I wasn’t planning on reading the sequel to Ariel until it came out in mass-market paperback. Reasons being I didn’t want to spend the dough on the hardcover, my copy of Ariel is an MMPB, and also, while I liked the sample of Elegy Beach that I read, I wasn’t dying to get my hands on the sequel.
But when Boyett replied to my review of Ariel, I got worked up the nerve to ask for an ARC. He forwarded my request to the publisher, who didn’t have any, but sent me the hardcover itself. Cool! Since I got the hardcover earlier this month, I thought it’d be a good idea to read and review the sucker before the release date of November 3, 2009.
The premise: it’s been thirty years since the Change, when the laws humanity held dear disappeared and new laws took their place, laws that can only be described as magic. Fred and his best friend Yan don’t understand the nostalgia their parents feel for the world that was, and they merely want to understand the world as it is. They want to understand the science of magic. But their studies lead them on very different paths, and it isn’t long before they turn into adversaries. Because Yan has discovered something that could Change the world as they know it, and that change wouldn’t be good for anyone, especially creatures like Ariel.
Review style: when I reviewed Ariel, I wanted to write a freaking research paper. I do again, but for different reasons. This review will be oddly divided, where I talk about syntax and structure (trust me, it’s not as boring as you think it is) and then the story itself. Spoilers? No worries. I’ll be kind.
Before I discuss anything about this book, I have to make an assumption. It’s an assumption because even though I could’ve asked the author for clarification, I didn’t want to. Because if I was wrong in my assumption, the crickets would’ve been chirping very loudly, if you get my meaning.
The assumption: because we learn in Elegy Beach that the book we know and love, Ariel was actually written by Pete Garey and distributed into the world of the Change, and because we learn that Fred has decided to do the same thing with his story, I’ve decided that all grammatical and structural errors in this text are not, in fact, the fault of the author, but rather an intentional style choice to reflect the fact that Fred is an amateur writer who’s had absolutely no training in the writerly arts.
I make this assumption because if I don’t? OMFG. You do NOT want to hear the rant that would spew from my lips (or fingers).
But let’s talk about my assumption and why, in the end, I feel the choice of style was the wrong road to take.
For starters, I’ve read books that deliberately ignore the rules of grammar and/or common fiction practices. Charles Frazier didn’t use quotation marks in Cold Mountain. Neither did Cormac McCarthy in The Road. José Saramago goes even further in Blindness by not naming any of his characters, also not using quotation marks, and then sticking lines of dialogue between different characters IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH.
I’m no stranger to this, folks. And while in MOST cases it annoys the ever-living SNOT out of me, I’ll give credit where credit is due: the authors are consistent.
In Elegy Beach, we get questions that end with periods instead of question marks, but then sometimes they end with question marks. We paragraphs with dialogue lacking quotation marks, but then we get the majority of dialogue with quotation marks. More disturbing was the lack of hyphens. Words like four-thirty became fourthirty and twenty-two became twentytwo and well-defined became welldefined. At one point, p.m. is spelled pee em. We have a lack of commas in sentences that not only require it on a grammar level, but just plain need it for basic understanding of the phrase. We have sudden breaks in the traditional narrative structure for formatting normally used in poetry, and I don’t mean stanzas. I mean lines of prose scattered ALL OVER the page in left, center, and right alignments. Oh, and this sentence was a real winner: “She stopped before him he. Swallowed hard I. Stayed very still.” (121) *headdesk*
Do you have ANY IDEA how difficult it was to keep reading this book? If I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn I was reading an ARC. And then when I realized that wasn’t the case, I conducted MASSIVE RANTS in my head over HOW BAD it was that a publisher and/or author let so many mistakes slide. And then, when I finally reached the middle of the book, did I realize this might be intentional on the author’s part.
And I sure hope it is. Because if it’s not, and I were the author? I’d grin and nod and say, “Of course!” even if it wasn’t intentional at all. And then I’d contact my publisher and BEG them for a chance to fix all those errors before the next printing of the book.
Here’s the thing: I know that the AUTHOR is not synonymous with the CHARACTER. The character’s mistakes and/or flaws and/or desires should not be translated necessarily as the author’s mistakes and/or flaws and/or desires. Which is why I think the mistakes that junk up this manuscript are intentional, because Ariel didn’t have these kind of problems (its “author,” Pete Garey, was actually properly schooled). That said, I cringed when I read the afterword of Elegy Beach and learned that Boyett didn’t write a word for five whole years, which make me doubt my “intentional” theory a little bit, because if you’re not writing at all? A lot of stuff goes stale, but even if that WERE the case, why didn’t the publisher correct it? My guess (my hope and fierce desire) is that it was intentional.
All of that said, I think it was a bad idea. For starters, as some of my earlier examples pointed out, the breaking of the rules wasn’t consistent. Not all question marks were punctuated with a period. Not all lines of dialogue were missing quotations. It was also a bad idea because the manuscript ended up reading like something an amateur would write, like something someone with no experience would write but would never be published on based on the mistakes alone. Sure, that description describes Fred’s level of learning probably pretty perfectly, but that leads to a fundamental question: why in the HELL would you inflict that on your readers? Why make reading the book any HARDER than it needs to be?
Because let’s be honest: most people aren’t going to separate author from character. And I’m not saying that they’re not smart enough to know the difference, because even I’M smart enough to know the difference, and it didn’t occur to me that this was intentional until I was halfway through the book, far past the point where I really wanted to throw it across the room and stop reading. What kept me going, I’m really not sure, but I know I’m in the minority of readers who’ll finish something even though it’s pissing her off.
And frankly, why should ANY reader keep reading something that handicaps the story so heavily? It’s not like the book starts out by letting the reader know that it’s a memoir, so you THINK you’re getting a typical first person narrative. And frankly, even though the writing style most likely fits Fred’s education, why not write the damn thing normally? For starters, people won’t be distracted by the mistakes. Also, it’s not like OTHER fantasy books, like epic fantasy, are written in Old English or in the foreign, fake languages of the land. The idea behind fantasy is that its an account from a secondary world that’s being “translated” for our enjoyment, and that translation is into current English. The reason we get fake foreign words in such fantasy is that there’s not supposed to be an English “equivalent.”
So with that in mind, I ask again: why make reading your book harder than it needs to be? Some readers may not mind or may not notice, but I’ll be surprised if–when the reviews start rolling in–we don’t see reviews bashing the book for the grammar alone. I won’t be surprised if readers don’t finish the book because of the grammar alone. It slowed the book down, ruined the tension, and made me not want to pick it up again. Also, as a writer myself, I resented the publication: those of us not published are constantly being told that such mistakes will kill our chances of getting picked up by a publisher, yet publishers let this slide because it’s “intentional”? Seriously? Intentional or not, it looks lazy and it looks like an insult to the craft. People from all educational walks of life are going to read this, and some people are developing writers. Can you imagine them writing in the same style–with grammar mistakes out the ass–and then defending their work with “Steven R. Boyett did it and HE’S published, so I can do it too!!!!!”
Because let’s face it: intentional or not, it just doesn’t matter. The book is sloppy. And if I’d paid MONEY for this (hardcover, no less), I would’ve been furious and been SORELY tempted to request my money back.
Okay, okay, okay!!! Enough with this grammar business! You hated it. I get it. But what about the STORY???
Well. I’ll admit I was disappointed. Why? Because I read the sampler of the first two chapters before I’d read Ariel, and for whatever reason, I thought this book would be completely unrelated to Ariel save for the world-building. I think that’s what Boyett intended to write to begin with, if his afterword is any indication, but I expected something very, very different. And instead, I got a direct sequel, which I didn’t really want and really didn’t NEED. However, some readers are going to be THRILLED to see the return of Pete and Ariel, and I won’t begrudge them that. They had a childhood connection to this book. I never did.
That said, while it’s Fred’s best friend (and possible lover: there’s hint scattered through the book that he and Yan were more than friends, and I don’t think “just friends” would kiss each other or inhale each other’s shirts just to memorize the other’s scent) who’s causing the trouble, Fred’s really more an observer than a player. Sure, he can do the magic, but let’s face it: what does he have to lose? I mean, what does Fred REALLY have to lose? In Ariel, you knew that Pete was going to lose either 1) Ariel herself, or 2) his virginity and therefore Ariel, or 3) his connection to humanity because he chose Ariel above all else. That added an extra layer of tension, and that drove the book forward because Pete had SOMETHING to lose. Fred doesn’t have such a thing, even though he experiences loss on this quest.
I did find the magic to be interesting, though some of its explanation regarding certain spells would make my mind wander a bit. Though how the magic was used was pretty cool for the most part, and in truth, that’s where some of my sense of wonder came from. The mirrors made for lovely mental images. I also really enjoyed getting background and ideas on what caused the Change to begin with and how it happened. Very fascinating stuff, something I wish we’d gotten more of in this book, especially since on page 341 there’s an exchange between Pete and Ariel that makes NO SENSE unless you decide they’re talking about what caused the change. And let me tell you, THAT’S interesting. I’m probably reading it wrong, but it’s interesting, and if it’s true, why didn’t we get more of an explanation instead of oblique references?
Speaking of oblique references, there is mention on page 196 that “Nine hundred ninety-nine [hyphen added by me] out of a thousand people had vanished [emphasis mine] all at once without a trace but none of those remaining ever saw another person disappear.” Really? I don’t remember hearing about that in Ariel, but WHAT AN INTERESTING THOUGHT!!!! What happened, was it the Rapture? That’s sure as hell what I thought of. This one sentence raises a whole slew of questions that I salivated over but never got answers for, so that makes me sad.
Also disappointing was that Ariel was written so that the Change obviously occurred in the eighties. However, in Elegy Beach, we get the impression that the Change happened in OUR time, because iPods are directly referenced. Why compromise your world-building like that? iPods didn’t exist when this book was written back in the early eighties, and if it’s been thirty years since the change, where the hell did they come from? I mean, SERIOUSLY? I like how music ended up playing a part for Fred and Pete, but the sudden appearance of those devices threw me out of the story, because iPods came out RECENTLY, so I couldn’t coincide the Change in THIS book with the Change in Ariel.
That said, what kept me turning pages was the world-building itself. When we learn what Yan’s master plan is, I’m pretty interested to see how it’ll happen. Again, the magic and world-building are what shines, and it’s nice to see other mythological creatures play a role in this book. I love what Boyett did with the centaurs and their animosity towards humans (and vise-versa).
I also think that due to the events of the climax, readers deserve a third book. Make it a trilogy, Boyett, because what you did to the world at the end is TOO INTERESTING to leave it at this book, and Fred needs a quest that’s truly HIS and not the end of someone else’s. Seriously. And please, no intentional grammar mistakes next time around, okay? Readers like me will thank you and enjoy the book MUCH MORE.
Glad It Was Free: you have NO Idea how glad I am that I didn’t pay money for this. Intentional grammar mistakes and wonky style aside, the story is probably between a “worth the cash” and “buy the paperback.” But for someone like me, the mistakes and at times wonky style distracted me to the point of ruining the book. Intentional or not, I hope the next edition of this book is cleaned up, because I would’ve been FURIOUS if I’d spent money on this. But I’m anal like that, and not everyone is. I will say that Elegy Beach is a DIRECT SEQUEL to the book Ariel, but you can read Elegy Beach as a stand-alone, because Boyett does a pretty good job of keeping you in the loop. That said, should you? Frankly, Ariel is a better-written book, so if you’re interested in Boyett’s work, I’d start there and then decide if you want to read the DIRECT SEQUEL or not. If you’ve already read Ariel, well, Elegy Beach completes Pete and Ariel’s story, which disappointed me personally because I felt their story was already complete. But I’m weird like that, and I’m sure fans of Ariel will welcome this sequel, warts and all. Me, I’m glad the author was kind enough to ask the publisher to send me a copy (I really am), and I’m sorry I didn’t enjoy the book more. But I’m anal, and it’s coded into my DNA to look for the kinds of mistakes intentionally inserted into Elegy Beach, and that drove me crazy. Other readers may not have the trouble, and I envy them.
What are you going to do with your free copy? Honestly? I think I’m going to host a giveaway. Not because the grammar made me crazy (though that’s part of it), but I believe in paying it forward. The author/publisher sent me this book in hopes I’d enjoy it, so I’m going to do the same for a lucky winner. I’ll post the giveaway details next week, so stay tuned.
Cover Commentary: I love it. It looks great and matches the cover of Ariel very appropriately.
Next up: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley