Friday, October 21, 2016
This is my review of the Throne of Glass series. Sort of. Eventually. First I want to talk about a related issue.
There’s this writer. They write genre. They’ve written over a hundred books. I have to stay vague here because I came across this in my freelance work and I don’t want to offend a client. I still have bills to pay.
But in my proofreading, I noticed something. Every single book of this writer’s that I read contained the same plot point: with about ten-to-twenty pages left in the story, the female lead gets abducted. Every time. Like clockwork. Things are going fine and suddenly the Evil Bad Guy pops up in the next-to-last chapter and nabs her. Then the heroes search frantically and save her right at the very last minute. Then it’s happy ending time. I’ve proofed at least half a dozen of these books and the formula remains unshakable.
This writer is wildly popular in their genre, a consistent number-one bestseller who’s making big bucks for their publisher. The readers don’t appear to mind the repetitive plots. Maybe they’re comfortable with it.
It’s like McDonald’s. You can walk into any McDonald’s in the country at any time on any day of the week, and you know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises. I thought readers wanted surprises in their stories. Perhaps I was mistaken.
Back in the ‘70s-‘80s, if you were a fan of romance novels, Barbara Cartland was huge. Her niche was historical romance. She wrote a ton of books. I never read any, but it’s my understanding she also used the same plot repeatedly. Arrogant older man, dewy young maiden, Victorian hijinks ensue. She also sold in mass quantities, and had a loyal, rabid fanbase. Even though, from what I’ve heard, if you read one of her books, you’ve read all of them. Literary comfort food? Is there such a thing?
Just to prove this doesn’t only happen in romance, there was one author I did read, in the science fiction genre. After a promising start to his career, he also developed a formula. He began writing what I dubbed “travelogue” fiction. The plots consisted of a group of characters moving from Point A to Point B, and having largely-forgettable adventures along the way. I discovered I could read the first three chapters and the last three chapters, skip the middle, and still get the gist of the book. That’s a shame, because I liked his writing style and enjoyed his earlier work. However, it was the later, formulaic works that started appearing on the New York Times best-seller list. Go figure.
Which brings us, finally, back to Throne of Glass. I’ve now binge-read the five books available, and I’ve noticed this writer, too, has developed a winning formula. Essentially, the bulk of any given book in the series is filler. Sometimes boring, sometimes entertaining, but filler nonetheless. The characters have adventures, have romances, yadda yadda yadda. Then, somewhere near the end, there’s a Big Reveal. The book’s "holy shit" moment. Nothing’s what you thought it was. The plot spins off in a new direction, to be explored in the next volume. After about 300 pages of filler.
Hey, it’s working for her. The series is a best-seller. If it ain’t broke …
I always thought the point of writing was to entertain the reader. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them think without realizing it. Surprise them. Granted, there are some genres—romance, mystery—that require a formula. But you can still play around inside the formula and have a little fun. Or can you?
Maybe what I see as tedious repetition, the market sees as reassuring familiarity. It’s certainly popular, and profitable. Maybe I should forget about surprising readers and find myself a formula and start churning out predictable books that don’t upset readers by messing with their expectations. Finally get me enough money to buy that newer car I’m going to need next year.
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Overview of Throne of Glass: go ahead and read the series, if YA fantasy’s your thing. You may or may not be disappointed. Opinions on Goodreads are evenly split between This is the Greatest Series Ever and This is Boring and Sucks. Personally I enjoyed it, even though I ended up skimming large chunks here and there. The writer has an engaging style and knows how to tell a story. I recommend you skip the first one, Throne of Glass, and start with the second, Crown of Midnight. That’s the novel where she hits her stride. It’s like the early Star Trek movies. Avoid Star Trek: The Motion Picture and go straight to Wrath of Khan. The difference in quality is astounding.
Although at this point in the TOG series, I’ve become more invested in the story of Manon the witch and couldn’t care less about Celaena/Aelin and what happens to her. Manon’s story is like an antihero version of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, my all-time favorite series. And she probably should have been a lesbian, and spared us all that forced, awkward hook-up with the prince. But that would have messed up the formula, and probably cost the writer sales. Or so I’ve concluded. Your mileage may vary.