Rinse and Repeat
While trawling KU for something new to read, I recently picked up an urban fantasy that seemed to have a promising start. OK, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking; an informal, totally non-precise study shows that 66.66% of contemporary urban fantasy novels begin with the (of course) magically talented protagonist fighting for her life against attacking demons / werewolves / evil whatevers. But this fight scene was well done, with flashes of humor that made me enjoy spending time with the heroine, and curious as to what came next.
Five chapters in, the action had been virtually non-stop but I was beginning to lose enthusiasm for the story.
40% in, I was beginning to think, “Meh, I’ll do another Duolingo Czech lesson before I read the next chapter.” And it’s not like I’m that fascinated by Czech.
After one more chapter I returned the book, unfinished.
What’s the matter with you? The heroine is likeable and funny, and the tension never lets up. How could you get bored?
Yeah, well, it’s not exactly true that the tension never lets up. The action never lets up. That’s tiring in itself; while the heroine is fighting for her life there’s not room for other things I like to see in a story, like character development, interaction between major characters, world-building. But what really killed the tension was the growing feeling of déjà vu.
See, the opening has the heroine fighting both magically and physically against an attack of the Evil Whatevers, and she only survives by the skin of her teeth because (1) someone comes out of nowhere to help her and (2) under this stress she achieves a surprise upgrade of her magical powers.
She and the Mysterious Helper exchange about a page of inconclusive dialogue, leaving me curious: who is this guy and is he really on her side? Then, suddenly, it’s the next day and she is in the midst of another magical battle with Even More Evil Whatevers.
Which she wins because of the Mysterious Helper and because, guess what, under stress she upgrades her magical powers. Again.
You see the problem developing? You see why I ditched the book midway through the third battle with the Yet More Numerous and Yet More Powerful Evil Whatevers?
It doesn’t really build tension to keep repeating the same problem/resolution while dialing up the intensity to 11, does it? If anything, it kills tension, because one starts thinking, “Okay, I know how this bit ends, maybe I’ll skim ahead to the end of the fight scene and see if anything else happens… naah, another fight scene…”
It goes without saying that nobody here would ever do this. So in closing, and just to show that I don’t complain about every book I pick up, let me mention that I am quite enjoying my current KU read. It’s called Academic Magic, by Becky Jones, and the author has a sharp eye for the foibles of academia. Also, there are talking squirrels. Of course, the book gives me a little extra pleasure every time I think, “Aha! I don’t have to live in that world any longer!” but I think it’d be fun even for those of you who have never fled academia screaming.