Steal the Dragon, by Patricia Briggs (6/107)

Read 54 pages (20%) and stopped.

On the heels of REAMDE, it's like going from filet mignon to cheetoes.

There are some authors that I like well enough to read in isolation. I enjoyed the first two books in Carrie Vaughan’s Kitty Norwood series, for example, I thought they were some of the better examples of what the urban fantasy genre had churned out. Same for Patricia Briggs’ Alpha & Omega series. The problem is when you happen to read them immediately after something that was really, really good, and the juxtaposition makes all their shortcomings stand out in sudden sharp relief.

Sarah Monette’s Somewhere Beneath Those Waves killed Vaughan for me. I think REAMDE just killed Briggs.

I forget where I read it, but there was some style book that said overt emotions — terrified, thrilled, annoyed, sorrow, etc — belonged in dialogue, if at all, not in descriptive prose. Saying, “She quaked in terror” sounds like showing not telling, but you’ve still got the author assigning the emotional motivation rather than letting readers figure it out for themselves. (Not to mention using an overwrought verb that’s hard to take seriously.) I believe Briggs is better in her more recent books, but Steal the Dragon, (c) 1995, is all too full of that kind of prose.

As I was reading it, my internal commentary was going, “Clumsy prose… clumsy exposition… cheap adjectives… showing not telling… rushed treatment of heavy subjects.” Because one of the themes that Briggs often deals with is abuse — abusive relationships in her modern fantasy, slavery in her epic fantasy — but she never spends enough time on it to fully explore what that means, how it affects characters in ways that are both obvious and not, to get you-the-reader invested with the character and feeling what they feel. Instead her treatment is all very YA, like someone rushing through a powerpoint presentation and not giving you a chance to ask questions, a rapidfire presentation of facts that doesn’t allow the audience to get involved.

By contrast, Karin Lowachee and Jim Grimsley (*draws hearts around their names*) are both spectacular writers who know that less is more when it comes to writing abuse, and that understatement and things-left-unspoken are infinitely more horrifying than melodrama.

***

It seems like everything I read is either a continuation to or a backlash against the last thing I read. I picked up Steal the Dragon when I was too drunk to process Aristotle’s Metaphysics and needed something light. Now I’m eyeing Anne Rice and Guy Gavriel Kay, the authors I can count on for (if nothing else) good prose.

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