I almost never read books I don’t like anymore. It would be nice to be able to say that it’s because I’m good at avoiding them, but that’s not true – the real reason is that I DNF a lot.
Today, I’m going to look at a few books I DNFed this year and try to determine why that happened; maybe this way I’ll discover some tropes/elements I might want to avoid in the future.
1. Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa: a Japanese-inspired YA fantasy novel following a 16-year-old kitsune.
- why I chose to read it: foxes! great atmosphere! And I might have heard that the plot is pretty cliché (typical straightforward m/f YA fantasy), but this is ownvoices Japanese-inspired YA fantasy and I wanted to try it.
- how things started to go wrong: I decided to stop when, during a scene in which a jorogumo started telling the male main character that she was going to lay eggs in his body, I was kind of rooting for the jorogumo already and started thinking about ways to effectively incorporate parasitoidism in high fantasy. This wasn’t going to work.
- why things started to go wrong: I might have accepted that this novel had given me two main characters who appeared very bland – that’s not terrible, the great thing about characters is that unlike worldbuilding, if they start out bland they can still change. However, giving me two very bland teenagers I have no reason to root for as main characters while giving not one but two evil, powerful adult women in three chapters? …can you not
Well, here’s a trope I hate: innocent, young and beautiful main character vs. evil adult woman. In books, adult women aren’t allowed to be morally gray when in power the way male characters are allowed to – they are either pure or pure evil. But here’s the thing: the evil woman’s story always sounds more interesting to me than the bland girl’s.
[Also, the fact that stories in which women want to be in power are almost always villain origin stories or people push for them to be villain origin stories is disturbing to me]
2. Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat: I’m not even completely sure where to place this genre-wise, but the good thing is that you’ve already heard of this and you don’t need me to explain it to you. I think.
- why I chose to read it: curiosity! It’s impossible to escape the discourse, or, at least it was a few years ago, and I believe in giving a chance to things.
- how things started to go wrong: my main thoughts while reading were “why, exactly, am I doing this to myself” and “I don’t care about men this much”
- why things started to go wrong: for something that stirred up so much discourse, it was very… bland? Apart from the violence, I found it unremarkable. From the beginning to the middle (I think that’s where I quit), I didn’t find one reason to keep reading – not the characters, not the world, not the plot – and when it started getting into lovingly detailed descriptions of sexual violence multiple times, I decided that I didn’t really care about intent or what the author was going for, I wasn’t going to continue
I don’t have anything against various types of violence being portrayed in fiction, and while I did have some issues with how this book was doing it, I don’t feel comfortable with taking apart something I haven’t even finished. No – the thing is, everyone has their own limits to what they can read for entertainment, and mine drastically lowers when I don’t find any reason to get through it.
[Also, I really don’t care about men enough for many m/m novels, but that’s not only this book’s problem.]
3. A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole: a royalty romance and the third book in a series I previously enjoyed.
- why I chose to read it: sometimes I like to go out of my comfort zone and the Reluctant Royals series was one of these attempts.
- how things started to go wrong: I started thinking about languages – about how English is considered the default and pushed on everyone, while other languages are seen as interchangeable, and about how my ability to speak the language(s) I’m actually supposed to be speaking is not what it used to be and about… a lot of other language-related things I don’t want to think about while reading romance
- why things started to go wrong: the male main character kept saying and thinking random words in another language (which is apparently a made-up mix of French and German? I’m not sure, but if that’s the case, who thought that was a good idea) in totally random places and I’m sorry, no, that’s not how bilingualism works
Next time I see reviews complaining about how a book portrayed bilingualism, I’ll listen to them and not read the book.
Also, another least favorite trope: “how sexy, they can speak another language while we’re in bed“. I don’t know if this book had this trope, since I DNFed it really early, but it reminded me of it. Even though I had never really thought about this trope before, it does bother me. I have no time for English native speakers’ weird language fetishes and I have a really complicated relationship with the language I’m supposed to be speaking to begin with, so this really isn’t something I ever like to see.
4. A Hidden Hope by Laura Lam: an f/f friends-to-enemies-to-lovers novella set at a convention.
- why I chose to read it: have you seen the premise?
- how things started to go wrong: when two character met, “squeaked” in excitement, hugged each other and both said “I can’t believe I’m hugging [other character’s name]!”, I decided that I had better things to do with my time.
- why things started to go wrong: I was dying of secondhand embarrassment, but the book didn’t even see what was happening as embarrassing. Also, the writing was… really something
I don’t like books involving fandoms or conventions. I didn’t care about Fangirl, DNFed Queens of Geek and disliked Radio Silence, so I should remember that I just don’t want to read about this topic. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of partecipating in fandom that much to begin with – I’ve never seen one that was both inhabited by more than four people and not currently self-destroying through ship wars.
5. In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: a book about stories within stories within stories, a nesting doll of fairytales.
- why I chose to read it: she’s one of my favorite authors and this is one of the most well-known and loved books she has written.
- how things started to go wrong: I just really wanted it to end and I wasn’t even 100 pages into it.
- why things started to go wrong: there was no tension whatsoever. As there wasn’t a real main character nor a real main storyline, I didn’t feel any urgency to continue reading and wasn’t rooting for anyone. I’m not even sure there was any real conflict, and constantly jumping from one story into another without any kind of resolution was annoying me.
I like stories with stories inside of them. However, I don’t like when the stories inside the story become the story itself; I prefer to have a clear main storyline with some other things incorporated into it. I had this problem also with The Waking Forest, even though it was far from the only problem I had with that book.
Is there any element in books that most people seem to have no issues with but that you just don’t like? Is there any trope/element/something that recurs often in your least favorite books? What makes you DNF a novel?