Today, I’m going to talk about four books I DNFed in the last two months, and why I DNFed them. These are not to be considered true reviews, as I didn’t even read half of the book, but I want to talk about what makes me decide to part ways with a book.
Three Immediate DNFs
The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman: I don’t find easy to describe what exactly went wrong with this one. It was a combination of forced dialogue, characters angsting about their magic/lack thereof even before you understand which kind of magic there is in this world, and vague descriptions that made it feel like a novelization of a not particularly well-thought-out TV show. You know the ones with a bad script people rave about because the actors are pretty, but of which you can’t see two scenes without dying of secondhand embarrassment? Those, and being a book it can’t even have the pretty actors.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling: I just really wasn’t feeling this one. I started it for Spookathon, realized it really wasn’t my kind of thing, and stopped. It was starting to bore me already, there was far too much talk about rerouting intestines (please stop) instead of actual descriptions of the creepy cave, and that was… not what I wanted. I mean, caves are beautiful and awe-inducing and this book didn’t even try to describe what was in them? They’re not just holes in the rock. I’m sad because in theory I’m always there for the messed up f/f relationships, but this one wasn’t working. Maybe I’ll try again someday, I don’t know.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware: I tried this one because of… booktube hype, mostly. It sounded interesting and I could have used it for an upcoming “out of my comfort” zone post! However, when the main character – who is in jail at the beginning of the book – started to tell me how she’s middle class and because of that feels like she doesn’t belong there while the other women clearly do, I decided that I didn’t particularly care that I was meant to dislike her and quit. I tried to give a book in which I hated the main characters a chance just a few days ago and it wasn’t worth it at all; I have better things to do with my time.
“Pokémon, but make it ugly”
― Steel Crow Saga, probably
I had read and really liked another book by Paul Krueger before, so when I started seeing positive reviews of Steel Crow Saga, I was sure that this was going to be a fun fantasy read for me. Unfortunately, me and this book didn’t get along at all, for various reasons, the main ones being my dislike of the writing and the humor, which I found more cringe-y than funny. I ended up DNFing it because I just couldn’t get into the story and kept putting it down out of boredom.
I didn’t expect to dislike the writing, since I didn’t remember having a problem with it during Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, but here I found it awkward and with a tendency to state the obvious (the kind of thing that I might notice mostly by chance and then can’t unsee for the rest of the novel), and… this might sound weird, but I’ve never disliked the descriptions in a book so much. It got to the point that I hoped the author would stop describing things.
First of all: nothing felt grounded. For the first eighty pages or so, there was very little sense of setting, and I had only a vague idea of how the characters’ surroundings were like. But the descriptions we actually got were worse, so that most of my feelings about this book ended up being puzzlement about its choices in aesthetics and character design. I mean, how do you make vaguely Pokémon-like animal companions ugly? By making them exactly like normal animals, just upsettingly oversized! And it wasn’t just that, every single description seemed to go out of its way to make everything as ugly as possible. I don’t think that the book was even trying to be unsettling (with one main exception) – it wasn’t creepy, just deeply aesthetically unpleasant. Why?
As I had just spent two weeks trying to wade through The Ten Thousand Doors of January hoping that it would get better and it didn’t, I decided to just let this one go without a rating before reaching page 100. I did see a little of potential in Lee and Xiulan’s storyline, and I always get sad when I don’t like an f/f book, but they weren’t worth the tasteless slog that were Tala and Jimuro’s chapters.
How do you know when it’s time to DNF a book?