In which your book sucks and you probably do too

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Here’s how to write a book I’m not going to like:

  • Start with what sounds like a promising premise.  No, really– I’ll not like your book more if I originally thought I was going to enjoy it, and I have to start reading your book before I can realize how bad it is.  So you actually need to do something cool with at least the basic setting of your book to get me to pick it up in the first place.  Don’t worry– I like lots of different kinds of things, so “interesting setting” isn’t actually that high of a bar to clear.  Alternatively, have someone I like and/or respect recommend your book, or even just catch me in the right mood and I’ll start reading.
  • Once you’ve got your basic setting, don’t do any more thinking about it at all.  It may be that bits of your setting don’t quite make basic sense.  That’s okay!  People who like for their fantasy books to hang together coherently are few and far between, and besides, why would you want to overthink things?  Just say whatever you want.  So long as it’s badass, it’s okay, right?
  • Women don’t read books, and neither do men who like women, so there’s no reason to pay any attention to your female characters, make them realistic, or really use them as anything other than sex objects and/or punching bags.  Sometimes at the same time!
  • Rape is Realistic, which means it’s okay to have it in your book all the goddamn time.  Pay no attention to the part where “realism” is not demanded in any other aspect of your writing.  Women Back Then had to worry about being raped, so the male characters in your book should all be rapists and the women should all worry about rape all the time– unless they’re sluts, in which case it’s impossible to rape them anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s list the sins of Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man:

  • It’s actually pretty well-written on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph level.  This actually ends up being critical to getting me to hate it, because had it been poorly written in addition to being crap (let’s assume for the sake of argument that we can actually treat these as being separate characteristics) I would have abandoned it much earlier and thus it would not have had the chance to piss me off as much as it did.
  • The setting is thus:  There are demons in the world, called Corelings, and they come up out of the ground every night to wreak havoc on the world and Kill All Humans!  The world is thus very dangerous to everyone, and human society is more or less on the brink of extinction.  The Corelings are winning, in other words. The sun drives them off, so daytime is safe, but being outside after dark is basically fatal.  Corelings can be driven away by use of a set of magical symbols called Wards, but Wards can be fragile (step on one, and it loses its magic, for example) and making them correctly is difficult.  This is actually a decently intriguing setup for a novel and got me about halfway through the book.  However?
  • He didn’t put a single damn second of thought into it beyond that.  You know what every human habitation would have if the world worked like this?  Walls.  You’d build the walls before you put buildings inside them, and you’d carve your wards into something as permanent as possible and put them on the walls.  Portable rope-and-board warding circles exist, so if you were trying to build a settlement at Point B you could put most of the wall together at Point A and then transport it so that you could get them set up quickly.
  • Clothing would have wards on it– if wards couldn’t be worked into cloth for some reason, people would be wearing more permanent garments– helmets, for example, or maybe bracers of some kind– that could have wards carved into them.  The author appears to have never thought of this idea, which I started wondering about maybe twenty pages into the book.  The idea’s really obvious, honestly; you’d think he’d at least have had a sentence or two where he explained why this can’t work.
  • Corelings can’t rise through worked stone.  This would tend to suggest that most towns at least have a central area with cobblestones so someplace is safe from them.  They don’t.
  • “Hey, what about tattoos?” you might be thinking right about now, having learned about this scenario two minutes ago.  It apparently took hundreds of years of being constantly killed by these things before one of the main characters comes up with the idea of actually tattooing a ward onto himself.  Which not only works, but turns him into a demon-fighting ninja straight out of a Rob Liefeld comic book from 1995.  And a thoroughly dislikeable one, too, even though previously he was an interesting character.  Sadly, HIS PARENTS ARE DEAD!!! which means he smolders with generic rage.
  • In addition to the defensive wards (one of which, by the way, inexplicably hardens glass to be like steel, even though every other ward does something to demons) there are offensive wards that you can put on weapons to help you fight demons; otherwise, they’re basically invulnerable.  They were lost, though– all of them, so long ago that many people don’t believe they existed, even though none of the defensive wards were lost.  This is both possible and makes sense… somehow.  Until the main character finds a spear in a tomb, cracks the wards, pledges to start making weapons with those wards for everyone, and then… just doesn’t, for some reason, in favor of becoming Tattooed Demon Batman.
  • There are three main characters.  One is Tattooed Demon Batman.  The other is boring.  The third is a girl, with big tits, who spends the entire book avoiding rapists– like, literally, at one point she surreptitiously doses a guy’s food with some sort of impotence drug because she’s traveling with him (not a lot of room in a tent inside a portable ward ring) and she knows he’s going to rape her.  He’s real open about it– if she needs his help, she’s giving up some nappy dugout.  Charmingly, after spending the entire night trying to fuck her and being unable to get it up, he tells her he’ll kill her if she tells anyone about it.  This doesn’t stop her from considering asking him to help her again later on in the book.
  • With about a hundred pages left, she’s brutally gangraped.  For no fucking reason at all other than apparently Peter Brett figured something awful needed to happen to her.  Did I mention she was a virgin?  Because of course she was.
  • Ten pages after that (maybe not exactly, but close enough) she fucks Tattooed Demon Batman, who she’s just met, because that’s what rape victims do.  Tattooed Demon Batman and Other Boring Dude kill two of the three rapists by stealing their warding circle (roll with it) but the book makes sure to mention that the big scary one of the three rapists doesn’t appear to be among the bodies.
  • Throw in several chapters of slut-shaming, too, and three mothers– one a cheating, emasculating harridan and two whose purposes in the narrative are to die horribly so that their sons can feel bad about it.  The only semi-positive female character is a Wise Old Crone.  No, really, I’m serious.

This book fucking sucked and you should not read it, and Peter V. Brett should feel bad for having written it.  The worst bit is that I could easily keep complaining for another thousand words but the boy just woke up so I have to go.

4 thoughts on “In which your book sucks and you probably do too

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  4. Jonathan Schneiderman

    My sentiments exactly. I have little to offer being that I put the book down in disgust around page 50.

    Yes, I was drawn to the book by the premise. Good idea, poor execution.
    Yes, the author writes well enough so there was no red flag right away.

    So what are the issues up to page 50?

    Character development was awful. The male characters are two dimensional and the female characters are barely one dimensional.

    I story, as I read through it, appeared to be a very unsubtle attempt to create an evangelical Christian allegory. I don’t mind religious allegories but this one seemed to have the grace of a rabid elephant attempting gymnastics.

    Finally it appears in Brett’s mind that the fear of death or emotional distress are horrible characteristics in humans. Such characters that exhibit these characteristics will be written off. I recall that two women lost their husbands to demons and they were obviously a bit sulky about it. After two days one woman got over it but the other was still a bit listless. I figured for her sins the author would kill her off and in a couple of pages and he did just that. At this point I would’ve liked to have burned this stack of pulp but unfortunately I downloaded it to my iPad so I couldn’t even get that paltry bit of satisfaction.

    Lucky for me, I didn’t get to the rape parts as mentioned in by the reviewer I am responding to. Male fantasy authors that write about rape give me the creeps. (Sorry Stephen Donaldson, Loved the Unbeliever Series but I still don’t get the rape scene you put into the first book.)

    Two positive points about Brett and work:

    He’s better than Terry Goodkind. Truly the worst writer I have had the displeasure of reading.
    You are not poor and you don’t have to work a day gig.

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