At times readers feel like something is off or not as good as it could be, they don’t realize this can stem from a wandering style. Today’s writer must capture their audience’s attention and to do this their story must be fresh. Or at least feel like it is. By mixing modern, contemporary, timeless and traditional elements in unexpected ways they create compelling characters and plot. This is no truer than in the Young Adult genre so popular now due to the Twilight series. Today I propose three styles of protagonists and the sub-genres that naturally rise from their stories.
The traditional style doesn’t figure in as a sub-genre because most, if not all, characters and stories utilize long-established or inherited ways of thinking or acting in some form or another. In fact, it’s generally how these traditional elements are used that determine the style and sub-genre of a story.
Welcome to the apocalypse. Deuce finally earns her name when she turns 15 years old. Chosen as a Huntress, she braves the tunnels outside the enclave to bring back meat to feed the Breeders, Builders and Elders with her partner Fade. It’s dangerous work as they must evade mindless monsters known as Freaks. As they learn to trust each other, she must face the warning signs that will carry her from the only world she’s ever known.
It’s a no-brainer I’d enjoy Enclave. A post-apocalyptic world, check. A coming of age story, check. A brave girl who boldly faces life, check. A male love interest willing to be an equal partner, both hero and support, check. Flesh eating creatures growing in strategic ability, check. Yet if I’d known politics were the motivating factor in the plot of the first half of the book I’d probably never have read it. I wasn’t unhappy reading it though… Now what style of story does this sound like to you? Contemporary? Modern? Traditional and timeless are probably way down your list of guesses. Well, just in case you aren’t starting to realize, our story isn’t contemporary.
The lovely thing about a timeless character is the ease with which you can relate to them. For this reason many writers who unfold an unknown world through their protagonists’ eyes use this kind of regular joe character. There is an out of time feel to their narrative that is found throughout a lot of literature. It’s the reason such old stories are still relevant today and we hold them up as classics. These types of characters feel familiar yet can be exclusively defined by their world.
Deuce does the best she can with the fact she lives in a sewers. In fact, in her world this is a safe place, not a disgusting cesspool like we think of it. She grew up respecting the enclave elders and their rules as they lead with their accumulated wisdom and knowledge. Yet for those she cares about she’s motivated to help and protect them above and beyond her own safety and comfort. At the same time she’s insanely curious about the world before and the artifacts left behind. As a recently made adult she wants to acquit herself well and not let anyone, even her new partner, cause her to fail her enclave. There is this underlying contemporary thinking in Deuce that is comprised from modern women today. Yet lining all of her thought processes are motivations anyone can relate to and that you can find in many heroines, whatever the time period. While her contemporary slant is nice to relate to, it’s this timelessness that defines Deuce and her point of view.
Right off the bat you are hit with questions only Deuce can show us by reading more… How can anyone possibly eat, drink, sleep, bathe or even breathe in a sewer? Why if they live such shortened lives do they not get a name until 15 years old? Why keep them from a real occupation for so long? These are all potentially book closing questions if not answered just right and to the satisfaction of a contemporary reader. What the author did well was supporting the logic for these conditions to exist with the creation of a political climate that even I could be sucked into and enjoy.
Hence the creation of the Elders; the oldest surviving members of the enclave who’ve risen to positions of power. The current crop of Elders have simply inherited the ways of their past leaders…but at some point someone decided things would be this way. The first order of business for that past leader was survival. Our contemporary minds know mobs have the power to strip even the most charismatic of their power. So in order to live with limited resources the first thing you’d do is control population.
Since teenagers tend to start rebelling and pushing for answers around 15 years old it makes a good age at which to set citizenship. Keep the young ones as servants and menial labor until the coming of age ceremony. When raised to believe you will ascend to more power at a certain date, with little work on your part, most will wait for such a time. Then once they are in most don’t want to rock the boat and lose their place. Peer pressure is so powerful at this age for just this reason. And if someone resists this and gets out of line they can be used as an example.
Pretty smart and manipulative way to ensure the top survive but it explains away a lot of our questions. The best thing is the reader experiences it all through Deuce’s own coming of age and so we are shown, not told. Coming of age is such a timeless concept and yet by explaining it through the contemporary approach of politics we freshen the idea. Combine this with the juxtaposition of survival in the unlikely sewers and the writer makes old ideas fresh. Thus the world the writer has created brings to bear, in a sensible way, change for Deuce’s journey of becoming an adult. It happens at the right time (when the story starts) and for a great reason.
That reason is Fade. I was able to buy into Deuce’s partner right from the start. (In fact, I’d love to read one of these dystopian stories exclusively from the male’s perspective.) In his back-story he wasn’t raised in the enclave, rare, but his skills allowed him to escape death. This informs us about his character while also setting up for motivation. He’s one of those timeless lone wolves that for the right person or situation will put himself out there. To his partnership with Deuce he brings views that conflict with the world’s status quo. A traditional trait that contrasts nicely to Deuce’s contemporary twist. Yes he’s an obvious love interest but the beauty of his character was that his mindset is very close to the reader’s about Deuce’s world. It’s satisfying to know someone exists who believes living in a sewer isn’t all they believe it to be. (This is a secret technique writers use to draw in the reader and tie them to the story.) It gives weight to the circumstances of an enclave in the sewers actually existing. Yet you start to root for Deuce to change without really thinking about what those changes would mean to the world.
The freaks entered the story at the perfect moment softening all the expected tradition and timelessness with instinctual fear. Deuce had to come to trust Fade as her partner or die. (On a side note, I really enjoyed the actual battles – they were well written.) Many times plot falters at this point because the battles are just for plot’s sake and serve little purpose except to impede forward movement. In this way Deuce and Fade’s run to the neighboring enclave allowed their trust to build, furthered plot and lead to unlikely alliances, like with the mole men and later with Stalker.
Woven into the trust you are starting to share with Deuce and Fade are the personal journeys both are struggling to share with the other. Later, I didn’t foresee Deuce and Fade being expelled from the enclave because I get so caught up in Deuce’s concerns for her friends and community and her excitement at finding the mole men and the old world artifacts. From Fade we explore a connection to a rebellion within the community. It’s too little, too late but I loved this detail because most writers ignore that something like a rebellion would exist because it comes to little in the plot. An easier, more contrived motivation would have been substituted. The writer didn’t go that route here and I commend her on that decision. Both ideas are rather traditional ideas but framed in such a way they mesh well with the timeless ideas already established.
From here we transition through a critical plot point of the story – from the sewers to the surface. Unlike Daughter of Smoke and Bone where the story got really good at this point, in Enclave it stumbled. You guessed it…due to a drastic shift in style. It started with a solid timeless idea – a war zone populated with gangs fighting for territory, where one doesn’t want to find oneself alone out in the open. Yet was plagued with under developed, vague, stereotypical ideas that were in no way timeless. The only aspect developed well was the classic “taking refuge with a non-combatant in enemy territory” war plot line. This takes the form of a meeting at Fade’s old digs, introducing us to his childhood friend who also happens to be a female and a little psychotic. Their interaction reveals so much more about Fade’s character and how he views women. Deuce doesn’t quite jive with such views and so later it’s easy for Stalker to drive a wedge between him and Deuce.
The cause of this stylistic stumble came in the form of a traditional love triangle that didn’t fit with the first half of the book. Too general, too contemporary it felt like two different setups in two different genres smashed together. In contrast to each other Fade’s half works so much better than Stalker’s half of the book simply because Fade’s was better and more intricately developed. When a writer uses a traditional idea and it is out of step with the main style (in this case timeless) it throws off the entire flow of the story for the reader. The writer was successful though in her resolution of Fade’s half of the story arc. The illness and hallucinations that lead to their rescue and to Deuce concluding the enclave was gone was a creative close to the sewer enclave. This was the writer’s attempt to link the sewer part with the gang part of the story. Too bad Stalker and the gang had little to add to what was already developed. Because of the lack of consistency an ending that fit the material was hard to come to…so the writer didn’t seem to bother.
Instead, the ending disappointingly cliff hanged and became an obvious plug for a second book. By subtly re-writing the second half of the book to be more in line with her tone, the writer could have written an ending to be proud of and hooked the reader through genuine consistency. While the emotional arc disappointed we did arrive at a new enclave, a clear indication of a new plot arc. (This would have been a great place to introduce the second love interest whether as friend Stalker becoming love interest Stalker or some other resident.) I included Enclave for this sub-genre because the first half is written so expertly it’s spot on for timeless. It also illustrated how important consistency is in making a five-star story.
My tastes lean more to timeless than either of the other two sub-genres I propose today because it’s story is more prone to becoming a classic. I enjoy a book I can re-read that won’t be solely about a fad or feel outdated later. While Enclave’s ending leaves a lot to be desired the read was compelling and I’d read the next in the series.
Meet Karou. A young art student whose hair grows out of her head bright blue, speaks many languages and fills her sketchbooks with monsters. Living in Prague she has access to all sorts of places through magical doorways and a devil’s dark and dusty shop. While out collecting teeth in Marrakesh, Akiva, a winged stranger with fire-colored eyes, recognizes her; portending a shift that takes the ones she loves and forever changes her view of herself.
The subject of angels makes me leery. As messengers of God I find it sacrilegious to try to make them human when they are anything but. Actually it was the fact Karou’s hair grew out of her head blue that propelled me to overlook this issue. Is it a racial feature…or what? I couldn’t really think of any other options but I had a feeling that wasn’t why. And, of course, I was right.
From the start the heroine struck me as deliberately and overtly contemporary. For me a contemporary protagonist is hard to carry off as they are so supremely selfish and/or self-centered. For that matter most people are and I really get enough of the me, me, me in regular life not to want to visit such in my reading life. Karou’s setup, luckily, was just that setup. This is what I find hard to swallow in contemporary stories – this need to be the same as the reader, to share their stats. Many times these details have little to nothing to do with the story! Yes, yes, she makes mistakes with boys, has bad judgement at times but learns from it and uses it to empower her life. This was a “just in case” to let the reader know they could relate to her as a contemporary girl even though her only family are monsters, she has hamsa eyes tattooed on each palm and she collects teeth, human and animal both.
The ignition point in the story lay in the chimaera. No matter your preferences of heroine, you as the reader connected to them immediately. First through her drawings and then upon revelation she wasn’t teasing her classmates – they do exist. Four of them, in fact! I felt if I were to have no parents I’d like them for my own family, and not because they are wish-mongers either! Parents are always a bit mysterious when we’re young, especially to teenagers, and I sensed Brimstone’s motivations were rooted in his love of Karou (no matter how hard it is for him to show it). We find out later they were. Intertwined with learning of Karou we are introduced to the danger threatening the chimaera. I applaud this decision as they are what we, the readers, care about most. And here is where we find the real setup, free from gimmick and contrivance.
The teeth Brimstone has Karou gather for him were a big question mark that you knew instinctively lay at the heart of everything happening. No matter how you pondered though you couldn’t wrap your head around what possible reasons made sense. As a writer, I really admired the idea of wishes in return for the teeth. It made perfect sense and revealed, while concealing, the importance of the teeth. What I really disliked were Karou’s use of her wishes. Probably because she used them in a very contemporary matter, for self-centered reasons. It did make sense though and that’s what matters. At this point I was terribly disappointed to learn the blue hair came from a wish! I knew it wasn’t a racial thing from the start – turns out she’s a “regular” human anyway – but I’d hoped it was more than a contemporary gimmick.
I was already familiar with angels as a race in Supernatural. I see the word angel used in the tv show and here as the same – as a way to describe a particular racial being like a vampire, werewolf or a zombie (nothing to do with a messenger of God.) This writer used a rather straightforward and traditional interpretation of angel as far as looks are concerned (large glowing wings and eyes showing a heavenly being filled with divine power and an unearthly beauty) yet her updated spin re-made the idea into a race. Angels have traditionally been seen as part of the army of heaven so their use here as base soldiers in a war works well. The addition of the marks for kills was a nice contemporary touch.
I didn’t much like Akiva at first, I backed the chimera after all, but through the course of the plot I came to appreciate him. This was skillfully developed and it’s the conflict of caring for both sides that truly hooks you as the reader. A story will bind a reader to it when a reader feels like they grow and change due to the events and characters. (I admire the use of this secret technique whether used by accident or intentionally.)
There have been love triangles since Cain killed Abel to obtain God’s love, so I find it refreshing when there is only one love interest. This is a major reason I chose Daughter of Smoke and Bone as my contemporary choice. While traditional elements can be treated as timeless or contemporary I find it more modern when a writer makes a single love interest compelling. We have so many issues as a couple today without cheating or triangles brought into it. Add to that the fact it’s an interracial couple and there is plenty of natural conflict brought to the story. No need to throw in another character.
Every woman today wants her way and men have learned to align themselves to it or go without (as an alternate option find another, of course). Akiva, even being an angel, is no different from any other contemporary man in this. (Personally I hearken after equality in a relationship rather than domination hence my partiality for timeless over contemporary.) First off he wants to kill her. Of course because men must mourn their loss of control but once they get over it they are back in love and with a vengeance.
Any modern woman will adore this man as he acts all dark and angst-y, is loving yet lets the woman decide everything. With Akiva even to the point he’ll lie passively for her to kill him or more with the times, let her go. The skill of the writer allowed that even if this isn’t your mindset as a reader you can go with it as it feels it stems from the characters themselves. (Akiva IS an angel and Karou a selfish modern girl.)
It was a bit of luck mixed with my love of the chimaera in general that caused me to stick around with the non-linear time-line. This mid-section wasn’t terribly compelling to me as I felt Karou reaped what she sowed. Again, the writer expertly mixed Karou’s problems with revelations about the chimaera. This telling of events out of linear order is very contemporary and worked well as the event could be used where it would have the most effect for the reader.
Personally, I really got into the story when the narrative shifted from Karou and Akiva to Madrigal and Akiva. There was a generosity and unselfishness to Madrigal that engendered adoration in me upon first meeting. This part of their story (where star-crossed lovers will only ever have a short time together) is more traditional in form, the contemporary slant of chimaera being demons adding to the perfection of the timeless idea. I really enjoyed getting to know Brimstone’s secret work, his love of Karou through his love of Madrigal and even why he’s so secretive with her. While I don’t believe in reincarnation it made contemporary sense that the purpose of the teeth was to bring back chimaera soldiers in their fight with the cold and cruel angels of perfection. Even the fact the hamsa eyes were a mark of that reincarnation fit well inside the framework of the world. While human nature drove Enclave’s world, the contemporary details drove Daughter of Smoke and Bone’s world. The twisting of the traditional just enough that it feels fresh and new is cornerstone to making this contemporary story shine.
The ending lacked any sort of resolution for me though. Part of the problem was it felt unbalanced and hurried because in the end we spent so long with Madrigal and her story while the first half of the book was spent all with Karou. It felt like now that the readers know all the secrets it’s time to end so we have to buy another book. Enclave at least got the characters to a physical destination where new surroundings naturally start a new story. With Daughter of Smoke and Bone Karou had already determined to find Brimstone and her family after the shop disappeared. So for a large part of the book there weren’t any new goals or points to arc over.
It’s no secret that contemporary stories aren’t my favorite but this writer knows what she’s about. I’ll definitely read the rest of the series (from the library) just to find out if poor Brimstone can stop sorting teeth and if Akiva is freed from his endless servitude to death and killing. While the writer didn’t elevate the world so much that I could read the book again she did win a fan of her work. If you live exclusively in the modern world with the modern world’s priorities and values I can see you absolutely loving this book over and over again. With proper pacing and character arcs the book would have been a perfect example of a contemporary young adult fiction. As it is it’s an excellent one.
Three teenagers’ lives intertwine when they meet a moth man who reveals they are changlings. These incredible revelations are hidden among the typical teenage parties where drugs and alcohol can’t possibly interfere with the truth! The first is oh so beautiful trailer trash, queen bee, Morgan D’Amici, who uses people because of the dirt and blood she finds under her fingernails. Another girl, Ondine Mason, paints and it comes to life, dancing around her ceiling as she dreams of popularity. The last, an Alaskan runaway, Nix Saint-Michael, dulls halos of light with drugs because it’s hard to handle knowing everyone on the planet is going to die.
Yeah. It’s amazing from this cynical take on the book, but of the three books, Betwixt’s in-flap blurb engendered the most excitement in me.
“Beautiful Morgan D’Amici wakes in her meager home, with blood under her finger nails. Paintings come alive under Ondine Mason’s violet-eyed gaze. Haunted runaway Nix Saint-Michael sees halos of light around people about to die. At a secret summer rave in the woods, the three teenagers learn of their true origins and their uncertain, intertwined destinies. Riveting, unflinching, and beautiful, Betwixt is as complex and compelling as any ordinary reality.”
Warning bells should have flared at the word rave – they didn’t and I can only think they didn’t so I could include Betwixt in this post. The cover probably played a part in my self-deception as it is very misleading (even though there is a kid named Moth in the book.) I didn’t use this blurb as my rundown of the book because it’s really a marketing plot, like the cover, to sucker young adult fans into reading this modern trash.
The characters’ circumstances were very modern, treating each teenager as an adult. Putting them in a situation where adults don’t and can’t play a part in the characters’ decision making. Ondine’s parents move for work and take their young son but leave their senior daughter so she can finish high school in a familiar place. No traditional person (or parent who loved their child above themselves) would leave their daughter in this situation. And most contemporary people, at the very least, would pause at the idea, hence the modern label.
Nix is a runaway. A very modern way kids deal with problems due to the breakdown of the family. It makes more sense to me to stay in Alaska where the volume of people per square mile is noticeably lower and where you have access to remote areas with little to no people about to die. Alaska is also not so backward that you can’t obtain drugs just as easily there as in any other American city. Already the setup is starting to breakdown here for me. Modern people tend to believe their children are stupid and that they couldn’t have worked this out for themselves before leaving Alaska. I disagree, and so have trouble relating to someone who can’t or won’t think about their own circumstances.
Morgan though is the most objectionable character and the only one of the three I find truly modern. (Both Ondine and Nix are more traditional to me. The classic good girl tempted by “evil” or a bad influence and the angst filled male who appears to be troublesome but just needs someone who cares.) Morgan has a twisted, dominating, wannabe incestuous relationship with her brother. These undertones are modern but not to my taste nor are they very interesting. If it added to her motivation in some way I could go with it but it was all a fake out to make her feel modern because of her traditional circumstances as “trailer trash” poor. Even this idea of rejecting friends suddenly and totally at a whim is very modern, which would be fine if it weren’t just an obvious device to make Ondine Morgan’s newest best friend.
The special powers made up for the deficiencies in character though…right? No. Ondine’s power didn’t have any real purpose and seemed to be just a way to show she was “special” whether special means unique or crazy you decide. I felt a little sympathy for Nix but anyone who controls anything with drugs just isn’t for me. He didn’t do much with his knowledge either. I should have liked both Ondine and Nix but they were written in such a way that they felt absent of any kind of personality or independence. They acted like they had no decision-making abilities at the mercy of fate or society. (A modern idea but one I don’t agree with and which needs a lot more support story wise to make work well.) By the time I got to Morgan just her setup turned me off. Who cares why she would come home with blood under her fingernails! Sounds like more modern claptrap to lure you in with ideas of vampires or werewolves.
As for the plot – the characters were promised revelations near the beginning at the rave, which took up the whole middle of the book. So we go on this long, many paged rigmarole to have their specialness explained to them but nothing much is ever defined. Even to the reader. On top of it the writer added a slew of additional characters (like Moth) to continue to delay the outcome only to have even less really happen. This round and round plot, accomplishing or even overcoming little, to me is the height of modernity – obscurity for being mysterious’ sake. When done well we can get a cascading series of revelations that change the way we see the world…when done poorly we get a mashup of nothing much.
The worst was the end. You read through all this murky nonsense on the hope the end would explain all, but no, just more murky nonsense. It’s not so much stopping suddenly to set up for a second book or rushing the character arc so much as there isn’t much to conclude. It’s a modern epidemic for everyone to believe they deserve to be a star without really having to work for it. It felt like a cerebral idea that because of the way it was developed came to have very little point to it. I’ve read several of the positive reviews and even they can agree there are boring parts and the end makes absolutely no sense – this from people giving the book 5 out of 5 stars. I’m assuming these fans love a cerebral point and that it was established in a modern way.
I have to confess the marketing blurb only suckered me for 75 pages. I rarely if ever put down a book I’m in the middle of reading. I was so depressed from just that chapter that I can’t imagine what I would have felt like if I’d read the entire book! The thing is I really loved the premise! There is always a reason I pick up a book in the first place (in this case the different abilities) and I want to see this reason to its conclusion. In the end, I skipped ahead and read a few pages then skipped to the end of the book and read the last chapter. Simply in the interest of no regrets. I didn’t feel like I missed a thing either! I literally felt like I’d read the book. It was really odd. I simply ended up regretting even trying to find something I could like.
I just could not connect to Ondine or Nix and I really disliked Morgan. Not only that I felt like the characters were freaky and not anyone I’d ever like to read about let alone know. This story had no redeeming quality to it and no marketing blurb, however well written in and of itself, would keep me with these characters. I don’t feel like anything was resolved or that there was really any point to anything that happened in the book. It’s basically a creepy fairy story without a titillating creepiness so much as a sickening horribleness at its nothingness.
I’m so lucky I didn’t buy this book! I checked it out of the library and if you (against my advice) decide to try to read this book I strongly suggest the library in your area before laying out the cash to purchase it. If I could have given the book negative stars I would have! Modern protagonists and their stories have a role to play when they take traditional and contemporary elements and turn them on their ear… An overall premise for a story is great but at the end of the day it only works when there are concrete actions and ideas behind the events the characters are motivated to take. Betwixt failed to motivate its characters or even have plot at all, it’s not enough to successfully carry off the tone or sub-genre of the story.
So which face do you prefer?
Do you ever feel something is off and not know what it is that bothers you? Do you see how it can be a wandering style?
What Young Adult books or series do you fancy?