Books

Squeak! Flail!

A couple of years ago, I read Frances Hardinge's first (and, at the time, only) novel, Fly By Night and was totally blown away. I had a feeling that she was going to be one of those "snap up every book as it comes out" authors. I just finished her new one, Well Witched (apparently called Verdegris Deep in Britain, which is much better, as is the cover -- stupid American YA publishers XD). And, wow, yeah - I want her next book now, and it's not out yet, woe!

She reminds me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones -- twisty plots, very human characters with hidden depths to them -- though her books are less happy-go-lucky than Jones' often are, with a sharp bite to them. Fly By Night totally sucked me in with its world-building -- floating coffee shops pulled by kites, banned books and hidden printing presses, a complex web of deceptions and lies hidden in more deceptions and lies. Well Witched is more of a people book, as much about the interactions and personalities and flaws of its three young protagonists as the supernatural situation they've been thrown into. Fly By Night falls more on the adult end of YA (it reminded me of Phillip Pullman's books in some ways) and Well Witched is more in the Harry Potter, "kids having adventures" mold. In both books, though, she's got a sharp eye for humanity -- how they fail, how they succeed, why they do the things they do. One of the things I love most about her books (as with Jones') is how often characters are not at all what they seem at first -- everyone can be brave, and everyone can be a coward, and it's circumstance that creates heroes and villains, more than any sort of innate hero-ness or villainy.

Highly recommended! (And if anyone on my f'list has read either book, I'd love to discuss them!)
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*Is intrigued* It's so hard to find good authors these days. I must find these books.

Apologies if this is a bit off topic, but your post got me thinking - is a story better when the author focuses more on it's characters and less on the story itself? I'm currently reading this story that's getting to be like pullling teeth to get through. The story itself is interesting but the characters... a blank sheet of paper is more insteresting and has more personality than the characters, and it's driving me crazy. I want to know what happens next, but can barely stand the protaganists.

And there are so many books like that: where the story matters more than the heroes, and the heroes are just there for the sake of telling the story.

Anywho, between the book I'm reading and the two books you described, it got me pondering. Sorry for the hijacking :S
Oh, hijack away! I love discussing these things. :D

And there are so many books like that: where the story matters more than the heroes, and the heroes are just there for the sake of telling the story.

Interestingly, I just had that exact contrast between the last two books I read. I've been plowing my way through Iain Banks' "The Algebraist" for a week. It's a very well-written book, and exactly the sort of sprawling space-opera type of thing that I'd normally love, but there wasn't a single character who really engaged me. It finally kept and held my interest when stuff started happening in the middle of the book -- and, probably not coincidentally, when I finally figured out which characters I was sympathizing with.

Whereas "Well Witched" had me from the very first page. It's a very different kind of book, much lighter and shorter, but it's also a book that sucked me right into the characters and made me love them and fear for them and want them to succeed.

I hesitate to say that character is the most important thing for me, because there are a lot of other pieces that go together to make a book memorable and worth reading. But I do think that character is the main thing that elevates a book from one that I can read in bits and pieces, here and there, in between the other activities of my day, to one that I absolutely have to finish even if it means staying up until 3 a.m. to do it. I often enjoy short stories solely for plot or theme, but it's really hard for something longer than a few thousand words to hold my interest if it doesn't have a character, or preferably more than one, that I can fall for.

I think that different people read for different things -- my husband, for example, I know mostly reads for plot; not that he's doesn't enjoy the characters also, but when I rec things to him, I usually look more for plots or themes that I know he enjoys, rather than books that I mostly found memorable for the characters. Clearly, there's a market for books with vivid plots but flat characters, because there are quite a lot of them out there. And different people find different sorts of characters interesting, too. I'm more of a Han Solo girl than a Luke Skywalker girl -- that is, in general, I prefer to identify with conflicted characters with lots of shades of gray, or reluctantly-heroic sorts, rather than hero/ingenue types (though there are definitely lots of exceptions; it's a generalization more than a hard-and-fast rule). But I know plenty of people who prefer to identify with characters who are sweet, good and/or wholesome. I create and write the kind of characters that I find interesting; other authors do likewise.
I think I'm only just starting to realize for myself that I lean more toward character than plot. There's another book I'm currently reading - Way of the Wolf by E.E Knight. The plot is absolutely fascinating but I'm having a hard time getting through it because the characters just don't pull me in. My hope is that the more I read, the more my interest for these characters will grow, but that lack of engagement makes for hard reading.

I've personally attributed the depth of a story's characterization to A: how well an author is able to handle characterization or B: if their focus is more on the plot than the people involved in that plot. Writing in-depth, multi-faceted characters is hard, and I'm forever awed and left feeling inadequate when a story draws me in for the characters alone. Plus, when you have a story you really want to tell, sometimes it's just easier to lean toward the generic - not that there's anything wrong with that, of course: D. As you said, we all have certain character-types that appeal to us. Even if they've been written a hundred times in a hundred different books, if that's our favorite character type, then they never get old.

Oh, one thing that just occurred to me about Fly By Night -- I know that you are a religious person, and it's got a slightly atheistic bent. Not nearly as heavy-handed as (just to pull something out of a hat) Philip Pullman's books, and I didn't feel that it overwhelmed the book at all, but I thought I'd mention it.
Thanks for the warning :) If it's light enough, how a book handles religion usually doesn't bother me. Even Pullman's take on religion didn't bother me... well, the third book kind of did, but not to the extent that it left me feeling upset and icky, just slightly uncomfortable.
though her books are less happy-go-lucky than Jones' often are

Ever read The Homeward Bounders? ;)


I've seen Fly By Night in the bookstore, and never picked it up; sounds like I need to, though. Nifty.
Heh. Point. I actually kind of hesitated to make the above generalization, because Jones' books do run the emotional gantlet; even the fluffy ones often have a little bit of a knife-twist to them. But Hardinge's are sort of a step beyond that, if that makes any sense -- with Jones, I'm usually pretty confident that good people will get what's coming to them, and bad people will get what's coming to them, and that's by no means certain in Hardinge's worlds; people tend to shuffle between the "hero" and "villain" categories, or just refused to be categorized at all. (Of course, I only have two books to judge her by, so far!)
Whee! More books to read! *happily ignores groaning bookshelf* (Eek. My "to read" pile of books I'll have to return to the library within the next month is... almost a book a day deep? Oops.)

I've reserved a copy of Fly By Night in English in our library system - let's see if I get a chance to read it before I leave!

You might be interested to know that they've translated Fly By Night into Swedish, and given it the rather less poetic title Mosca Mye and The Banned Books. (Any similarity to the Harry Potter books' titles is probably not entirely coincidental...)

Edited at 2008-09-04 07:48 am (UTC)
You can't have too many books. It's not possible. *ignores overcrowded bookshelves spilling out into room*

Hmm ... yes, I do see a bit of similarity there! *g* The whole thing with re-titling books for different markets is somewhat bizarre to me; I guess it does kinda make sense with a title like that one, where the original is a pun (it only makes sense as a pun once you read the book), so it would be difficult to get the same meaning in a different language. But still ... you might at least stay close to the original ...? And if you're using the same language (such as between the British and American markets) it makes no sense AT ALL to me.
I have read this one! (It was like, back in junior/senior year?) *shrugs*

I absolutely adored Fly by Night, and had no idea that there was another of her books out...must read it!

Though, admittedly, if I get any more books right now my mother might just kill me yet. :D
(It was like, back in junior/senior year?)

*hobbles away on walker, shaking fist XD*

I love that book; I really hope that she writes more of the adventures of Mosca and Clent, though I'm enjoying her other outings as well. You could always try the library; "Well Witched" is fantastic and I highly recommend it, especially if you're another friendship fan like me!