Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a terrible future. Technology has been rolled back centuries; the ability to make men’s shirts has been completely lost. Mankind is on the ropes, reduced to a few scattered enclaves of hungry people, cowering behind their walls while demons roam without. It is a world of stressed jeans and tattoos, school uniforms modified by the students without comment from the elders, and bare male chests. It is a world of madness.
[Apparently my Fantasy Novelists' Exam section is broken. I'll get right on that.]
Perhaps I am not the target demographic for this particular novel. I’m going to point out some ridiculous aspects of the story, but keep in mind as you read this that I read it to the end and was satisfied. There were some descriptions that were particularly well done, little slices of prose that I admired as a fellow craftsman.
Before I address the story directly, I want to tell you the full title of the book I downloaded. In the iBookstore (iBook Store?) the title is Glamour (Rae Wilder #1). First, points for honesty. This is the first of a series. Now, If you’ve read any of my other commentaries about fantasy series, you know I hate when Book One is really the first few hundred pages of a longer story that just didn’t fit between the covers (or, more likely, needed editing). I am happy to report that this book contains exactly one story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. Ms. Fletcher has another series, I have learned, that includes titles ending with “Book One, Volume One” and “Book One, Volume Two.”
Note to Penelope Fletcher, if you are reading this: I am going to say some less-than-positive things about Glamour in the coming paragraphs, but I will help fund your world tour to ring fantasy author’s doorbells, smack whoever answers the door and explain what a “novel” is, what a “book” is, and what a “story” is. I think you could do a good job of it.
So let’s get to it. Meet Rae, kick-ass teenager. And selectively stupid. She’s training at the Temple, to one day become a guardian of what’s left of humanity. Her most immediate goal, however, is to get by without attracting too much attention. She is a solitary creature. She just wants to be.
She likes to run through the forest (in her stressed blue jeans; apparently the technology of ‘sweats’ has also been lost). She particularly likes running in the forest Outside — the forest beyond the Wall that protects the humans from the wacky shit out there. The Wall is a magic-electric fence that raises alarms when breached. It turns out Rae can pass through it undetected. This is the first example of selective stupidity — she is thankful enough to be able to get out into the forest that she doesn’t question how she came by the ability.
There are two big flaws in this book, and selective stupidity is the first. Ms. Fletcher tries to anticipate my reaction to Rae’s lapses of intelligence, having her say things like “I knew the answer was right there in front of me, but…” Bzzzt. What does this nonsense accomplish? The writer is trying to time a big reveal, but the moment is ruined anyway, because even if Rae hasn’t figured out what’s going on, we have. When Rae finally figures it out, all the reader has left to say is, “no shit, Sherlock.”
Characters we’re supposed to like should not be stupid (even if it’s selective). If that means the big reveal comes sooner, well, twist it, or make the heavy thinking about the consequences of the reveal. That dude’s a demon? But he’s been here for weeks! Is someone in the Temple helping him? I suspect that subsequent books may reveal that to be the case. Once again, the protagonist is being dumbed down to protect later surprises.
We see here a fundamental limit of a first-person story. There’s a reason Sherlock has his Watson; the clever one can keep secrets from the narrator, and therefore from the reader. Holmes suspects a conspiracy and we readers know nothing. Rae must be selectively stupid, because we’re inside her head. If you want your story to be a series of surprises, reconsider first person narrative.
Or maybe surprises aren’t the driver of your story. Maybe you’re writing a story about a survival-oriented girl suddenly having to deal with a lot of shit. Maybe you don’t need to be coy in a story like that.
The overwhelming desire to surprise readers also leads to the second sin of this book: “I’ll tell you later.” Simple nuggets of information that would have helped Rae are withheld on the flimsiest of excuses. “You’re not ready.” “There’s no time.” At one point, Good-Guy-Demon must leave Rae in the company of Bad-Guy-Demon. “Don’t give him anything,” GGD says in parting. Now, expending perhaps two extra seconds, he could have said, “He wants your amulet. He will promise anything to get it, but he can’t take it without your permission.” Alas, it seems there wasn’t time for details like that. (Later, she takes someone else’s amulet without permission. Huh.)
One last beef and I promise I’ll have some very nice things to say. Time and blocking. They’re a mess. The classroom scene has people teleporting about the room (for an essentially military order, the clerics sure are lax), and the afternoon simply failed to happen, while twilight stretched for eternity. The setting of the sun started with a really interesting ticking clock (vampire in the wardrobe – hate when that happens), but just when the timer’s about to expire Rae and pals take off to somewhere more important.
So, the story is flawed. Yet several times I had the choice between Glamour and another book I’m halfway through. I’m enjoying the other book, quite a lot. Yet, I kept picking up this one. Thing is, when Rae wasn’t being stupid, I liked her. And I really liked the world she was operating in. Occasional sentences made me jealous I hadn’t written them. It’s difficult to quantify, but the pace was very good.
When we find ourselves at the ending and Rae is completely helpless to stop a horror that threatens all she has ever dared love, I was there with her. She became human at that moment. The payoff, well done, almost tangential to the action.
There were two very important qualities to the ending that I liked. The thing that almost always happens didn’t (not until after the terrible loss, anyway), and good guys do bad things out of loyalty. That, I hope, is the emerging theme of the series. There were also two very important qualities to the ending I didn’t like. A dude disappeared and allowed his pals to be slaughtered, when all evidence to that point had him in total control. Meanwhile, an entirely new occult tradition came out of nowhere. Blam!
Rae is in the middle of a gigantic struggle, loyal only to her beliefs, to her own sense of rightness. She’s going to take that to the grave, if it comes to that. Hell yeah, Rae!
I haven’t talked much about the romance angle of this story. It is a big part of the narrative. In the space of twenty-four hours Rae goes from lone wolf to loving two guys, attached to each by powerful mystical bonds. The two guys don’t get along. Yep, our spunky fantasy heroine has two awesome suitors, and she can’t decide. There are some complications that make the (let’s face it) obligatory situation more interesting, but it still comes down to Team Edward and Team… um… other guy. Like I said above, I may not be the target demographic for this story.
But I am the target audience for any well-told tale. I can roll my eyes at the required parts (two hot boyfriends, no shirts) and still have fun if the story is compelling. This was a good tale, but not particularly well-told. Yet still I read it, and still I smiled. If Ms. Fletcher puts her mind to it and develops her craft, she’s going to write something I really like.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Leica S2-P 37.5MP Camera Body with 3-Inch LCD with Sapphire LCD Cover [BODY ONLY]), I get a kickback.