On Friday I received a wonderful prize from http://ripping-ozzie-reads.com/: The entire “King Rolen’s Kin” trilogy by Rowena Cory Daniells.
They’re beautiful, aren’t they?
They’re also – as you may have guessed from my title – utterly gripping. I usually avoid epic family histories (although I’ve enjoyed Jack Whyte and Robin Hobb in the past) but Daniells knows how to instantly and permanently make her reader care about her characters. The stress was almost unbearable – particularly since “King Rolen’s Kin” is six people, three of whom carry the story (although Byren Kingson is definitely the main character, and deservedly so).
I read hundreds of books each year, and not many grip me so tightly. Within a few pages, I knew I’d struck reading gold.
Last year I felt this same delighted flush of discovery over Sandy Fussell, Scott Westerfeld, and Pamela Freeman (who neatly but coincidentally fall into the categories of children’s, young adult, and adult reading – this trilogy is probably M-rated, but suitable for most young adults). Among hundreds of books, those three stood out head and shoulders above everyone else. This year Daniells is the first to give me that sweet shock of discovery.
Unfortunately Daniells has one big fault the others don’t have: the endings don’t work in the same intense emotional way as the beginnings and middles. After finishing the three books, I should feel enormously satisfied and at peace. Every time my mind throws up a reminder of all the worry I felt over the characters, I should feel either completely happy or completely sad (depending on how it all worked out). But the enormous payoff/catharsis I was expecting didn’t quite happen.
I know what happened to everyone who matters; I know the fate of the kingdom. But I don’t feel it the way I should.
Since this is something critiquers have said to me in the past, I know exactly what the problem is: reactions. When someone dies in a book, the other characters need to grieve (or sometimes celebrate). There are a lot of devastating losses in the book – and one extraordinarily tragic choice – but the vast majority of deaths are barely touched on emotionally. There are lots of blossoming romantic relationships, too, and as a reader I need to feel sure how it “ended” – with a first kiss, a marriage, his/her marriage to a rival, or a death. And a heartfelt reaction of sorrow, if the relationship is lost – not just a few sentences in passing.
J.K. Rowlings spent too much time on Harry Potter’s feelings in the later books of the series (making readers wish he’d just shut up and move on). Daniells has gone in the opposite direction, where her characters barely blink to lose people that should stop them in their tracks (even if it was only for a few seconds in real time – the great advantage of a book is that a few seconds can fill several pages).
Daniells is a genius in three ways: Tension, characters, and sensory detail (the world felt completely real). I know her a little bit in the online sense, and I’m willing to bet her next trilogy is even better than this one.
I’m going to go and read it – but not until I have three days free in a row.