Sunday, March 18, 2012

Musings on Anne Bishop

Once upon a time, I stumbled accross The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. I thought it was dark, gritty, well written, compelling, and just all around awesome. So I lent copies to friends, bought them copies for their birthdays, and just promoted the hell out of the series in my social network. Not that we thought of it that way then, in the days before Facebook. Every book of Bishop's that I've picked up since then has in some way dissapointed me, with the exception of The Invisible Ring. Her most recent books I've actually been disdainful of. I just picked up Bridge of Dreams (sequel to Sebastian and Belladonna) and had to fight with myself to try and like this book.

It's not badly written. The mechanics are top notch, no complaints. The characters are thoroughly fleshed out and believable. The world building is also fully fleshed out and consistant accross all three books in this series. Why then was I not connecting? Why was I just waiting for the book to be over? Why did I think the book needed to be over about at least fifty pages earlier than it was? Maybe even a hundred, if you edited out unnessary plot lines.

My first realization is that Bishop has decided to pull her punches. It looks like something horrible is going to happen, but wait! It's either not as bad as advertised, or it's mendable in some way that takes little effort. Or both. For example, the main character Lee is held captive by the villians, tortured, and blinded. This is hefty stuff! But almost all of the details aside from his blindness are glossed over. What happened to all the bruises, cuts, infections, malnutrition, and other physical trauma? He also appears to not be suffering from PTSD after this experience, and he should be! This book should be littered with his mental issues stemming from the first quarter of the tale, and it's not. In fact, they are so seldom there that the few times they are mentioned they've lost believability.  Finally, there's this magical potion that can reverse his blindness! Huzzah! Bad things happened, and then they all got cleaned up. By the time we get to the point of no return in the story, he's even regained enough sight to wander around by himself. Subconciously, I've pulled away from the story by this point because I know that nothing bad is really going to happen. And if bad things happen, the suffering will be temporary, and at the end everyone walks away into the sunset. The conflict needs to be real, needs to matter to me, the stakes need to be suitably high (and I need to believe that they are high and that victory is not garanteed), and I need to have doubts as to how the characters are going to pull it all off. I have to want to know just how they possibly could.

Another problem is that Bridge of Dreams doesn't really have a main villian. It's a group of villians who are never directly on the page long, those who are are flunkies who are then gone longe before the point of no return, and are given no motivation beyond their action other than 'this is what they do.' I don't care about Lee's struggle against them because I don't care enough about the villians. For that I need at least basic characterization done.

Finally, sheer predictability. By the time we've reached the point in the book where the characters are piecing everything together, I already know how they are going to solve it. There's a few curveballs, but nothing I'm deeply surprised about. The first two books in this series set up the world so well that I found myself reading along, adding everything up, and getting the correct answer. As a reader, I shouldn't be able to do this. If I know what's going to happen, and mostly how it's going to happen, why would I finish reading it?

A Bridge of Dreams is a weird little love story trying to be dark fantasy. It doesn't committ enough to either tale to be really successful. On one hand, it's mechanically well written. Descriptions are well done and even compelling. On the other, there are so many basic, amateur mistakes in the storytelling that I'm really dissapointed. I know Bishop can do better; her debut book was better! If she had tried to debut with this, I'm not sure she'd have made it out of the slush pile. Not because it's badly written, but because the story is poorly set up. It's missing too many of the hallmarks of craftsmenship that I expect a writer at her level to do all the time, every time.

Please, Ms. Bishop. Take some time to really craft your next tale. I'll love you for it! Because at some point I'm going to stop hoping you've remembered how to write, and just leave your books on the shelf.


Robin said...

I haven't read the book, but the issues you describe are things I've noticed with her latest books in general, and it's the reason I haven't read this at all.

It's sad, because the Black Jewel trilogy, Tir Alainn and The Invisible Ring are all fantastic pieces of literature; definitely among my favourite books. The books after those, though, not so much. And it feels like it's getting worse and worse ...

Janea S said...

I actually like Bridge of Dreams more than her three previous books. But the problems are still glaringly obvious.

Sarah said...

I haven't read the Bridge of Dreams and really don't want to. I love Anne Bishop and have bought all her books. I stopped reading Belladonna 1/2 through. It just bored me and wasn't what I really wanted from her. I miss the Black Jewel Trilogy and was very upset with Twilight's Dawn...

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