“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
G. K. Chesterton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the author reflects on her bedtime reading, and also her morning and lunchtime reading
Fri 2017-05-19 00:56:37 (in context)

OK, so I only spent part of the day in bed reading. There's something about raising the blinds to discover a slushy spring snow falling all over everything that makes it really tempting not to get up. (I promise I did eventually get up and get some solid work done.)

I'd been having a hard time finding Seanan McGuire's third October Daye book in local bookstores and libraries and had not quite yet resigned myself to ordering it online. Then the Hugo voter packet dropped. The packet has all ten of the novels in it, or, rather, it has a link to NetGalley.com where your credentials as a voting World Con member grant you a free download of them as one big omnibus ebook. (It's a temporary loan, not a gift--the omnibus is "archived" on July 16--but it's still pretty dang generous of the publisher.) So I started right in on An Artificial Night last night.

I really, really want to like these books more than I do. They're compelling page-turners. Their protagonist is someone I actually like spending time with. The worldbuilding is cool, despite being a touch problematic. The stories feature plenty of female characters with agency and diverse backgrounds who are all equally significant whether they're a knight, a noble, a homemaker, or a college student, or whatever. Which is to say, this is not one of those urban fantasies with a Kick-Ass Female Protagonist who exists as an exception to the unchallenged assumption that Women Suck.

And I will freely admit to bawling like a baby at the end of the penultimate chapter. McGuire is very good at building characters such that they become intimately familiar, and you feel you can broadly predict the sort of reactions they might have to any given circumstance--and then she breaks your heart by having them do something completely unexpected and vulnerable.

But certain things that happen constantly throughout the books thus far irritate me. Little things about the writing, little things about the characters. Little things. But little things that recur often enough that the irritation builds up.

OK, like, for instance: I have become resigned to McGuire's tendency to never tell you once what she can tell you again and again, often in the same chapter and sometimes on the same page.

Over the course of An Artificial Night, Toby Daye recaps not once but three times the events of the prologue to Rosemary and Rue. That's three times fully, mind you. Additional shorter summaries are given throughout. Like pretty much every time she's given cause to remember it. Like, she's just been dumped in a pond, so the reader must be explained to, again, why she's got a phobia of being immersed.

Or, frequently, a piece of information given in narration will then be repeated in dialogue on the next page or chapter, such that I'm left wondering why the info needs to be dumped twice. Neither instance was clunky--it wasn't truly an infodump in that sense, nor was the dialogue any kind of maid-and-butler, as-you-know-bob routine. But either would have sufficed, on its own. The repetition makes it feel as though the author doesn't trust the reader to get it on the first pass. (This happens in the 2016 novella and likewise Hugo finalist "Every Heart a Doorway," too. Compare the narrative reveal of Eleanor's true age in the first chapter with the conversation some students have, not long after, discussing the very same thing and in almost the same language.)

Or maybe Toby will just repeat some particular insight a lot, often, frequently, as though the reader needed to be constantly reminded--because how could I remember this from page to page, else?--that it would be very, very bad for that candle to go out. (Yes, I understand that the prospect weighed on Toby's mind. There are better ways to demonstrate that.)

And then sometimes you have something like this:

“Why won’t she wake up?”

“Hell if I know.” The Luidaeg sat on the edge of the bed, nudging Karen in the arm. When this failed to get a response, she nudged again, harder. “She’s really out of it.”

“I know that. Can you tell me why?”

“Not yet,” she said....

Is there any justification for Toby asking the question again immediately after it gets answered the first time? I can't see it. Nor can I see why the famously short-tempered Luidaeg doesn't retort, "What did I just say? What part of 'Hell if I know' don't you understand?" Goodness knows that's what I yelled at the page.

Like I said, little things. Nothing huge. Nothing that makes McGuire a bad writer, not by any stretch of the imagination. But that's just it. She's a good enough writer that small instances of clumsy writing (or, OK, what looks to me like clumsy writing) really jar. I'd be inured to them in a lesser writer, but I don't expect them of her.

Character-wise, it's also little things. Toby Daye being a little too slow on the uptake, given that her "day" job is Private Detective to the Fae. Or, on the other hand, secondary characters taking Toby to task for being slow on the uptake about something which, in the very same conversation, they have already acknowledged she couldn't possibly have known. (That sounds convoluted, but the example I'm thinking of is a spoiler. Sorry.) Toby being told "Go, go now, it's urgent, don't argue, just go," followed by two pages of Toby arguing before she finally just goes. (This happens no less than three times over the course of An Artificial Night. Each time, it feels, not like a natural expression of Toby's distrust and reluctance, but like page-padding, because the characters don't so much argue as repeat themselves nearly word for word for two pages. Which people do in real life, yes, but not everything people do in real life makes for good writing.)

And yet, they really are compelling books. I want to know what happens next. I want more beautiful, tear-jerking moments like the one at the end of the penultimate chapter. I want to learn more about the mysteries hanging over all the major players. I want to know if Toby is ever reunited with her human family. I want to see if Toby's vanished mother ever comes back and turns everyone's world and expectations upside down. So I will read the next book, and the next, and enjoy the heck out of them.

But I will also continue to be irritated by them. I am resigned to this. It is the price of admission. With that in mind, I would like a physical copy of the book which I can harmlessly fling across the bed or against the wall when my irritation levels get too high. That's all.