Sunday, March 29, 2020

Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath

So I started reading Eldest, but then decided to put it aside yesterday in favour of Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath by Dr. Linda Seger. It's a writing book I've been meaning to get to for quite some time now, and I thought it would be particularly helpful for the RPG I'm currently working on too.

In scriptwriting, when characters say what they mean, that's considered "on the nose" - or the text.  Dr. Seger urges writers to go deeper, using the subtext (or the deeper meanings to what characters are saying - their words are not taken at face value). 

The main part of the book is split into 6 chapters (there's also another writer's perspective on subtext, and an afterword).  After exploring in detail what exactly she means by subtext, Dr. Seger then gives writers a number of ways to bring subtext into their own writing (through characters, words, gestures, similes/metaphors, and through genre).  It's a very thorough examination of the topic in such a small book (I read it in a day, although I did not do the exercises that were included at the end of every chapter).  Writing Subtext was a very good book that I'm glad I read - it's really given me a lot to think about in my own writing!

Saturday, March 28, 2020


I originally read Christopher Paolini's Eragon when it first came out, before the second book, Eldest, was even published.  At a guess, this was sometime in 2005, a few years before I started this blog.  So unfortunately I don't remember what exactly I thought of it (although I remember liking it well enough).  It was recommended to me at the time by a friend (we went to see the movie together, too).  I bought Eldest when it first came out, too, but decided not to read it because I knew the series was supposed to be a trilogy; at that time I decided I wanted to wait until book three came out before continuing on.  Then book three was split into two (much like what happened with Bruce Coville's Unicorn Chronicles; that seemed to be a trend in books at the time).  And since the books are so big (book 1 is about 500 pages), it was really hard to get myself to go back to them, especially knowing that I had to reread Eragon before getting to the newer books.  But thanks to the global pandemic that's happening right now, this seemed like a good time to actually go back and reread it.

Eragon is the story of a farm boy (? it's a weird distinction because he's first portrayed as a hunter) who finds a dragon egg.  The egg hatches, and he finds himself suddenly thrust into the larger world with enemies everywhere fighting to control him.  His only help is the storyteller, Brom, an older man who lived in Eragon's little village but has many secrets of his own.  Together the two of them head out on a quest of vengeance, with Brom doing everything he can to prepare Eragon for the larger world in which he's suddenly part of.

In a lot of ways, Eragon is very much the typical "boy from nowhere is actually the chosen one" kind of tale.  I'd even go so far as to say Eragon himself is a Mary Sue kind of character (his sword fighting progresses over a couple of months so he's now one of the best human sword fighters around! He's the youngest Dragon Riders to start using magic!  He learns to read in a week! He's destined for a great romance!  That sort of thing - I suspect he's also of noble guess is actually the second and unknown son of the King's second in command.  We'll see if I'm right).  He's also one of the most whiny teenagers imaginable.  Through the first half of the book he's honestly pretty unlikable (although I don't blame him from some of his frustrations - Brom in particular doesn't tell him things pretty much "just because" and it's annoying from a reading standpoint).

While I don't remember my thoughts on the book the first time around, I'm pretty sure Eragon annoyed me back then, too. Thankfully he's surrounded by far more interesting characters.  Saphira, the dragon, is a lot of fun.  Although she is much younger than Eragon, she's infinitely more wiser; plus she has a great sense of humour.  I also really liked Brom (outside of his "not telling you things just because" thing); he's a fun character who has no problem with gently making fun of Eragon so he learns.  (Now I don't know if it's because I read the book years ago and kind of remembered Brom's story, or if the writing was just super predictable, but I did know a lot of what Brom was keeping hidden - but that didn't detract from the story at all).  Murtagh, the random swordsman who helps Eragon and Brom and later becomes close friends with Eragon, is likewise a very intriguing character with a great backstory (I also loved his reasoning for refusing to submit to anyone entering his mind: "My mind is the one sanctuary that has not been stolen from me. Men have tried to breach it before, but I've learned to defend it vigorously, for I am safe with my innermost thoughts. You have asked for the one thing I cannot give, least of all to those two" (405)).  I would love to follow his story far more than Eragon's!

The other character of note is the elf, Arya.  She's most likely the great love interest.  I don't have much of an opinion on her at this point though since she hasn't done much but be rescued by Eragon and company, test Eragon's battle prowess, and help in the final battle of the book (which honestly ended up a bit weird - she stayed to get Saphira's damaged armor off while Eragon ran ahead....shouldn't Eragon have helped HIS dragon while the super powerful elf goes ahead?  Also, he kind of steals her kill (the shade) - she demanded it because of what he did to her).  I'm hoping she'll prove to be more interesting in the later books...

I also found the books villain, the Shade Durza, rather interesting as well (although he's not in it all that much).  He actually goes hand in hand with the really cool worldbuilding Paolini did for this book: the villains.  The main world has the typical elves, dwarves, dragons and men.  But the bad guys have shades (sorcerers who accidentally let spirits take over their bodies and become evil), a Dragon Rider who went mad after his dragon died (and took down the whole Order, declaring himself King/Emperor), the Ra'zac (who make me think of Skeksis), and the Urgals (who I suspect are just Orcs, but it still gives the world its own flavour).  Some very cool stuff going on here.

So while the first half of the book is kind of hard to get into (again, thanks to Eragon being a whiny kid who's inexplicably good at everything), by the end I did enjoy the story (thanks in large part to all the other characters).  Hopefully the momentum built up in the second half of Eragon carries through to book 2!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Watcher of the Dark

Well here we are: Watcher of the Dark, the final Jeremiah Hunt book by Joseph Nassise.

This is going to have a lot of spoilers, so be warned.

Watcher of the Dark takes place a few weeks after King of the Dead.  Hunt is on the run, not only from the Boston Police Department and FBI, but also from Simon Gallagher's forces (in order to save Denise's life in King of the Dead, he had to stab her in the heart with an ancient dagger.  Gallagher walked in right at that moment and Hunt was automatically on the run with no chance to explain himself).  Hunt's made his way to Las Angeles and is lying low in an old motel, only to find himself kidnapped by unknown assailants.  They bring him to LA's marshall, Carlos Fuentes, who threatens Denise and Dmitri's lives unless Hunt agrees to work for him.  And so Hunt finds himself working with Fuentes lieutenants: Rivera, a very powerful mage, Ilyana, a half demon, Perkins, a man able to magically find anything, and Grady, a Mundane thief.  The five of them are tasked with tracking down a mysterious magical key that has been split into three pieces.  A key that the mysterious Preacher has just decided will be the perfect payment from Hunt for his help in saving Denise back in New Orleans.  All the while Hunt is trying to find a way to get out of his indentured servitude to Fuentes without his friends getting hurt.

A lot of the plot gets driven along by Hunt (and therefore the reader) not knowing what the heck is going on.  Fuentes' lieutenants won't tell Hunt anything about the missions he's on with them, leaving him to kind of figure it out as they go along (which seemed really stupid - shouldn't you at least tell him vaguely what everyone is looking for so he has some way to actually be helpful?  Or, I don't know, what to watch out for so he can actually be on the lookout and not trigger anything/warn people if he sees stuff?)  They're also not particularly likeable as a bunch, especially through the first half of the book, making me miss Denise and Dmitri.  Sure, some of them kind of grew on me as the book went along. I think Perkins would have been endearing had he lived longer.  While I never cared for Fuentes or Rivera (they kind of made me think of mustache-twirling villains), Ilyana was also starting to become a more interesting character when she started opening up to Hunt (although I don't know how much of that was truthful).  But when Denise and Dmitri finally do show up, I still felt relieved that we're back to the people I actually care about.

What made this even worse was that at the end of the book, when Hunt, Denise, and Dmitri come up with some sort of plan to get themselves out of this mess, they also don't actually say what it is (the exact line when Hunt comes up with the plan was: "And I told them how we were all going to get out of this mess."  That was it.  Then the plan slowly gets parceled out over the next fifty pages).  I feel like this has happened in the other books, too, but it was particularly infuriating since the entirety of Watcher of the Dark was built off of withholding information.

Another thing that I really didn't get was Ilyana.  I'm not entirely sure what her entire powers were.  And a lot of what she could do seemed to make Hunt's addition to the team completely irrelevant.  She could see ghosts.  She could eat ghosts.  She presumably could see other people working magic (like Hunt could with his ghostsight).  Oh yeah, plus she was super strong and super fast. So why was he here again?

But to make it all weirder, she (and no one else for that matter) didn't seem to notice that Hunt was possessed later in the book.  Like possessed Hunt had passionate sex with her one night.  Then normal Hunt woke up confused as to why he was naked in her bed and where his clothes were.  Shouldn't she have noticed something weird with his aura or something?  Or did she notice and just not care?  I have no idea.

I'm also not entirely sure what happened with her at the end either.  She betrayed Hunt to Rivera and Fuentes.  But then Fuentes and Rivera betrayed her for some reason.  It seemed like she was going along with them, so I don't know why they needed to betray her (especially since after they did, they only took a bit of her blood but didn't kill her or anything).  Maybe they needed her as a sacrifice for a later part in their ritual that got interrupted?  But it seemed like the Gate to Hell was open already, so wasn't the ritual completed?  I honestly don't know.

But the book ends and Hunt has once again stopped the world from ending with the help of his friends.  Unfortunately the story doesn't actually end here, even though it is the last published book in the series.  The way it ended, with the FBI still searching for them, the Preacher being mad at Hunt, Gallagher's men still presumably after Hunt, and Ilyana and Rivera still out there, it makes me think there were supposed to be more books following this one.  But it came out in 2013 and there seems to be no further books in the series seven years later...

Actually, that brings me to one more question about Watcher of the Dark: where WAS the FBI?  Hunt was driving around LA, both with Fuentes' lieutenants and by himself, often in broad daylight and not at all trying to hide.  And Fuentes even calls Agent Doherty, who was Agent Robertson's protoge in King of the Dead.  Since they all believe Hunt is the serial killer known as the Reaper, shouldn't they have been all over LA looking for him, like they were all over New Orleans in King of the Dead???

Needless to say, Watcher of the Dark wasn't my favourite book in the Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles.  It kind of felt like a stepping stone to help the larger Jeremiah Hunt story along.  Unfortunately there just hasn't been any more of that larger story released to give this book more meaning. :(

Monday, March 16, 2020

King of the Dead

Well, I did it!  I actually read the second book in Joseph Nassise's Jeremiah Hunt trilogy, King of the Dead!

King of the Dead picks up a few months after Eyes to See.  Jeremiah, Denise Clearwater, and Dmitri have been lying low now that Jeremiah is on the FBI's most wanted list, being framed as the serial killer known as the Reaper, plus blamed for the death of Detective Stanton (even though he is innocent of that, too).  But as time goes on, Denise starts getting visions about the apocalypse happening in New Orleans that she has to be there for according to Gaia.  So despite Hunt's trepidation, the three of them make the journey.  The arrive to find the city's magical community in shambles.  Denise's old friend and ex-coven mate, Simon Gallagher, is the new Lord Marshall because everyone else is either dead or in a coma.  Some sort of plague is targeting the magical community, and as much as Hunt would rather be ANYWHERE else, because Denise refuses to leave, he remains to help her figure it out.

King of the Dead was an interesting read.  I liked how the FBI agent tracking Hunt got his own chapters (I actually found myself wishing there were more!) It was also neat to see how the magical community worked (or at least functioned since many of its leaders were out of the picture).  I also really liked the mystery of the disease and how Hunt's ghostvision ended up key to helping everyone figure it out.

But I didn't really like the end of the book.  There was what I'm going to call a "final showdown" in New Orleans where the book felt like it was going to wrap up.  But then the story kept going for another fifty pages.  And those last fifty pages felt rushed.  This may have been on purpose, as Hunt himself then had a tight time frame, but it just didn't feel very satisfying at all (especially since there was only one chapter from Denise's perspective, where maybe a second one could have taken the time to flesh out what was happening a bit more - although again, this was probably deliberate that there wasn't a second Denise chapter so the reader could be more shocked by what happened when Hunt found her).  The very end is also rather abrupt so, I suspect, the story can continue in book 3 right where this leaves off.  This is all really unfortunate, as up until this rushed and kind of unsatisfying ending, I was really enjoying the book.

With that being said though, I'm still interested to see where Watcher of the Dark takes us....

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Eyes to See (Reread)

This is a bit embarrassing (yet also somewhat par for the course for me, unfortunately) - years ago, I read (and loved) Eyes to See by Joseph Nassise.  At that time I couldn't wait to get my hands on book 2 in the trilogy.  But then for whatever reason, I just never actually read it.  I've taken the trilogy out periodically from the local library, but never read more than book 1.  I think as the years passed it was harder and harder to go back because I didn't really remember Eyes to See anymore. 

So a few days ago, I decided I was going to remedy that.  I once again took the trilogy out from the library (super glad they're all still available!) and actually started rereading Eyes to See.  A large part of this decision came from me feeling like reading something I actually want to read, not something I feel like I HAVE to read (which just seems to keep happening in life).

It was very interesting going back to it, six years later.  I only remembered some of the vague story beats.  I remembered Jeremiah Hunt, and how he had given up his eyesight to find his daughter, which ushered him into a supernatural world.  I remembered the ghostsm Scream and Whisper (but not necessarily their names).  And I vaguely remembered that Hunt found her by the end, and was on the run from something by the end of the book; that was about it.

What I didn't remember was the actual goings-on.  Hunt gets called in by Detective Stanton to investigate a murder scene.  Stanton thinks Hunt is a psychic, and Hunt has no intention of telling Stanton otherwise.  The murder is a gruesome one, and the murderer left writing in several dead languages on the walls.  As an ex-professor who specialized in dead languages, the writing in particular intrigues Hunt, but so does a familiar-seeming charm he finds at the crime scene.  When a second body is found with the same writing (and yet another charm, which Hunt realizes came from a charm bracelet that his daughter had), he realizes this may be the lead he has been searching for over these five long years to finally find her!

The world that Nassise built, especially around the ghosts, is still so interesting.  I liked the first encounter where Hunt is hired to exorcise a ghost from an apartment building, and Hunt goes through all the levels of ghosts that he's encountered (and how this particular ghost hid its true nature).  I actually would have liked to see a bit more of that sort of thing, but oh well, the story is still good without it.

This time around, I admit that I had a harder time getting into it though.  I'm not entirely sure why....but I suspect that it had to do with Hunt being on his own.  I know that the first time I read Eyes to See, I didn't really like some of the interactions between Hunt and the other characters; this time, I actually preferred those moments over Hunt being on his own.  I really liked Dimitri, and loved Stanton - he was the perfect foil to Hunt (and I loved how once he saw real evidence of the supernatural in terms of the fetch, he was all on board with stopping it because he knew it was dangerous).  I think I liked Denise more this time around too - the hedge witch was a very capable woman on her own.

I'm once again excited to read book 2; this time I'm actually going to read it, too! ;)