Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviews: Exposition and the Three Bears

I’ve arrived in NYC! Carrying almost everything I own on the Bolt Bus with me was a surreal (and heavy!) experience, but I made it all in one piece.

Long time, no writing. I have been reading though! Three books, to be exact. They are wildly different books, but they all made me think about the same theme: exposition and how it affects a reader’s experience.

Remember how I compared those books to dessert? I’m in the mood for another little deviation. Let’s call it the Goldilocks Scale.

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney: This was a YA title that fell somewhere between paranormal romance and a mythological quest story. We’ve got a love triangle (though the heroine doesn’t know it yet), a secret society of Alchemists, and bloodthirsty faeries all primed for a trilogy. The alchemy angle was interesting and I didn’t mind the heroine, but it felt like the action stopped every twenty pages for someone to ask “Uh, what’s happening again?” There was a lot of backstory—how/why the iron tattoos happened, why Donna dropped out of school, how her parents died, the history of the Alchemists (including their orders/goals/secrets), who important Alchemists are—that pushed the rest of the story out of the way. I mean, her climatic showdown with the beast that killed her parents/destroyed her arms took maybe two pages at most. Some of the dialogue rubbed me the wrong way too, like the author was trying a little too hard to capture a “teen voice.” Verdict: Too much exposition! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, but I often got impatient for the story to continue.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I was dropped immediately into this story, as the main character literally hit the ground running. Terms—burnous, bakkies, bel dames, butchers—and names of strange places—Faleen, Punjai, Nasheen, Chenja—were thrown at me. I only got flashes of understanding before things began to knit together. When that did happen though, I was drawn completely and totally into the story. Umayma is a brutal planet embroiled in civil war, racial prejudice, sexual ambiguity, and bugpunk technology. The mercenary Nyx and her team are perfect windows to this world, a motley crew of complex motivations. Even though the prologue was chapters long and the story suddenly jumped forward seven years, it didn’t even bother me. It was just that fascinating. (If you want a more complex breakdown, the reviews on Amazon are actually amazing.) Verdict: Too little exposition, but it didn’t matter. I was along for the ride, seeing the environment through the eyes of the characters that lived there. They didn’t need to explain the commonplace. That choice made Umayma feel more real than anything else. I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest of this planned trilogy.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: This was actually the first of the three books I read, the one that made me start thinking about exposition in the first place. Bacigalupi is just so perfect at showing and not telling. There was a lot of slang in beginning, not unlike The Maze Runner, but the book felt a little more sophisticated. The characters were immediately interesting, already knowing the importance of half-truths and divided loyalties. It was a murky setting to be sure, a dystopian future earth racked by immense storms and floods brought on by global warming. Genetic experiments, slavery, religious cults, and class were all hovering around the periphery of the protagonist’s experience. Nailer was dynamic, so his journey, both physical and mental, captured me. Plenty of surprises and elegant twists are in store for the reader. Ship Breaker has a companion novel coming, but this bildungsroman stands perfectly well on its own with a satisfying story arc and plenty of food for thought. Verdict: Just right! The exposition in service of the world-building and character creation was phenomenal. Can’t get enough of Bacigalupi’s porridge, so I’ll have to pick up The Windup Girl ASAP.

The blog will be pretty quiet as I begin the Columbia Publishing Course, but I hope to post about once a week. (There’s always the review archives and other old posts to hold you over.) I’ll also be fairly active on Twitter, so look me up @simplebookworm. Bye for now, fellow bookworms!

1 comment:

  1. I heard very mixed things about uh...what was Paolo Bacigalupi's last book...oh yes, Windup Girl. I thought it couldn't be that, because I was confused by the Murakami. Anyhow, I have Windup, maybe I'll give it a go at some point.