I love stores, and read a lot of them. For this reason, I’m pretty hard on books. If a book hasn’t consumed my attention within 50 pages, I drop it. I have read too many good books to waste my time on a bad one. All the books I list below were books that I started out loving. These authors are excellent writers, and I’m glad that others have found joy in these books! The problems I describe are my own, for having expectations that the writers did not fulfill. That’s on me.That being said, I still wish for what might have been.
Spoilers for the following books:
- Song of Ice and Fire (books 1 & 2) by George RR Martin
- The Inheritance Cycle by Chris Paolini
- Open Minds by Susan Quinn
- Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert
- Ender’s Saga by Orson Scott Card
——————————YOU WERE WARNED!—————————
A Song of Fire and Ice
My favorite aspect of this series is the Night’s Watch and The Wall. I love everything about it.
I love the mystery of what lies beyond the wall. I love the function is plays in society; a place to reclaim your honor and live at the cost of being an outcast. I love the “bigness” of it. How long did it take to build? Was it worth the effort? Will it protect us from what lies beyond? Can the watch really fight something like that?
At the end of the first book, when Stark was going to take the black and join his son on the wall, I imagined an epic tale about saving a world from horrors and defending against unknown evil.
But no, the rest of the book and the next book were all politics, backstabbing, betrayal, and all the stuff I didn’t care about. Everyone I cared about or liked died. I got about halfway through the 2nd book before I had to stop.
Maybe later books explore the Wall, but I don’t think I have the patience or the motivation to suffer through the rest of it.
The Inheritance Cycle
I had never before encountered a magic system like Eragon. Even though I know other books have something similar, the way magic works in Eragon really captured me, especially the idea that even the most powerful magic users have only scratched the surface. No one knows everything about it, and mages jealously guard knowledge and spells. That’s so cool!
I also really liked how mages had to be physically and mentally superior. I liked how normal men were basically powerless against magicians, enforcing this class system where a single mage can destroy thousands of soldiers.
Scattered throughout the voice were hints that this isn’t right. Frustrated mortals often grumbled or reacted with resentment to magic users. Eragon’s brother was a prime example of this. He was kinder, wiser, a natural leader, and a good man. His accomplishments were known throughout the resistance. But without magic he could never fight against the evil king; only Eragon could do that.
In the last book, Eragon has found a bunch of loopholes and is basically a super-sayan; he cannot grow any stronger. He confronts Galbatorix, only to learn a horrible truth; The King learned the word for Magic itself; allowing him to utterly control it. Eragon defeats Galbatorix with the power of love, and learns the word as well. He then has the opportunity to shape how magic will be for the rest of time.
It is at this moment that I was excited. ALL of the problems in the series came from the abuse of unstoppable power. How cool would it be if he destroyed magic itself, placing everyone on the same level and making this tale an alternate prequel to our real world?
This idea was so captivating to me! I loved the idea of a book undoing it’s core thread, and a hero giving up his power to improve the world. I still remember how excited I was getting as I neared the end of the series…
But that didn’t happen. Instead, Eragon granted super powers to his girlfriend and then left across the sea, to join the elves from the Lord of the Rings. What a shame.
Humanity has mutated to the point where telepathy (reading minds) occurs slightly after puberty, and is called, “The Change”. Devices have been designed to react to thoughts, people rarely talk, and schools are almost completely silent, since classes are usually a download of knowledge.
The story focuses on a girl, Kira, who has not experienced The Change, yet, despite being well past the age where most kids go through it. She is labeled a “zero” by other kids, and is an outcast. If she doesn’t Change, she will always be an outcast in society, as she says, “No one would trust a doctor whose mind they couldn’t read.”
This idea of trust and “The Change” is so powerful and strong in this story. Another core theme is empathy.
A side-effect of The Change is that physical touch leads to a sharing of feelings. Although minds are read all the time, feelings are only shared through touch. The lighter the touch, the lighter the transfer. For example, after each lesson the teacher goes by and lightly taps every student in order to detect if they are confused about anything.
The power of touch also means that touching someone else is seen as a HUGE invasion and offense. Besides being invasive, it’s also risky; after all, you’ll feel everything that they feel, and vice versa. Thus most of the couples in high-school resort to what is called “air-kissing” which is an exchange of sensual ideas, but refrain from actual touching because feelings are so intimate.
Now, since Kira is a Zero, that means that she doesn’t transfer thoughts OR feelings. At one point in the story, her older brother warns her,
“Kira, Some guys like to take advantage of girls, before they Change. Before the effect of touching protects them. You know that right?”
Think about that. In this universe, sexually assaulting someone would mean that the assailant would immediately feel all of the fear, anger, and pain of their victim. Thus the “pravers” seek out young women who are unchanged, so that they won’t have to face the pain that they cause.
Damn. That’s dark stuff. What an awesome portrayal and exploration of empathy.
Although this theme is always in the background, I would have loved a more in-depth look at this aspect of society. How police handle a suspect? Do they need special protection against the feelings of the condemned? Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn’t really grab me, but that one line I listed above was enough to keep me hoping for more content like it.
Dune and Ender’s Saga
Both of these series suffer from “Slow Sequel” syndrome. The first books is full of action, a few vivid characters, a focused story, and hints at a grander universe. Unfortunately, the following sequels are slow and plodding, with several characters who get lots of page time, but don’t really matter much to the story.
In fact, here is a quick summary of what I remember from the later Dune books without googling stuff:
One of Paul’s descendants melds with the sandworms and rules the galaxy for 1000 years. The 3rd book has a lot of philosophy and religious commentary about who to follow and what makes a god. I don’t remember any other characters, or what happened to Paul, or anyone else. There were long stretches where I skipped pages at a time, just hoping the action and characters from the first book would return….but with no luck.
And here’s what I remember from the Ender Saga ( I only made it through the second book):
It started off really interesting! It’s been 3000 years since Ender defeated the Hive queen, but because of how space travel works, Ender is only 35 in this book. He’s teaching a class about history, and leads a debate about whether his actions were justified; and none of the students recognize him. It’s a cool scene!
There are a few more interesting scenes with ender in space, thinking about what he did…and then he goes to the planet. What follows is a long, slow drama about a human colony trying to make peace with the natives. There’s a ton of characters who show up and take up screen time, a lot of pointless drama and misunderstandings, and then finally Ender shows up and uses his incredible empathy powers to help everyone get along.
I just didn’t care about anyone but Ender or Paul. Their coming of age stories were so interesting and exciting; the other books were too slow and plodding for me to enjoy. I don’t know if they were “bad” necessarily, but they were completely unlike the first books in the series.
What about you? Have you ever felt like a book or series let you down in some way?