I had hoped to use Kate Elliott’s BLACK WOLVES (cover design by Lauren Panenpinto, illustration by Larry Ronstant) as my next Is Our Writers Learning? post, but as I didn’t finish it, I can’t I can do a regular post. But as with another book I didn’t finish (Night Study) I learned a lot.
The reason I didn’t finish is personal taste: I hate the epic fantasy tendency to fill me on in details of the world that aren’t immediately relevant. Characters in Black Wolves are constantly informing each other about their culture, faith, politics or history, usually more than I wanted to know, and often more than I could believe they’d talk about. It makes me think of the Time Traveler’s quip in The Time Machine about how time travelers in fiction (unlike himself) invariably run into someone who can explain how everything from the sewers to the government works. I gather from reviews this may tie in to Elliott’s themes, and I know it’s conventional in epic fantasies, but it just didn’t work for me (this is why I rarely read the epic stuff.
That said, the opening was strong enough that I thought I’d go all the way through. A warrior with an interesting past finds himself torn between his duty to the king and his duty to serve the king’s heir. The characters were good, the dilemma was interesting (though I have a depressing feeling the evil “demons” are actually some kind of misunderstood mutants). But then we skip forty-four years ahead, get a largely new cast, new and less interesting dilemmas and 44 years of added history for people to talk about. I threw in the towel.
But then I started wondering if I’m not doing similar things on Southern Discomfort.
•I introduce several characters, then kill them off. My primary protagonist doesn’t appear until Chapter Two.
•There’s a lot of discussion of Pharisee County politics and society.
•I jump around among a fair-sized set of POV characters and different plot threads, which means there’s lots of opportunities for someone, even if hooked by Maria or Cohen, to get bored and jump ship (I had a similar reaction to The Rising).
The opening is the least of my worries — Lord Aubric and the others are only onstage a few pages, so I doubt readers will be as invested in them as I was. Plus the book starts with someone preparing to kill them, so it won’t be a surprise.
But the rest? Is what I think of as a depiction of a small, magic-touched Georgia county and its people actually a meandering look at a lot of uninteresting people distracting readers from the main plot and characters? And if so is the solution to do a better job or to radically prune most of the extraneous matter away? The latter would be a lot tougher.
We’ll see what my critique group thinks later this month. I’ll let you know.