My first edition of Pile O’ Shame was well received, even spurring a few other blogs to follow the trend and post their own Pile O’ Shame‘s. Prompted by my dissatisfaction for Paul Kearney’s The Ten Thousand, a novel that (based on the buzz) I was greatly looking forward to, I came up with an idea for the second edition of the feature: Books I should like, but don’t.
You know the type. The names get tossed around recklessly at every Internet forum: George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Tad Williams, Gene Wolfe, Robin Hobb, Jack Vance, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, R. Scott Bakker, Guy Gavriel Kay, Neal Stephenson. The list goes on and you start feeling that little niggling sense of guilt – you know you’re supposed to like them… but you just don’t!
So, to that end I’ve rounded up some of those authors that I know I’m supposed to like, but they just didn’t do it for me!
Before the complaints start rolling in, let me preface this by saying that I know that there’s no ‘should’ when it comes to something as subjective as taste. I’m no one’s expected to like anything, but the idea behind a list like this is to take some novels/authors who have a generally large and fervent fan base, that don’t necessarily grab me in the same way.
The Pile – Round Two
Lord Foul’s Bane (and the rest of the novels that follow it) are considered by many to be a defining work of Fantasy literature. Coming out right around the same time as Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s effort was a dark, R-rated exploration of an area little explored since Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It hit an older demographic and showed readers that Fantasy could be provoking and dangerous and dirty.
Or at least that’s what I suppose must have happened when the novel was released (6 years before I was even born). My mom adores the series, several of my older friends love the series; because of those recommendations (none stronger) I gave Lord Foul’s Bane a shot, expecting greatness. To say it fell short is an understatement and there is one specific reason for this: the main character, Thomas Covenant.
Layers are good; emotional conflict is good. Thomas Covenant is full of these. It’s too bad that Covenant is a miserable piece of shit with absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. When I read a novel, I like to be able to root for the protagonist (even if s/he’s a complete bastard, see Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy), but I simply detested Covenant and everything he stood for. In no way could I relate to him, in no way could I understand his conflict, in no way could I agree with any decisions he was making.
And then I hit the rather infamous scene near the beginning of the novel. If you’ve read it, you know the one. I very nearly threw the novel in the fire (and I don’t even dog-ear shitty novels because I revere books so much) in a fit of outrage. I remembered the words of my mother, though, and forced myself through to the end of the novel, expecting some revelation where I would learn to love the novel. I didn’t. My mouth still tastes bitter with the experience.
Emotional reaction from a novel is a good thing and Lord Foul’s Bane had me bubblin’ mad for most of the way through. So maybe in that respect it was a success, but did I enjoy even a moment while reading it? Hell no.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have read and enjoyed Erikson’s novels (the first two, at least), respect him immensely as a writer and have a good relationship with him. So why’s he on the list?
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I think Erikson’s world building is tremendous – no one can touch him in scope and ambition. I think his dialogue is great – natural, witty and full of character. He’s like Dungeons and Dragons on steroids.
So what’s the problem?
He’s like Dungeons and Dragons on steroids. Whenever I pick up one of his novels, I feel slightly emasculated, like I’m not quite man enough to consume and comprehend the multi-faceted story he’s telling. The novels intimidate me, causing me to crawl along with progress, only a few pages at a time, terrified that I’m going to miss some small (but important) nuance if I read too quickly.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen kicks my assâ€¦ and I’m not always sure I like it.
A bullet point list describing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy would indicate that it’s right up my alley:
- Invincible Polar Bears
- Adventure and Intrigue
- Beautiful Landscapes
- Daemon Familiars
- Theological Underpinnings
It all sounds bloody awesome and Pullman manages to pull it off with aplomb. But, what seemed like it should have been a surefire hit fell short for me, and I have trouble pinpointing why.
A lot of it had to do with the way Pullman handled his Point of View characters. From what I remember, it seemed like the perspective flitted around between several characters, even mid-chapter, and because of this I had not only a hard time keeping track of everything, but also feeling like I could properly connect to any of them. I’m a huge supporter of the limited POV that authors like George R.R. Martin use, and have trouble adjusting to other styles.
I love the ideas behind His Dark Materials but something about the execution bumped it down from â€˜Must-Read’ to â€˜Mildly-Perplexing’. I finished The Golden Compass, but never really felt compelled to go on and finish the trilogy. Now that I think about it, my feelings toward The Golden Compass are similar to my recent feelings about The Ten Thousand – great ideas and story, but bogged down by a writing style that I just couldn’t get in to.
With the exception of Stephen Donaldson, I’m certain I’ll be revisiting each of these in the future (probably rather soon for Malazan, in fact) to give them that second, third or even fourth chance that they probably deserve. Hell, it took me no less than five read-throughs (both full and partial) of Tad William’s The Dragonbone Chair before I was finally caught up by the story – since then Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, of which The Dragonbone Chair is the first volume, has become one of my favourite works of Epic Fantasy. Sometimes, I suppose, it just takes some time to learn to love some series.
So, what’s on your Pile O’ Shame?