Okay, so I get that the chantry has to go – it’s what the entire plot of Inquisition hinges on, they can’t let Hawke prevent that. But I think what made a lot of people angry was not that you couldn’t stop it, but that you never even get the chance to try. That Anders behaves exactly the same regardless of your approval rating with him, regardless of whether you were romancing him, which speaks pretty poorly to the importance of that relationship.
So I propose…
Summary: Cora and her husband Ben are bounty hunters who make their living by killing various supernatural shit in the old west. I fuckin’ love supernatural shit in the old west.
It’s rare to see established relationships in fiction, so I was curious to see how he would handle it — answer is, unfortunately, not particularly engagingly. It’s a hard thing to pull off, since the quickest shortcut to audience-engagement in a romance is unresolved sexual tension. Barring that, it seems like the best way to sell an audience on an established relationship is to give them an excellent team dynamic (ala Zoe and Wash in Firefly, or Rickey and G-man in Liquor), so that the reader gets a clear sense of why these two people like each other, how they work together as a unit, and how staunchly they’ve got each other’s backs. I didn’t get much sense of that here.
Partly it’s because Cora is an asshole. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally okay with that — she’s arrogant, aggressive, impulsive, and a full-on alcoholic, which would make her a tired stereotype if she were a man, but it’s a combination that takes on a very different (and rather interesting) feel in a female character. I just wish we’d been given more to like about her, in addition to all her less savory qualities.
Anyway, I read Dead of Winter because it turned out that She Returns From War was the sequel to this. I’ll give SRFW a spin later too.
Plot – 4/5 (brisk, with action and stuff)
Prose – 3/5 (utilitarian)
Characters – 3.5/5 (Cora is not lovable, but she is somewhat different)
Novelty – 3/5 (can “Supernatural in the old west, but with less drama” be called novel?)
Emotional engagement – 2/5 (nope, not feeling it)
Counter-recs, if you’re lookin’ for more weird west: The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek or A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files. (But only if you like a side of hot gay sex with your supernatural shit in the old west. And if you’re not — friend, you are reading the wrong books blog). Territory by Emma Bull, not queer but with interesting atmospherics; think magical realism in the Weird West.
McKinley is rapidly joining the ranks of authors that I have really really liked in the past, and would really really like to keep liking, but whose recent works have been on a one-way track to uninspired-town. (Tanya Huff and Neal Stephenson are also on that list.) The first of McKinley’s books I read was Beauty, which I reread not long ago and still highly recommend, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is immediately absorbing and has a wholly lovable protagonist. My other favorite of hers is Sunshine, which I enjoy far more than I have any right to, given that it’s a product of the “age-old vampire x teenage girl” genre popularized by Twilight. And yet.
My recent forays into narratology have left me better equipped to analyze what, exactly, it is about a text that makes it succeed or fail, and on the subject of Robin McKinley, my conclusion is this:
1) She’s far better at creating character via first-person narration than third. (Although it’s no guarantee — her first-person Dragonhaven was a solid dud as well.)
2) Outlaws of Sherwood suffers from too much summary and too little scene. Seriously, I was 13% of the way through and there had been all of one actual scene — as in, dialogue and in-the-moment action — and the rest had been the narrator summarizing what they’d been up to. Boring as balls. Give me character subjectivity, or give me SOMETHING ELSE TO READ. I persisted up to 33%, then quit to go replay Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Counter-rec: Beauty if you want ye olde medieval fantasy, Sunshine if you want decent urban fantasy.
ETA: Apparently this came out in 2002?? Then why did I drunk-kindle-buy it last October and it was like, Congratulations on pre-ordering Outlaws of Sherwood! Whatever.
Because I figured we’re overdue for another installment on world-building. As always, this is not a how-to manual, but a survey of the questions that writers should keep in mind when designing a world.
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