Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trilogy Takeover

Is it just me or is every story being told as a trilogy these days? Right now I'm in the middle of three different trilogies and can think of another I only recently completed. It's not that I mind having books to look forward to and familiar characters to revisit, it just all seems a little too coincidental. People aren't building long series or admitting that maybe one or two books are enough to tell their story - three seems to be the magic number. Hunger Games could have stopped at two, and I can't count how many other Young Adult books are emerging right now already listing the first book as one of three on the cover.

Thinking back to when I was a kid, I can only remember two trilogies (and one technically has four books in the series although you can argue the point that the 4th is a spin-off) - the Wrinkle in Time books by Madeleine L'Engle and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Bet most of you didn't even know Little Women was a one of three, but Little Men and Jo's Boys were both excellent. What I do remember are the big series like Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Long before Harry Potter's seven books graced shelves everywhere, series like these two went on forever. It was like going back to an old friend each time a new one published and I liked having them around.

Feeling like you have to stretch or condense a story into three volumes is setting a poor precedent and could lead to stories being put through a formula they just don't belong in. So, I'd like to share my feelings to any future authors here -- don't fall into the trilogy trap! If you just write a good story, making it as long as it needs to be to tell the tale, and stop, you'll do just fine. If your book(s) is worth reading, people will buy it regardless of how many volumes it's in.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This book is intense. Beyond the characters and plot points it's just an intense read.

Yes, it's another vampire book (technically) with witches and daemons to boot, and yes there's a love story that leads to all sorts of complications, but this book is so much more than these popular plot devices. We're not wrapped up in a bubble of love (see Twilight). We're travelling through our real world with two characters who value family and love, have passions for real things like science and history, but they just happen to be a witch and a vampire.

Diana, the witch, a descendant of two notorious Salem families, has chosen to set her powers aside to become a historian of alchemy. Matthew, an ancient vampire, is trying to identify the Mitochondrial RNA markers the make one a vampire (apparently your body chemistry changes after you're bitten), witch, or daemon. There are rules of association between these creatures and just like racial segregation - they're supposed to stay away from each other. In fact, all of these creatures exist undetected by humans until they start gathering together.

Thrown into all this is a book - a very old book - covered in layers of magic. It might contain the secret of the Sorcerer's Stone or it might hold the origin stories of these three creatures. We're not sure, but Diana accesses the book quite innocently only to have all hell break loose.

Not safe for many reasons, Diana and Matthew being a journey to find a safe place to hide. Along the way we meet their families, learn a lot of their secrets, and gain a better understanding of the secret and violent society that governs this group of "special" people. Uncertainty is ever-present and magic is uncovered. It's an intense, suspenseful ride and I loved every second of it.

It's so easy to get sucked into this story because the world is familiar. The history discussed, the places they go - each detail is tangible and fully realized. You feel how old Matthew is through his book collection and the people he talks about knowing first-hand. You feel how hard Diana struggled against her magic by going to the house she grew up in (a house very much armed with a mind of its own) and meeting her Aunts. This is really what the growing vampire "genre" should be; a story that has more volume that a forbidden love.

This was a fantastic read and as part of a trilogy, I can't wait for the next book to publish.