Spoiler Free Summary:The Hedgewitch by Sarah Beth Durst is the twelfth story in the Unfettered II Anthology. Hannah’s visit to the hedgewitch for charms to protect herself from the spirits that attack the village turns into something much larger. What will she do when the duty to protect people becomes her duty? How will she handle that task?
Character: Hannah is a decent enough character, and there is a bit of an arc here despite being a shorter story. Hannah is competent, but not very proactive. That is a plot point. active, which is always a plus. I can’t say I really bonded with them, but they held my attention.
Exposition: This story’s exposition is solid. There’s some worldbuilding going on, and that always requires a degree of exposition. The only down side is that exposition is front loaded, so the story may be hard to get into for some, but if you’re patient, you’re in for a pretty nice story.
Worldbuilding: This felt a lot like the Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett. It’s nice in that the concept is similar (nature-based creatures attack and kill humans), but I felt like the concept was too similar. Swap out a little boy with a little girl, and the general premise isn’t changed all that much. That doesn’t mean this story isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it creates a comparison. For the record, anyone trying to compete with that story is at an unfair disadvantage. For all I know, Brett’s story started after this one came out (I really don’t know). Regardless of which followed which, Brett’s was far better. If you haven’t read either, I think you’ll love this story. If you’ve read the Demon Cycle, you might feel like this is just falls short. That’s interesting to note. Look, there are not original ideas, but we authors have to work very hard to provide some twist or angle that makes a story unique, and I didn’t find it in this one.
Dialogue: This was ok, but I’m not sure I was able to buy some of the conversation points and how things progressed. It wasn’t bad or wooden, but there was a lot of talking leading to thinking, and that sort of felt like Hannah was simply doing what she was told rather than growing. This is most notable during one particular scene. Outside of that scene, the dialogue was pretty sparse, which is why I remember that part so vividly.
Description: This may be the strength of the story. The author does a great job providing vivid scenes. The description is probably better for locations than people, but I still had some great visual and audible cues for the characters.
Overall: This is a good story. It’s a much cleaner (age appropriate) story than Demon Cycle. It’s a pretty nice set up for what would be an interesting longer story. It’s a nice glimpse into an interesting world.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Core by Peter V. Brett, The stage is set for Sharak Ka, the final war against demonkind. Arlen, a man who tattooed himself with wards to fight demons; Jardir, the leader of his people and self-proclaimed Deliverer; have joined forces and entered the core, dragging a demon prince as a guide. Inevera is trying to hold Jardir’s kingdom together no matter how much it seems to want to fall apart without her husband to lead. Leesha is ready to give birth, and her child’s complicated parentage forces her to try and outwit the world. She has to do this while preparing the free cities for a war they refuse to admit is on their doorstep. As Arlen and Jardir travel to take out the queen of all demons, the rest of the world is left alone to face the onslaught of those same demons. Killing the queen is unlikely enough without the loss of life, but can they do it before everyone they’re fighting for dies?
Character: I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Peter V. Brett is the best writer of characters and character plots in the game. His ability to use each previous book to give more insight to specific characters makes this book that much more compelling. Every single person, no matte how much screen time, has a deep, well-developed story. This reason alone would be enough to make this my favorite book of the year (which it is), but there’s a lot to like about this book. The characters are just the unquestioned strength of the series.
Exposition: Whenever you have a multi-book series, there’s inevitably a necessary amount of exposition to help readers who haven’t read the rest of the series know what’s going on. Brett weaves most of that in through dialogue, which makes a tad of it feel forced (see below). However, I didn’t really notice much exposition here. Some, but not so much that it bothered me.
Worldbuilding: This is the other aspect of Brett’s saga that stands out. This is an interesting world with a solid foundation of lore, magic, and demonology. There were some elements here that felt a bit like Wheel of Time in that just when you think “that guy is scary!” some other newer, more powerful monster shows up. The political intrigue is a nice bit of detail. I’m glad the story is over (I hate series that run long or never seem to end), but I hope we see this world again soon.
Dialogue: When you’re characters are strong, everything else feels strong regardless of how good it actually is. As I sit here and really think about the dialogue in this book, I realized that’s where the bulk of the story’s exposition went. Characters realistically had to fill each other in, but those chunks of information were force-fed in some places. As long as the reader understands they’ll needed to get through those “info-dump” sections (I can think of three right now), the rest of the dialogue is crisp and powerful.
Description: People who like deep, detailed description won’t think as highly of this as I do. I like my imagination to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, and Brett lets me do that. I get the details I need, and my mind takes care of the rest. Those who want three adjectives for every noun won’t be happy though.
Overall: The Core is (as I type this on May 28), the best book I’ve read so far in 2018. I figured it would be, but this book didn’t let me down in any way. It’s exciting, compelling, funny, and tragic. If you haven’t read this series, consider this my notification. Get this series! Read it! Great, interesting sagas with original magic systems are hard to find. This one fits the bill.
Under my new book review format, I talk about how much I enjoy characters. That got me thinking about character sympathy, why it’s important and how to manipulate the reader’s sympathy for a character.
One reference for how to adjust sympathy is Writing Excuses. They’re more successful than I am, and they’re also better at this than I am. The linked podcast addresses the how. They reference another podcast that explains why you don’t have to have sympathetic characters. That’s true. There are reasons to have unsympathetic characters, but I’m not a fan of them. They exist in The Journals of Bob Drifter, but that doesn’t mean I was overly happy about their existence, only aware of their necessity.
What is a sympathetic character. There are a few differing opinions, but I’m going to selfishly hover in my realm of opinions. While some feel sympathetic characters are those readers feel sad for, I don’t necessarily leave it at that. When I talk about sympathetic characters, I’m speaking specifically on characters readers have a strong emotional response to. A character my readers hate (if that’s what I wanted them to feel) is every bit as important as a character my readers love. When I get feedback from beta readers, my worst fear is I’ll ask, “what did you think about Character X?” and the readers will respond with, “Who?” That’s a much bigger problem to me.
One of my betas for Journals hates Richard. When she told me why, I smiled, and said, “Sorry, but that’s exactly what I wanted you to feel.” The degree to which readers hate Richard is one thing, but if they hate him for the same reason my beta hated him, I did my job right. Characters can’t be completely rage worthy any more than they can be completely sympathetic. The masters (who in my opinion are George R.R. Martin and Peter V. Brett) can make you hate a character and then a book later, make you at least understand them. This particular ability allows you to have an extra arch with your characters.
A great example for how to do this? Believe it or not, the WWE. I haven’t watched wrestling in years, but think about it. Shawn Michaels went from hero to villain to hero to goof to hero and all the way around again. Readers look for growth in character, and that’s another term that might be misleading. Sometimes failure tests a character’s metal, and it’s okay for that character to regress. Why?
Now we come to the main purpose of this particular blog. We’re all human. Just on the drive to my brother’s house we talked about what it is to be human. I don’t think people are good or bad. I think they’re people. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do horrible things. I know I have. So the most realistic characters react to their environment. I have a few characters who don’t change. I like those characters. I like those who no matter the test, they alway pass. I like the other characters too. I think House, M.D. was a great example here. What kept me watching that show was the thought that, “Maybe this episode, he’ll do the decent thing.” Nope. Never did. It’s the same trick Charlie Brown kept falling for. He’ll never kick the ball and House will never be a compassionate person. (You can argue the end of that series with me in the comments if you want.)
Those characters are unique, but they can get boring quickly. I’ve failed in my life, so I look for characters who have flaws, but are generally decent folk. One of the more common compliments I get for Journals is Bob. He’s a good, white-hat, guy. He has his slumps, but he’s consistently kind and compassionate, and that makes him sympathetic when he’s faced with tragedy. Others don’t like him because he’s too nice. I think the world is just about done with antiheroes, then again, maybe not. I think it’s an archetype like any other. Use tools for a reason.
You don’t need a raging alcoholic day-care sitter any more than you need an incredibly pious prostitute. That sort of extreme can seem forced and/or contrived. Strive instead for people who feel real. All my favorite books have at least one character I genuinely feel some connection too. It’s the part of me I see in those characters that makes me want to see what happens to them. I think this is something to strive for in writing.
That makes me want to close with a few (in no particular order) characters I found very sympathetic. They area also some of my favorite characters in fiction. They are:
Perrin Aybara from Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
All of these characters have great emotional range. Sometimes, they do things that make me proud, other times, I’m angry with them for how they handle a situation. I could have gone on, but I just wanted to give you all a few characters I felt have the qualities I look for when I’m reading. You can feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
In summary: A sympathetic character is someone the reader feels something for. They should be realistic by sometimes failing tests of character. They can be “bad” or “good” as a whole, but no one is all of any one thing. (except for a few carefully chosen characters, which I feel need to be offset by other members in the cast.)
I hope this gives you some insight into what I shoot for when I write. If you think you’ve found something I missed, or you just have a good resource to share, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading,