Depth and breadth matter. Scope and focus give a thing shape. Cheat or pad any of these overly much and a writer can kill a novel. I’m so glad there are a few who know how to balance it out. Faith Hunter’s latest, Cold Reign, is a good example of the kind of novel that gets the math right.
Some books drive me nuts because the protagonist is the prime mover of everything in his/her universe and beyond. They grate. Others drive me nuts because the protagonist is forever a victim and cannot see through the fog of choices made, or the book is constructed such that victory means simply surviving all the horrible things inflicted upon him/her (I’m calling out Solzhenitsyn here, but then, Russian labor camps and Russian writing in general is almost unavoidably governed by this dictate).
Choices are what life is about. Conversely, books that impact me are those that deal with free will, introspection, options, hard decisions, and the consequences and/or rewards that result. And then, more introspection, or what’s the point?
Which leads us again to Jane Yellowrock, the brain child of Faith Hunter. I’ve written about her books before, and I’m going to discuss this installment, too — not because I’m part of a blog hop (I’m not) or because I received an ARC (I didn’t). I just really need to get some thoughts down about this book while they are still fresh and have teeth and are whizzing through my brain. I saved the last hour or so of reading for its own separate day, because I knew there had to be some resolution forthcoming that would be heady, frightening, illuminating, celebratory, and even a bit sad.
Had to be, based on where Hunter had taken me with this story.
There couldn’t be any other kind of wrap-up if questions were to be answered and the plot arc satisfyingly punctuated.
And since I hate spoilers, you won’t get them — just generalities that also outline the Big Ideas here.
1) The tone of this book is quite different from other JY books. The bones are all still there, the core of the main characters is the same… but I think you’ll only appreciate the changes if, a) you’re familiar with the rest of the series, and b) you’ve also read the Soulwood series, a secondary story line with a few overlapping characters but a different primary protagonist.
[Going to dig a bit here and wax Former AP Lit and Comp Teacher, not because I’m being pedantic, but because this is really how I look at books all the damn time, and it’s my blog. So there. Stay with me and you’ll be glad you did.]
The reason for the change in tone: the perspective of the main players is skewed by choice and circumstance. Imagine looking at a familiar landscape, one you see every day, and then seeing the same view after someone’s dropped a pair of tinted glasses over your eyes. Hunter draws on a theme of renewal and rediscovery — interpersonal and personal — and she’s very adept at introducing this with established characters with histories closely enmeshed with past story arcs. That’s a tricky thing to do and not come off like you’re recreating or rewriting their histories. It works because Hunter knows her characters inside and out and has worked out these many issues from an empathic perspective. In doing so, we get new language, new attitudes, and a different view than we formerly had of Jane and other key players, but not irrespective of their past. It’s at once familiar and fresh, but it adds a depth I think only contributes to the series overall.
2) It bothers me that so many of the issues Jane’s dealt with come from external forces imposing their will on her, forcing life-changing conditions, and causing chaos and misery, with little or no question of will. People with large egos and lots of power frequently do this — I was waiting for something to cause Jane to wake up and say, “No, I reject this, and you can’t change ME against my will. Nothing you do to me will stick unless I allow it.” Which, naturally, would go against the way most of the supernaturals work in this series; they have power and they force literal change. They control life and death. I always liked the idea that you could repel evil by saying, “I disallow you in my life, my home, and my head space. Get out now.” There’s a difference between dealing with the crap that rolls downhill and putting up boundaries that keep it out of your garden (not very English-teacher-y, but there you go).
And, finally, Jane gets it. About darn time, girl.
And, because I’m quite fond of the sister series Soulwood and its protagonist, I cannot help but think, “Nell got there first.” Folks in her world think Jane Yellowrock is a scary, super-wise, dangerous woman who has it all figured out. They’d be partly accurate.
But the truth is…
3) Jane knows, and she makes it abundantly clear in Cold Reign, that she’s still a child in so many ways. She’s old, but not world-wise. She’s powerful, but she really only just learns her true strength in little illuminated bursts of insight that occur at really humble moments — any parent knows this feeling, but Jane has little-to-no experience like this from which to draw her insights.
Still, truth is truth, and will out. You watch your child sleep and suddenly the weight of Understanding hits you out of the blue. On another day, you get a sudden emotional shock and some truth about the importance of relationships spells itself out in the pause between the news and your response to it. A simple gesture translates into layers and layers of meaning that don’t translate to things as mundane as words.
Jane learns not to see others in terms of black and white, but, more importantly, she stops seeing herself in those terms. We’re none of us linear and easily defined by algorithms.
And, while this is an entirely separate point…
4) Synesthesia abounds in this book — which is unrelated to Jane’s character development, but… yay! Kind of a big thing with me. *cough*
Life is short. Read the books.