Monday, August 02, 2010

Did I just read that?

So I got this book for Caleb's birthday from Savers. It's teen fantasy, and derivative of both Harry Potter and the Dark is Rising but I thought Caleb  might like it. It's called "The Magickers," by Emily Drake.

Today I picked it up to thumb through, trying to convince Caleb to read it. My usual MO in other people's fiction is to read: the first page, the last 3 pages, a couple of pages in the middle, and then the whole book if those haven't disappointed.

Emily Drake lost me in the FIRST PARAGRAPH. I don't know if this reflects poorly on her, or if it should scare me about the editors at DAW. (Daw is a pretty well-respected fantasy publisher, too!).

It wasn't just that the first line ("The moon hung like a silver lantern in the midnight sky...") read like something from the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest (worst first lines ever: It was this line that really stopped me short, right there in the first paragraph: "His sneakers sank with every step, and he pulled his T-shirt closer around him as the sea mist fell like a cold, cold rain."

Did I just read that? For real?

What kind of T-shirts does the author (and her character) wear? T-shirts don't work like that! I'm trying to imagine pulling a T-shirt closer around you, and I really can't visualize that. Plus, I'm not convinced she's ever been in a sea mist. By definition, mists cannot fall like rain. They are MIST. She might mean the spray from the waves battering the rocks? Maybe? Or the sea mist settled onto his skin like an icy rain? Just not quite sure how that one got past the editors.

Reading JUST THE FIRST PARAGRAPH, I understood two things I hear from agents all the time (on their blogs): 1. You can usually tell within the first paragraph if a book is going to work or not, and 2. Don't start with a dream sequence.

It was apparent to me by the end of the first paragraph that what I was reading was a dream sequence. And you know what? I skipped it. I don't want to know that stuff right up front. I want to jump right into the real story, not the character's hangups. So now I understand why agents beg new writers not to start with a dream sequence.

Still, I bought the thing, so I was determined to give it a second chance.  So we skip to the last two pages, and almost the first thing I read was this gem: "He didn't think civilization had ever reached into this place. A rough lane ran down the hills and into a valley...."

So if civilization had never reached into that place, why was there a ROAD there? Hmmmm?

She goes on, "...and a great, dark gray mountain towered above the scene. A waterfall pierced its side, waters tumbling down in a crystalline spray from impossible heights and foaming into a pool of darkest blue."

What she's describing here is a fantasy painting. She's apparently never seen a real mountain towering above any scene, or she would know this description is Picasso-esque in its perspective--seeing the road running down the hills, and the towering mountain, but also the waterfall AND the pool at the bottom? The perspective is flattened and twisted, showing you everything all at once, described by someone who has seen paintings of large mountains but never stood at the foot of one and really looked at it.

Next page (the very last in the book): "He was too far away to see the details of its scaly form, but not too far to see the ebony sharpness of the claws it stretched out and raked into the ground."

So which is it? Too far for detail or not? Because if you can't see the detail of the FORM (like, the shape of the dragon....), how on earth can you see the claws? Unless the claws are bigger than the dragon..... He also sees its teeth. Claws and teeth--sounds like details of its form to me!

There was at least one other gaffe I found when I read the "couple of pages in the middle" that I randomly opened to and that I can't find now, and a mythos explained that supposedly justifies all the warring and battles and history of magic in this book--and it was wholly unconvincing. There was no power or appeal to it--no emotional reason to be involved or to care.

And there was a slew of errors that an astute writer or a half-decent copy editor should have caught, like pronouns with indefinite antecedents. A character smooths the strings of her dulcimer in one paragraph and smooths her skirt "again" in the next.

It actually gives me hope. This is a PUBLISHED book, after all. And I can do better than that! Maybe not as a writer--I'm too close to my words to evaluate that--but I could at LEAST get a job as an editor some day!

PS: I found the one I lost: "The porch itself creaked as if the wind could walk over it."

What on earth does THAT mean?!

1 comment:

Brooke said...

Eh, that sounds awful. The first tip-off should have been the title: I hate it when authors spell magic as "magick" or "magyk" or what have you; it's always been one of my personal red flags. It's so pretentious -- it reminds me of parents who name their kids "Aliviyah" or "Mykhell." Folks, it's still "Olivia" "Michael." Bleh.

Ditto "faerie," "dragyns," and "unikorns." Bleh!