Discussion · Fantasy

Am I Falling Out of Love With Fantasy?

Fantasy was once my favorite genre. A trend I’m noticing – in my ratings, in my favorites, and even in what I add to my TBR now – is that I seem to like it less and less.

This is going to be long! I can’t promise it will be worth it, but here we are.


First, A Disclaimer

Defining what is and isn’t fantasy is complicated, as the line between sci-fi and fantasy can get really blurred, and as some genres are considered fantasy by some and not by others (for example, magical realism, paranormal romance, contemporary with a small speculative twist…)

In this post, I will use the word “fantasy” to mean a book set in a fictional/historical-fictional world in which magic has a significant role, and in which the technology is on average less advanced than our own.

I know this excludes a lot of subgenres, but drawing the line between what can be considered fantasy and what can’t is even more complicated in a contemporary or futuristic setting; as this post does not apply to urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, magical realism and all the subgenres and arguably separate genres one doesn’t immediately think of when the word “fantasy” is said, consider them excluded from the word “fantasy” for the purpose of this post.
I consider urban fantasy a fantasy subgenre, of course – it’s just not what I’m talking about, it’s not a genre I considered a favorite when I was younger. I also didn’t want to say “high and historical fantasy” every time when that’s what most people immediately think of when they hear the word “fantasy” anyway.


The Current Situation

43263188I have rated only one fantasy novel five stars this year. Said novel is The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore (review), and it’s a 4.5 rounded up because the buddy read with Silvia was a great experience. I don’t know if I would have rounded up had I read it on my own; it was fun, but far from flawless, and it doesn’t fully feel like a five star. It’s really the kind of book I’d actually love to have half stars for.

I have loved some fantasy short stories (The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections), novellas (The Ascent to Godhood) and graphic novels (Monstress), but novels… not so much. And I have been reading fantasy novels.

Let’s make a quick, simple list. Of the 91 books I read this year:

  • 33 are not novels (short stories, graphic novels, novellas, collections and anthologies of various genres)
  • 7 are novels I reread (of various genres)
  • which leaves 51 novels.

Of those 51 novels:

  • 17 are fantasy (of which one is a 5 star)
  • 9 are sci-fi/futuristic (of which five are 5 stars)
  • 14 are realistic contemporary or historical fiction (of which four are 5 stars)
  • 11 belong to the “contemporary with a magical/sci-fi/paranormal/horror twist” group (and three of them are 5 stars)

You see, it’s not like I’m not reading fantasy novels. But I’m not liking them, or at least, I’m constantly disappointed by them. Some of the most disappointing books I read this year were hyped fantasy books like The Fifth Season, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and House of Salt and Sorrows. And that’s just counting the ones I finished! I just DNFed Steel Crow Saga, for example, another anticipated release.

If you compare these stats with what I read in 2016 (around 100 books, of which 30+ were fantasy novels for the purpose of this post), yes, I’m also reading a lot less fantasy.


Why Is This Happening?

Here are some possible explanations, and what I think of them.

is the fantasy genre getting worse? I honestly don’t think that’s the case; if anything, I think that in the YA fantasy age range, it’s getting better; at least we’re not still stuck retelling the same 3 fairytales with straight, white main characters as we were in early 2016. I don’t know enough about the recent past of the adult part to say if it’s the same there, but I think we’re seeing a lot more women, more diversity and that’s of course positive. YA fantasy is also taking itself more seriously and that’s a double-edged sword, as some kinds of narratives and clichés just don’t work when you try to write that kind of story, but overall, I think the quality has improved.

I have read too much of it. Well, this is definitely a significant part of my recent dislike, especially when it comes to YA fantasy. YA fantasy is formulaic enough to feel stagnant, and when novels that actually feel like a breath of fresh air – like Six of Crows did back then – the genre’s response is to try and make lesser copycats of them instead of looking for more stories that branch out from the typical YA fantasy structure.
I was starting to feel “YA fantasy fatigue” in 2017, and I was 17 at the time, so I don’t even think it’s a “you’re not the target audience” problem. Teens get tired of reading the same exact story 20 times, too; I don’t think “this might be the first time a reader encounters that story, though!” is that much of a justification – it almost surely isn’t the first time, if said reader reads more than three YA books in a year, and if they don’t, they’re unlikely to reach for the midlist first! It’s almost as if this category almost only ever tries to play safe, and I don’t like that. (The “really formulaic” thing is also true for most YA sci-fi, but that genre has never been my favorite.) I understand that to some YA is kind of a comfort read, but that was not true for me as a teen; I mostly wanted original stories that didn’t go into adult territory, and I truly believe there’s space for both the cliché and the not.
Also, while I think that formulaic diverse stories have a value, I’d love to see publishers understand that marginalized readers might also want diverse stories that are not  formulaic, not “exactly the same plot as popular m/f YA fantasy book, but gayer” or something like that. You can have both. I promise.

⇝ Since I have read a lot of it, I have higher standards. Also true. I know what has been done really often before in fantasy more than I do in other genres. A lot of fantasy books I love, even books I loved this year on reread like Shadow and Bone, aren’t books I’d give five stars to today if I read them for the first time. It’s less about nostalgia (for Shadow and Bone: I read it in 2015 and that isn’t a time I’m nostalgic about, really) and more about that being the first time I experienced this kind of story, with a main character who was almost exactly the same as 15-year-old me; it carries a weight that similar stories could not today. I would still like it, of that I’m certain, but I wouldn’t love it (and would be annoyed by some things that I forgive in fantasy published in 2012 but not now). It would probably be around four stars.

⇝ finding adult fantasy without a serious pacing problem is difficult. It doesn’t make sense to me that adult fantasy is totally fine with taking 200+ pages to get to the point almost every single time, because the more I approach actual adulthood, the more I think I’m not 13 and I don’t have unlimited free time anymore, can you shut up and get there already? For example, Jade City and especially Jade War by Fonda Lee would have been such great books, if not for the fact that half of the text that isn’t dialogue could have been omitted to make a perfectly viable story anyway. Who allowed them to get that long?
And the thing is: adult sci-fi, which has just as complex (and sometimes more complex) worldbuilding, doesn’t have this problem nearly as often, or maybe I’ve been really lucky. It might have to do with the fact that adult fantasy has had a history of being long-winded since basically the beginning? I know nothing about older sci-fi, so I’m not sure how the two compare.

⇝ a lot of fantasy acts as if having a sense of humor could kill it. We‘re very serious people here! This is meant to be Meaningful! Fun is forbidden because here we are Edgy and it’s all about pain! Of course, this isn’t the case for all books, but I wish dark fantasy’s sense of humor weren’t just really occasional sarcasm. I think most of us really are here to have fun – maybe not literally, I think it’s more about being interested and captivated and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the book has to be funny, but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds overwhelming misery overrated, as it’s really easy to come by without needing a fictional world. Balance is everything to me, when it comes to these things, and adding humor to difficult circumstances doesn’t make a story cheaper.
(Though I have to say that when the book has a sense of humor I don’t actually find funny, it gets awkward. See what happened with Steel Crow Saga.)

⇝ something that I also need to remember is that it’s more difficult to tell apart fantasy that isn’t going to work for me. I’m pretty good at guessing which sci-fi I need to abandon within the first chapters; this also works – though not as much – with contemporaries. With fantasy, I struggle. I’m not sure why; I can tell that a sci-fi book does not interest me from the premise but with fantasy I’m not able to do the same as often and end up with more low ratings. However, this does not explain why there are so few high ratings.


What About the Future

I’m still going to be reading fantasy books. Of course. However, I don’t consider it my favorite genre anymore, and I think me and YA fantasy are inevitably going to grow apart, not because I’m not interested in reading about teenagers anymore – I’m not thirty either, but that doesn’t make fantasy stories with adults in their 30s as main characters automatically uninteresting – but because it isn’t doing much for me anymore. Things could change, but if they don’t, my YA fantasy reads will slowly become more the exception than the rule.

I don’t see myself growing apart from fantasy altogether. For example, if it hadn’t been for the problems I had with the romance and portrayals of female characters, Mo Dao Zu Shi (review) would have probably been a five star, and even though it wasn’t, I still couldn’t think about anything else for a week, so yes, I can still love fantasy.

A Few Fantasy Reads I Have High Hopes For

Who knows, maybe I will be able to find a full five star read in the fantasy genre before the end of this year!

⇝ The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
If I ever get to this, which might not happen because I am a coward, I’m actually pretty sure that I’m going to like it. I’ve heard that as far as books this long go, the pacing is great, and what I’ve heard about the characters and worldbuilding was encouraging as well.

Descendants of the Crane by Joan He
I’ve heard this one is slow, but slow YA fantasy is easier to deal with than slow adult fantasy, being on average shorter and lighter. I’ve also heard this has political intrigue and interesting court dynamics and I live for that. I haven’t been reading enough “backstabbing at court” books this year, and I usually like those.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
I’m not completely sure what this is about but it comes highly recommended from people I trust. I’ve heard there are complex villains and queer characters in here, so that’s bound to be interesting. I haven’t heard a lot about the series in general but I’m hopeful.


Have you ever felt like you and a genre were growing apart? What are your current thoughts on fantasy?

Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #7

My seventh post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

This time, I did something a little different, and tried experiencing the same story in three different formats at the same time.


A Little History

For several month now, my twitter timeline has been full of people talking about a something called Mo Dao Zu Shi (or, as it usually is in tweets, mdzs). I didn’t pay that much attention to it, because most of what I saw was completely out of context and I had no idea of what it even was. I just assumed it was something movie/show/animation-related, and didn’t investigate further. (If you want to know about my history and relationships with things on screens: here. The TL;DR is that watching things on a screen and my anxiety don’t go along well.)

So, I went through months of being spoiled for basically everything, but in a way that was so out-of-context that it didn’t even matter or affect my following experience with mdzs. All I really knew was that it was a) gay in some way, at least in subtext and b) historical, maybe?

Then, I don’t remember how we got there, but I ended up talking about it with Silvia on twitter, and she recently got into it – so I finally understood that the thing that was everywhere on my timeline was a Chinese m/m adult fantasy novel involving necromancy that was adapted both as a donghua and as a live action show.

This combination of hype + recommendation from people I trust + vague but interesting premise meant that, at that point, I really wanted to try it. Since I had been wanting to try again and watch something on a screen for a while as well (in small doses, I can do that, if I can skim certain kinds of scenes), I did.

If you want more detailed information about what this story is and where to start, Silvia wrote a post about that!


Overall Thoughts

43188345._sx318_Someone should have told me that this had the very specific trope “the most hated person of the realm comes back from the dead, chaos ensues” sooner!

I realize that I’ve never talked about this because it’s an overly specific combination of things and because I had only seen it in another book before, but… it might be my favorite trope. (Even though these stories have nothing in common, Mo Dao Zu Shi opens with exactly the same trope as Raven Stratagem.) I love reading about hated undead. It might be the many years spent in Catholic school and the whole framing of resurrection as holy when actually it’s a terrifying concept, I don’t know.

Also: complicated family dynamics! Music as magic! Necromancy and blood magic! There were a lot of tropes I loved in here.

Anyway, the story overall was great, and this was such a good time. Far from flawless, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I would only recommend with disclaimers, but was it addicting.

Now I’m going to talk about what I liked about each format. Keep in mind that I have very little experience with two of them.


Mo Dao Zu Shi [Donghua]

I started from here. Season one has been completed, season two is ongoing, and there should be a season three but I’m not sure when.

Pros:

  • There is a lot to take in at first. Not only because it’s fantasy and we know how worldbuilding can be, but because it starts at a point in which the main characters already have a long, fraught history with each other, so you don’t really understand their reactions at first (after, there will be many flashbacks). However, I have to say that, as I was told, the donghua beginning is the easiest to follow – it doesn’t infodump you but it gives you most of the information you need.
  • Even before you get to appreciate the characters for who they are, this is funny just for how dramatic it is, and I loved that about it. The first scene involving the protagonist is one of the most dramatic things I have ever seen and I was there for it. (Might be typical of the format? I wouldn’t know.)

Cons:

  • So many scenes happen in the dark. Scenes set in tombs, in caves, dark buildings, woods at night – there’s a lot. Every time I got to one of those scenes, I couldn’t understand anything about what was happening, because of the terrible lighting/lack of contrast.
  • I kind of find it aesthetically unpleasant for a variety of choices.
  • It’s not finished yet.
  • The fight scenes are boring and proportionally longer than they are in the live action (at least they’re really dramatic, which makes them funny).
  • Of course, as usual, I need to skim some scenes, which means that I do lose some things.
  • The m/m relationship can only be heavily hinted at because censorship.

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation [Novel]

This one was a really interesting experience. You might already know that I have little to no patience for long books, especially ones longer than 600 pages. If I had known that this one was longer than 1000, maybe I wouldn’t even have started it. And it didn’t feel like something longer than 1000 pages, which made me think about what exactly I don’t like about long books – it’s not the length, not really. It’s the repetitive structure in a novel that just takes longer to get there.

A published American novel, unless it’s somehow experimenting with format, has a beginning in which the characters and world are introduced (or: new elements are introduced if it’s a sequel), a middle in which there might be a journey and there’s usually rising tension, and then a climax and an ending. It might be 100 or 500 pages, but it’s always that. If the story is really long, it gets broken up in two to three books, so you have to do this exact same thing three times. And from knowing this structure, you can more or less predict what’s going to happen next.

And it’s not that in this novel these elements are absent. There is a beginning, there is a main climax, there is an ending; however, it’s also a mess of incredibly long flashbacks sometimes following characters different from the main couple, and while it’s long it’s one story and not one broken and watered down to make three books, and all of this paradoxically makes it less boring.

Pros:

  • Being a novel, you get more details and many thing that can’t be translated as well on a screen;
  • Comparing structure and tropes with the novels I usually read was really interesting, and there are some parallels as well as things that I’ve never seen a fantasy novel try, when they clearly should have. (Fake redemption arcs in a Shatter Me/A Court of Mist and Fury style are boring and always feel somewhat forced. What this book did is so much better when it comes to reversal of expectations, why don’t YA novels do [this spoilery thing] more often?)
  • Unlike the other two formats, this is explicitly gay and doesn’t only hint at things. This way, you get that it took the main character years to understand that he is gay while being clearly in love with another man.
  • If you’re interested in another of the two formats, this tells you the significance of certain symbols, so that the gay subtext of the adaptations becomes way closer to text in your head.

Cons:

  • This is messy at heart.
  • While the author is really good at writing pining and romantically oblivious characters, the same definitely isn’t true for actual romantic scenes. The amount of dubcon in the form of non-consensual kisses and drunk kisses and drunk sex was really uncomfortable. The love interest’s jealousy also made my skin crawl. Let’s say that while I liked the romance in theory, the execution was bad.
  • A person who values their own eyes should skip the sex scenes. I’ve never seen a fandom agree so strongly about the fact that these are terrible.
  • It’s true for all of the formats, but something that is even more glaring in the novel is that every single female character is either evil, dead or irrelevant, with usually a big emphasis on irrelevant. While the other formats at least attempt to develop the female characters who end up dying, especially the live action, the novel does not.

The Untamed [Live Action]

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Pros:

  • Listen. The aesthetic. I love everything about the way they chose to portray the setting and the costumes and everything looks so pretty on the screen
  • I thought the casting choices were really good! I mean, there is to say that even if the acting was mediocre, I wouldn’t know, but I thought the characters were portrayed really well on the screen
  • The romantic tension. This is such a good example of dancing around censorship. The longing, the loving gazes, the romantic songs… perfect. (This led to the weird phenomenon in which I like the romance in the live action, in which it can’t be explicit, far more than I do in the novel, because all the weird dubcon isn’t there. What a recipe for pain.)
  • Female characters have a more active and important role! It’s still very flawed but at least they do something.

Cons:

  • It’s completely impossible to take the fight scenes seriously. (Maybe that was the purpose, I’m not sure, but they’re kind of ridiculous).
  • It got rid of some of the moral ambiguity, which I have mixed feelings about.
  • Censorship, of course
  • Since this looks more realistic than the other two formats, I needed to skim a lot.
  • Even though this ended up being my favorite format (I know, I didn’t see that coming either), I don’t recommend starting from it because I think I would have found the beginning really confusing if I had.

So, How Was Following A Story in Three Formats?

It helped.

A problem I have with anything on a screen is that I have to skim. By skimming, I usually lose interest, because I lose details. Being able to switch from one format to another when it came to a point in which I started to lose interest in one was helpful, so that I ended up finishing all of them [well, the first one isn’t finished, but I saw all that was out]

It was really confusing, yes. These stories are similar enough to all feel the same story and different enough to cause confusion. I don’t separate them clearly in my head, but there’s also some good that comes from that – watching something that only heavily hints at the m/m relationship while reading the novel in which they’re explicitly gay (and what I said about the novel explaining the symbolism) ends up making you feel as if you are in fact watching something explicitly gay, because you mix them up in your head, everything feels like the same story. It never feels like baiting.

There are not many stories with which I could do this kind of thing – the stories that I’m interested in reading rarely get adapted, which is sad – but I would do it again if I had the chance.


Have you ever tried following a story in multiple formats at the same time?

Discussion

Two Years Of Blogging: Going Forward

This blog is two years old, and in this two years, something that has never changed is that I still don’t know how to start a post.


On What Is Happening

In these last two weeks I was rarely on here, not writing any new posts, and barely reading. Nothing unusual is happening, apart from two thankfully now-past exams – it’s just the anxiety.
That’s nothing new, but if I know I have anxiety and it manages to get in the way of a lot of things already, adding deadlines for something that is supposed to be fun is really not the best idea for me.

Acquadimore Books started as a way to talk about books with people who are interested in the same kind of content I am (books written in English); it did not start to exist in my life as another source of stress.

And I know I still want to be there. I love reading and talking about books with other people, and reading their blogs – my experience with the book blogging community overall has been really positive. Like every place, it does have its occasional problems (mostly plagiarism and bad discourse) but it is fun to be there, most of the time. I don’t want to ruin it for myself.


Going Forward

A few things that will change:

  • ARCs. Of course I’m still going to request and review some ARCs, but I’d like to start not requesting as many of them. It’s not that I have an overdue ARC problem (I don’t; I’m pretty reliable on that, at least) but I do feel the deadline pressure. And I don’t want that. I want to be able to read things at a pace that feels more natural for me, which I can easily achieve by requesting less ARCs.
  • TBRs. I think I’m going to keep making them, at least until the end of this year, but I think they’re going to be smaller than nine books – maybe six, like the last September TBR. They’re useful, but I want to have space to be a mood reader sometimes. In these two weeks, I’ve been reading something not for review or for a TBR, and it’s been so refreshing. It shouldn’t feel that way, which is why I want to change things a little.
  • Schedule. I might not be posting as often, or exactly on the same days. I’m not sure how much it will change – what matters to me is that, just I don’t want to push myself to read, I don’t push myself to write either.

What I’ve Been Up To

40794181I’m currently writing a new Out of My Comfort Zone post about what I’ve been reading lately, so I don’t want to spoil it, but it will be about the thing I’ve read not for review or for a TBR and it will, hopefully, be up soon.

I’ve also been slowly making my way through The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. Due to exams and getting really distracted by that other thing (though this book’s pacing didn’t help, there’s that), I haven’t made much progress, but now I feel like I finally got into the story, and I hope I’ll be able to post a review soonish. For now, I will tell you that the writing is beautiful without drawing that much attention to itself, and that it would probably sound amazing on audiobook.

My plans for September remain pretty much the same; I’d really like to get to most of the books on that short TBR, especially Steel Crow Saga (I have heard it’s Pokémon inspired, so, how could I not). The only exception might be Gideon the Ninth, because the universe seems to be conspiring against me on that. For the rest, I plan not to make any more plans for this second half, and go with what happens. If I end up not reading that much, I’ll try to not think of it as a problem.


How do you feel about ARC deadlines?

Discussion

Recent [Disappointing] Reads

I read a few really good books at the end of July – you can see the highlights of July in this post – but so far, August hasn’t been the best reading-wise.

Today, I’m going to talk about two books I tried that didn’t work for me recently. I’m not going to give them a rating, but if I had to, they both would be around three stars.

These are not reviews – they’re more a discussion focusing on some specific aspects of the book or of my reading experience.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I decided not to write a review of this one, because if there’s a thing that really bothers me about the book community, it’s the tendency to put books on pedestals and then be rude/condescending to those who don’t like them, because that of course meant they didn’t get it, or that they’re a bad person (especially if it’s a diverse book, because if you care about diversity, it must mean that you have to like every single diverse book that isn’t considered problematic™ – you’re not allowed to have preferences unless you can justify them with social justice-related language, and if you have them anyway, you’re problematic™ because you not liking a book must of course mean that you think the book should be cancelled™!). It happened last year with The Poppy War, and I have no interest in going through that again on goodreads.

But this is my blog, and the nice thing about my blog is that I can easily moderate the comment section (and that it isn’t read by as many people as the review section on goodreads’ page of a book).

So, what went wrong with me and The Fifth Season.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you might already know that I don’t do well with grim. And I knew this book was going to be grim, and even if I didn’t like that, I didn’t have a problem with that, because that’s what this book is and has every reason to be.

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But then, I got to this quote. [highlights are mine]

“There passes a time of happiness in your life, which I will not describe to you. It is unimportant. Perhaps you think it wrong that I dwell so much on the horrors, the pain, but pain is what shapes us, after all.”

First: Unimportant? Really?

Second: to give you some context, this quote is talking about Syenite and the years she spent with the people living on an island, who value people with her powers. This book wants me to believe that she is exactly the same, with the same aims and the same way to see the world and nothing that could bee seen as character development, that she was before getting into her first relationship and having a child?

That’s… unrealistic, that’s what it is.

(I would also say that “pain is what shapes us” is an inaccurate generalization – personally, there’s a lot of stagnation in pain, more than there is when I’m not in pain, and trauma is… less of a source of growth that fiction would have one think, but this is my experience; if you feel differently, it’s not my intention to ever make you think you’re wrong.)

I feel like my main problems with this book are summed up really well by that quote, and have a lot to do with… the book community’s tendency to value pain over everything (in this, and in so many other aspects, including the creepiest ones like “you’re not allowed to write about trauma unless you disclose details about your own on social media”) and I don’t even feel like I’m the right person to talk about this because I can’t put together something that makes sense. I still think The Fifth Season is worth reading for other aspects, but I won’t be continuing with the series.


Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

I made a mistake, and that mistake was trying to listen to the audiobook. You might already know that my previous experience with audiobooks (with Sadie by Courtney Summers) wasn’t the best, but I absolutely loved listening to the novella In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, and so I thought, why not try again?

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As it turns out, some stories really don’t work well on audiobook. This is a novel with many side characters, most of which are women, and something about the narration made them sound really similar. Was that Rosa’s mother? Her grandmother? Her best friend? One of the other women from her small town? I often didn’t know, and kept getting confused, and there were just… so many characters.

When I got around 40%, I realized that I kept zoning out and understanding nothing, so I quit, and I feel bad about it, because it’s not even really the book’s fault. This isn’t bad – it’s a perfectly fine contemporary story, and a really atmospheric one at that, and I loved what it said about how different generations in diaspora have different relationship with their culture – it’s just that I don’t feel strongly enough about it to purchase another copy and start it again.

TL;DR: if you like contemporary novels, it’s worth trying. Don’t listen to it on audiobook if that’s an option.


Have you ever had a bad experience with an audiobook narration? Have you read any of these?

Discussion

What I Don’t Like In Books, According To 5 Recent DNFs

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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?

Discussion

On Second Chances

While liking a book pretty much guarantees that I will at least consider reading the author’s future work – and I often end up reading it, if its premise doesn’t sound completely uninteresting – me not liking a book usually doesn’t influence whether I’ll pick up another novel by that author.

There are, of course, exceptions, as there are some bookish grudges I hold (I will never read another book by Katharine McGee), but overall, not liking one book doesn’t have consequences: if the author’s next book sounds interesting to me, I’ll try it.

I want to see how often this works in my favor.

Note: for this post, I will only count novels – liking a short story by an author but not another is the rule and not the exception (even thought there are short fiction authors I’ve failed to get into and will probably avoid in the future). I won’t count non-companion sequels as second chances – it has to be something unrelated.


It Worked

These are authors who wrote a book I disliked/didn’t feel strongly about and then wrote one that I really liked. I love when that happens.

Becky Albertalli

I gave one star to the first book I read by Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited, but decided to try Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda a year later and really liked it. I also liked her collaboration with Adam Silvera, What If It’s Us, though not as much as Simon vs (or even as They Both Die at the End).

This probably had to do with the fact that I started with her only straight book (which also gave me so much secondhand embarrassment and to this day it’s still the most aro-unfriendly book I’ve ever read). I mean to read Leah on the Offbeat this summer and see how I feel about it, as f/f is the pairing I’m most likely to like.

Amy Rose Capetta

She actually inspired this post.

I read Echo After Echo two years ago, and while it had an amazing premise and some really good ideas in it, the execution fell flat and I found it really forgettable overall. Then The Brilliant Death came out, and… that’s a book I’m never going to try, as I’m uncomfortable with its existence (the mafia is a real thing that hurts real people today – the news talking about them/the damage they’re doing/the people they have murdered/their role in human trafficking is at least a weekly occurrence here – and writing a book with a mafiosa as a main character strikes me as really bad taste).

However, I believe in giving second chances to queer authors writing queer stories, so I decided to read her new novel The Lost Coast, and it was amazing – just the kind of queer witch-y story with forest magic I needed. Now I’ll definitely consider reading everything she writes and has written outside the TBD universe, including Once & Future, which she co-wrote with Cori McCarthy.

S.K. Ali

This isn’t really about giving a second chance to an author whose previous book I disliked, since I actually quite liked Saints and Misfits – it’s just that while some aspects of it really stuck with me, most of the book didn’t (the fact that I couldn’t visualize the setting at all didn’t help), and it was overall a three star read: good, but not something I felt so strongly about.

So, I didn’t know whether I wanted to read her next book Love From A to Z, but I’m so glad I decided to try it – it’s one of the best contemporary novels I have ever read, and everything I didn’t like about the first book wasn’t an issue here, setting included. I can’t wait to see what she puts out next.

Heidi Heilig

I didn’t like Heidi Heilig’s debut duology The Girl From Everywhere. Or, I really liked the first book’s setting, but didn’t feel strongly about the characters or the plot. When the setting changed with the second book, I realized I didn’t care about anything, and ended up skim-reading most of The Ship Beyond Time (I hated it at the time, but I can’t tell you why, as I remember nothing).

However, For a Muse of Fire? I loved the main character Jetta, I loved her family, I loved some of the side characters (Cheeky!), and I can’t wait for the sequel. Heidi Heilig still hasn’t written a romance I care about, but who knows, maybe in this series it will grow on me.


It Didn’t Work

Sometimes, the second chance has even worse results. (I don’t think I will try another book by these authors in the future.)

Emily Skrutskie

I was surprised when I read The Abyss Surrounds Us and thought it was mostly mediocre, as at the time there was basically no f/f content outside of contemporary YA – I would have read anything. And this was still… nothing surprising or that memorable.

Then I tried her sci-fi novel Hullmetal Girls, and it was even blander – it straight up felt like a 2012-era YA dystopian, in space. More diverse, yes, but as a good part of it felt tokenistic, I can’t say I cared that much.

Claudia Gray

She always writes novels that have a very interesting concept in theory and end up being a poor excuse for a very bland m/f romance instead. Also, she portrays scientists as if they were weird, incomprehensible, almost alien creatures who are not like normal relatable humans (who are artists or fighters, of course) and talk almost only about science, and this annoys me a lot.

I gave her a second chance with Defy the Stars, but it had the same problems as A Thousand Pieces of You and also had the worst example of single-purpose planet worldbduilding I’ve ever read.

Kristin Cashore

Graceling might have felt like something new when it was published ten years ago. Today, it’s not really worth reading – and not even that well-written. But Kristin Cashore had written another book, Jane Unlimited, one that had also a main bisexual character and other queer characters in it! I had to read it!

Well. What is about Americans not being able to write about Italians without talking about the mafia? I don’t know. I just know that this book seemed endlessly fascinated by its own cleverness and humor while putting together lackluster plotlines sprinkled with xenophobia.


Authors I’m Considering

These are authors I really want to read another book from, even though I didn’t love the first one I read by them.

Zen Cho

I don’t know if I have talked about it on this blog before, but Sorcerer to the Crown is the book I struggled the most to read in all of my time spent reading books in English. People complain about adult sci-fi novels like Ancillary Justice or Ninefox Gambit being too complicated, but this is what was unreadable to me. I know, it sounds weird, but: keep in mind that English isn’t my first language, and when it comes to a more “antiquated” vocabulary, I struggle a lot, because where should I have learned those words – it’s not like you find them on the internet, and they won’t come up in Italian English classes.

However, it was a good book, and since then, I’ve really liked Zen Cho’s novelette If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, so I want to try her novel The True Queen, which should also be f/f.

E.K. Johnston

So, That Inevitable Victorian Thing was a mess. I wonder whether I misinterpreted it entirely, because there were so many things about the worldbuilding that made me uncomfortable that… I want to believe it was on purpose? I don’t know.

Anyway, it seems to be the popular opinion that it’s her worst novel, so I want to try another one, The Afterward, which is f/f and also seems to have a worldbuilding with less unfortunate implications.


Are there any authors you’re considering giving a second chance to?

Discussion

What I Think of “Instalove” As A Trope

While I try, overall, to keep this blog positive outside of reviews, I love reading snarky and negative posts from time to time. I especially like reading people’s negative opinions on common tropes, whether I agree with them or not.

However, finding posts that aren’t about the same five tropes over and over is difficult. And one of the tropes these posts are always talking about is instalove, which, according to many, is the worst trope.

But is it really?


What Instalove Is

According to TvTropes, Instalove, or “Love at First Sight“:

Two characters meet, and fall deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other immediately.

Sounds bad, right? It’s forced, lazy storytelling, and while it could make sense in something intentionally cheesy, it’s not what you want in your average novel.

However: I’ve never read a book like this.

No, wait. Technically I have, but it’s not an American YA novel. It’s an Italian YA novel I won’t mention – bad hype, still hype, and anyway, I don’t like to trash books no one has ever heard of, there’s no point to it. In said Italian paranormal YA novel, the main character saw the male love interest, was struck by his beauty so much that she felt like the world had stopped, and felt an instant connection (without talking to him). He felt the same way (without talking to her), and they almost immediately start to act like a couple.

This is instalove.

33797105Another thing I could say is instalove are the one-day romances like The Sun Is Also a Star and They Both Die at the End. While I didn’t think they were unrealistic – some people do fall in love that quickly – one-day romances, love or hate them, are very uncommon and definitely don’t explain how much hate the “instalove trope” gets.

(Another uncommon thing that is often accused of instalove are reincarnation-related tropes, but then, that’s not first sight, is it?)

But in the average, post-2015* YA SFF novel that has a major romantic subplot and isn’t about reincarnation?

  • I have never read one that had actual instalove in it
  • I have never read a popular one that wasn’t said to have instalove in it, no matter how absurd the “accusation” was
  • read the bad reviews of a relatively well-known post-2015 YA SFF novel with a relevant romantic storyline: chances are there’s someone who says the romance is instalove. There’s almost always someone saying it’s instalove, even when the romance is slow-burn.

*[I haven’t read enough (and don’t remember well enough) pre-2015 YA stuff to know if there’s actual instalove in it often]


A Small Experiment

I’m going to sort the goodreads reviews to only see the 1-star ones for some popular post-2015 YA SFF books that have an unambiguously romantic storyline, and I’m going to CTRL+F instalove/insta-love and see how many times it comes up (only counting one per review).

  • Warcross by Marie Lu [2 reviews mention instalove]
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber [9 reviews mention instalove]
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor [3 reviews mention instalove]
  • Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan [3 reviews mention instalove]
  • An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson [8 reviews mention instalove]
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi [4 reviews mention instalove]
  • Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young [2 reviews mention instalove]
  • Mirage by Somaiya Daud [4 reviews mention instalove]
  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan [1 review mentions instalove. This is specifically a slow-burn romance that develops over months. Lovely.]

I’ve read all of these, and I can say none of them employed love at first sight as a storytelling device (well, you could argue about Strange the Dreamer on some level, but it’s not the one with the most instalove points!), and that many people who claim to hate instalove like many of these books. However, some people think they’re instalove. Why?


What I Think Has Happened

Instalove has become a synonym for “I didn’t feel the romance”. Which isn’t a trope: that’s like saying that romances you don’t believe in are your least favorite trope. Of course you don’t like if you find it badly written, rushed or unbelievable – that’s kind of a tautology.

I think instalove accusations aren’t actually about how much time the main characters spend together. They’re about how much time every single reader perceives the characters have spent together, and about how much every single reader believes they have chemistry. It doesn’t matter if they spend months together: to a reader, it might still feel rushed (I’ve felt this way too – sometimes you just don’t feel the passage of time) and so they might mistake it for instalove.

But this is subjective, and not a trope – I might argue on the execution being good or bad, but if a book has a love triangle or a lost princess or an evil queen, most of the time it is a matter of fact and not of opinion. Which doesn’t seem to be the case at all for instalove.

Since nothing ever works for everyone, and since “instalove” became a synonym for “romance that in my opinion was rushed or lacked chemistry or that just annoyed me” [the way I used the word too, when I still used it], the majority of YA books that have been read by a reasonable amount of people will get bad reviews mentioning “instalove”.

And even if a romance is objectively, unrealistically rushed: that’s usually a flaw in the writing/plotting, not a device an author consciously decided to use to tell a story, and to me, it really doesn’t make sense to talk about it as a trope.

It’s not that I think “instalove” as a trope doesn’t exist (again: that one Italian YA book in which the characters literally fall in love at first sight without talking, what in Italian we call “colpo di fulmine”), it’s that it has been used so much to mean other things – from bad pacing to a perceived lack of chemistry – that at this point, this word is pretty much meaningless.


Do you see instalove as a trope?