How to make me yell at your book: A review of frustration and (lack of) character development

I am a victim. I am a victim of the terrible, terrible affliction of taking the phrase ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ to heart. And for that I have paid dearly.

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…


About Meg Laverick

I can never be found without a cup of tea in my hand or a notebook in my bag. In between university and generally being awesome I read, write and nerd (that's a verb, right?). I also like analysing things that are probably best left alone.
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15 Responses to How to make me yell at your book: A review of frustration and (lack of) character development

  1. Lainy says:

    I’m glad i’ve never had the urge to continue reading a book beyond a certain point. I can’t remember what series i was reading.. i know it was by Traci Harding, where the first book was ok, nothing spectacular but the second book – OMG the second book seemed to take a different path altogether and tried to introduce something batshit insane like the reader should just swallow it without asking questions and i just went, ‘Ha. No. Just no.’ and i never finished that book. All i know is i had no freaking clue what was happening. I thought it was shaping up to be an ok series. I was disappointed.

    I also read this at work during lunch today. I reread your miracle of miracles paragraph and i’m pretty sure my expression never changed from: D:

    • Meg Laverick says:

      That wouldn’t have been The Ancient Future, would it? The one with the blackbelt in tae kwon do who calls her teacher Sensei and also has enormous boobs (that the author can’t stop mentioning) and who speak perfectly fluent middle english because it’s plot convenient? That one?

      I managed to only read the first book before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I gave up.

      After that point I think my face was like D: for the next 200 pages. But I -couldn’t- -stop-

      Also, character board? Do tell?

      • Lainy says:

        Ancient future sounds familiar… but i’ve tried to read two series by her so *thinks* i think it may have been another one. Actually it may not be a series per se but it follows on from another book (how does that even make sense?)

        Yes, character board. I tried to sit down and plan but then thought my characters are off having their own little adventures and changing their personalities so they’ve all, well most, have been stuck on a board. Names, histories, their place in the world etc… Actually it’s mostly so i can keep track of them.

        Aiden is the only one who has a definite back history as of yet. I think he’s a little nutty at times but i can’t decide if that’s because i lost his parents at a young age or because he lost his parents at a young age AND was subsequently raised by another nutter of mine.

        I’m amazed actually. Pretty much up to date with uni work PLUS have a plan coming along.

        I need a bigger whiteboard.

        • Meg Laverick says:

          lol I do remember seeing another series by her. I got to take it off the shelf the other day because it wasn’t selling (snerk). Have I mentioned how awesome it is working in a bookstore? Because srsly.

          lol how many characters are we up to now? I’m very impressed that plannage and character profiles etc are going so well for you. I’m still planning to mostly wing it this year. I’ve got the bare bones of a plot that I’ve been working and reworking in my head since
          highschool while never getting very far. Apart from that I’ve got my stock Issac, Noah and Nic and then I’m hoping amazing inspiration will strike.

          Hm… tricky on the Aiden backystory thing. I guess it all depends if his nuttiness could be fully explained by the losing parents tragic backstory (like batman) or if he would need that extra push to be quite -that- nutty.

          And I want to be up to date on my uni but I simply can’t do it. I try and try and STILL end up running close to the deadline. Exactly like I am tonight, now I think on it XD *goes back to assignment*

          • Lainy says:

            I’m not sure how i’ve managed to keep up to date. It was kind of like something clicked and i’m just doing it. I find it amusing that the whole study drive has kicked in so late. I don’t have that many courses left.

            I’m up to 5/6 main-ish characters. Few of them are not so prominent though. I don’t think my musings on Aiden is something to be answered. I kind of like it being a mystery. Like a chicken or the egg question. Irrelevant musings XD. He’s probably not that nutty, just has his quirks. Who knows? haven’t started yet…

            Ooh, have i heard of Nic before?

            Also – Cowboys and Aliens. I have no words for the movie. I’m halfway between amused and D:

  2. Lainy says:

    Also, funny you should be talking ’bout characters. My whiteboard has turned into a character board… ha ha *scrutinizes*

  3. Neeks says:

    I enjoyed your post. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s true. The MC does need conflict. Enjoyed this.

  4. phoenixandtiger says:

    I have never read the book myself, but here’s one that does exactly (or almost) the same thing: the Inheritence Cycle series. The first book was awesome – great plot, great set-up for later books, characters I liked. Then the second gave the MC a Gary Stu makeover, and the third just was retarded in all meanings possible. Nothing interesting about the characters, the MC was slated to win, the MC’s cousin was going to be the last Dragon Rider, blah blah blah.

    And the thing about wanting to see Ana deciding to go with her lover, whatever – isn’t that why the reason most of us are fanfiction writers in the first place?

  5. JuliansGIrl says:

    Lol, you want your main character to be conflicted… and yet you hated ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’… conundrum!!

    But I know what you mean. Sometimes you want your characters to be morons so you can knock the book over before the bath water gets too cold, or you run out of wine…
    And sometimes you actually want to read a book where the character doesn’t turn around and go “But wait… I’m a mind reading waitress who falls for the undead!!!”


  6. phoenixandtiger says:

    Sookie Stackhouse series? Or am I wrong and there’s another one?

  7. Meg Laverick says:

    Is that the Eragon books by Paolini? I know they’re not the pinnacle of literary excellence but you have to admit they descend into farce in an amusing way XD I’m actually quite looking forward to the last book coming out in November (reminds me that I’ve got to put that bad boy on preorder). I’m waiting for Murtagh to see the power of friendship and turn back to the good side. There will be many giggles.

    XD I said I wanted complexity in characters- not a book that reads like the author was on acid the whole time. Seriously. Wide Sargasso Sea reads like some drug trip gone wrong. Though, on a related note, I’m desperate to go see the new Jane Eyre movie. Apparently it’s amazing beyond belief.

    And have you seen the size of the paranormal section in bookstores lately? There’s totally more ridiculous Sookie Stackhouse-esque ripoffs out there. Though will any of them give us another Eric Northman? -Will they-?

  8. phoenixandtiger says:

    Speaking of the books – it’s coming out in NOVEMBER???? I thought he was never going to finish writing it! (I’m actually waiting for Eragon to admit his undying love for his half-brother. And for Galbatorix to admit that he’s just an old power-hungry baldy. Is there something wrong with me?)

    I actually thought they were all Twilight ripoffs. Though how there can be anything worse than Twilight in fiction is beyond me.

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