This post is the about the struggle that reading “Unchained” triggered between the part of me that wants to hear a good yarn and the cranky old guy who lives in my head and who focuses on how the story is written.
I didn’t finish “Unchained”, so if you’re looking for a considered review of the book then this is not the post for you.
This post is about my experience of reading “Unchained” and how the part of me that was hungry for a new story gradually lost the will to read because of constant complaints from the part of me that pays attention to how a story is written.
I’m going to tell it as it happened.
Reading progress update: I’ve read 9%.
I’m gonna ignore my cranky old guy.
You know when you open a. graphic novel painted by an artist you like, one with a familiar style and a favourite palette and although the novel is about a new character, you immediately feel you’ve read it before? ” Unchained” is like that.
The opening is violence in the rain, a young woman haunted by violence in her past, magical weapons, beasts attacking with fangs and claws and an old (at least to the young woman) male mentor playing distant, disciplinarian but loving, father figure. I’ve been here.
Except I’ve not had the old guy work for the Vatican before. Or have a woman, apparently in her twenties, sound so much like a teenager.
It’s formulaic but slick. The images a clear. The pacing is fine. The characterization either hasn’t happened yet or is going to be of the « you could be this young girl » type, which would work better if I wasn’t a man in my sixties.
I’m going to let it entertain me and try to switch off the annoying old guy sitting in my head going, “Ha! You expect ME to believe THAT?”. He sometimes forgets how to have fun.
Reading progress update: I’ve read 13%.
A smile from me and mutterings from the cranky old guy.
So, this is sliding along nicely. Blood has been spilt, secrets sown and backstory partly shared. It’s light but fun.
Meanwhile, the cranky old guy I’m trying not to listen to insists on pointing out inconsistencies in the narrator’s tone (he uses that kind of language). “How,” he askes with a gleam that he will not admit is spiteful pleasure in his eye, “can this twenty-something American narrator use this archaic form of words :
‘Fearing he would harm himself further if he woke to find himself surrounded by strangers, we had decided to keep him here until he woke up.’
and a little later start sounding like a teen when talking about her best friend:
‘Claire had the biggest heart I had ever seen. Simply put, she was the bestest.’
I mean, ‘bestest’? Seriously? It’s not even teen, it’s faux teen.”
I tell him to let it go, relax and enjoy the show.
He mutters something about standards being important and that the show he’s enjoying is just not the same as the ojne I’m enjoying.
Then we both settle down and read some more.
OK – my cranky old guy won – abandoned at 25% because I can’t take any more of this writing.
I suspect there’s a good story here but I’m only going to find out what it is if someone makes a TV series.
I can’t cope with the text. It doesn’t work and every time it fails. I’m pulled away from the story.
What finally made me give in was a chapter in which our heroine goes to a fancy auction to make a bid on an important artefact. The words used to describe the people in the crowd and our heroine’s reaction to them left me baffled.
It started with describing a man in the crowd by saying:
“He looked deceptively strong.”
What does that mean? If he looks strong then where’s the deception? If he’s stronger than he looks how can you tell you’re being deceived only by looking at him?
Then I got the reaction of the crowd to a dominant male described as:
“Those around him gave him a discreet, but wide berth. Several paces around him remained empty.”
What part of giving someone a wide berth is discrete? How do you do that?
Then I got this description of the route down into the auction hall:
“The stairs were half that of the ones we had entered,”
I think the author means to say there were half as many stairs but WHY NOT SAY THAT.
A paragraph later, as the crowd starts to move to the auction hall, I got:
“I made no move as I turned back to the man who had mistaken me.”
How do you do that? How do you simultaneously make no move and turn back?
What finally broke my will to read were two encounters within a few pages, with the word “belaying”:
“Faint creases marred the corners of his eyes, belying that he was no stranger to laughter.”
“No one stood near the book now, belying that they had recorded the video prior to auction.”
This made me want to give the author my impersonation of Mandy Patinkin in “The Princess Bride” and say:
I want to read a book to enjoy it, not to have it keep summoning my inner-snark, so I’m going to let “Unchained” remain unfinished.