about if your character has a short temper that lends them towards violence? Do they act differently to compensate for it? Do people try to avoid tipping them over the edge or do they deliberately provoke them? These are all interesting questions and can only be answered if you follow through with them. Don’t introduce something like this and have it all turn out to be a misunderstanding. It feels insulting and cheap and is liable to make me start yelling.
Now there is only the decision as to whether I read the third and last book of the series…