M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Do Your Settings Turn Off Your Readers, ie. Make Them Stop Reading?

Got to thinking about the settings of my stories again when The Family Fantasy Readers Sharing Association insisted I read Veronica Roth's Divergent. YA. Fantasy. Dystopian. What's not to like? The setting that's what. The buzz in my brain kept telling me such a society couldn't exist.

First, all first time novelists take heart. Divergent, set in a far future Chicago, is Roth's debut novel and the first in a trilogy that's been sticking to the New York Time's YA Best Seller List for weeks. Don't know how many trunk novels she had, but she sure hit the bull's eye with her tale of Beatrice Prior learning what her place is in a fragmenting world is. 

I know I took heart. I have my own "trunk novel", a trilogy about "Austel's Idiot" who was introduced in Dark Solstice, set in my Far Isles Half-Elven world. Maybe there is hope that it'll get revised and published one day, but at the moment, I'm wallowing around in short stories to build my platform for There Be Demons.

In a world that sought political peace by dividing into five factions adhering to one particular virtue -- Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent), all sixteen-year-olds must chose which faction they'll join after being tested for their aptitudes. Most choose the faction of their families. Beatrice Prior and her brother chose other factions.

Beatrice becomes the hardened, calculating Tris when she joins the Dauntless, the opposite of calm, collected selflessness of her original group. The title, Divergent, comes from the fact that those who don't fit into any of the groupings are anathema and are destroyed. Guess which group Tris tests out as? Fortunately, she's finds allies, who were hurt by the system who give her clues she needs to survive the transition.

Yeah, it's a story about someone who finds themselves even though they don't fit into the structure of their society.

Divergent has a lot going for it as Roth sets up her world. An interesting protagonist who doesn't wallow in the difficult decisions she must make. Well-drawn secondary characters who must also cope with a changes required to become Dauntless. Fortunately, Tris finds a guide, who becomes the love interest, to help her make the transition from selflessness to a fighter. All the drama of surviving a corrupted playing field leads to lots of action with enough to plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing as Tris learns the surface secrets of her world.

The setting got into the way of the intense story before I'd read a third of the book. One of the big first images is of Chicago, the city of trains. Granted they run on schedules, seemingly frequently, but they exist in a vacuum as does most of the sophisticated technology used in the book. Granted teens can be clueless about the details of farming, factories, and utilities. Granted Roth provides a couple of scenes of food coming into the city, but nothing about the kind of people who grow it. 

Short supplies of food, including bananas (?), is one of the structural plot points. Where all the pieces of a technological society come from is presented as a given, sui generis.

Oh. There's another group -- the factionless who are condemned to live in poverty, almost on the edge of starvation -- who provide the grunt work of the city. They might provide the labor for the items above, but where do the materials come from? No political entities are mentioned outside of those centered in Chicago. Also, where do they get the technical skills to make them?

The demographics of providing school aged kids work against a realistic setting. When I realized that Chicago had a graduating class of sixteen-year-olds of implied double-digits, I got kicked out of the story. Granted some failed and became factionless from the git-go but the math still didn't make sense to me.

I couldn't shake the impression that Roth had a population of about a 100 trying to pass the initiation into their faction. I grew up in a town of about 8,000 and had a high school graduating class of 200+/-. As I said the math just didn't work close enough for me to accept the world as a self-sustaining social system, which as Roth described it, it is.

So, I ended up skimming Divergent to its contrived ending. I give it three stars. ***. The story had so much going for it at the beginning, but for me, the pieces just didn't fit together.

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I'm making some progress!

I did get my ending on Crossings, a side story for There Be Demons, and it's off to my critique group. Then, fermentation, before I do paper revisions, looms.

Am sort of anxious to get back to posting my revisions to The Ghost in the Closet. With any luck, it'll be published before the end of April. Maybe before if I keep making progress like I did today. In the meantime, here's a preview of the cover.


Hope your writing -- or other pursuits -- are progressing as well or better.


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