Mary Sue (n.) : (1) A type of story where characterization, plot and theme is supplanted by the author’s quest for his or her own wish fulfillment. (2) any character that is a thinly disguised idealized version of the author when the story suffers from such usage. The term is almost always derogatory.
When my editor let me know that three new bodice-rippers had just come in, I eagerly snapped them up. I was looking forward to a bit of light reading; Staying Dead, another book in Luna’s line of fantasy romances, was an enjoyable diversion. Hey, I read romances from time to time (I used to go through two Harlequins a night back in high school — hooray for used bookstores!) How bad could this be?
The first novel I started on was Poison Study. I almost feel bad lumping this book in with the other two, but what the heck. It’s an entertaining story about Yelena, a young girl slated for execution who gets one last chance at life. But it’s a double-edged sword, since her new career will be as a food taster for the Commander of Ixia. There’s a whiff of Mary Sue about Yelena; she’s amazingly good at making friends, and she has a staggering amount of magical power that she must learn to control. But her character is flawed enough to pull the story above author fantasy, and I warmed up to Yelena as the book progressed.
The author herself is a good storyteller, keeping the pace light, but interesting, throughout. The supporting characters may be thinly drawn, but they’re fleshed out just enough to make them worth caring about. There are occasional lapses of voice, where the characters break from their usual way of speaking and use typical modern slang, but this may be corrected in the final publication draft. Poison Study would make a good beach read, since the simple story doesn’t take much effort to follow. In fact, it reads like a young adult novel, similar to Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy in feel and substance. YA or not, in several instances I found myself turning the pages, wanting to know what was going to happen next.
Here’s where the going gets rough.
The second book, Cast In Shadow, has an interesting premise, but an author that seems too overwhelmed by her own story to make the book worth reading. Plus, her wish to be a part of that story, via her main character (Mary Sue) Kaylin Neya, is patently obvious. Kaylin is gifted with a magical power of healing, which is, of course, very rare in these here parts. Even though she was born and raised “on the streets,” she quickly rises to an enviable position within a section of the local government’s prestigious Hawk force. And though her character is disrespectful and has the personality of burnt toast, she is respected, adored or indulged by almost everyone who meets her. Even the markings on her arms, similar to those found on the bodies of murdered children, are special: she’s becoming an all powerful god, or a conduit of those gods, or something like that. Oh, who cares. It’s all just too breathtakingly awful.
The author tries to introduce several types of races and many sections of the land’s confusing hierarchy, but it comes out as a garbled mess. She never seems to be able to sit down and provide enough exposition to make anything understandable; the book reads as if she’s so deep into her own story that she’s forgotten to let her readers in on the basics. Since the story is weak and the characters are two-dimensional, it doesn’t really make much difference.
Oh yeah, the love interest? Kaylin’s love object, Severn (whom she hates, of course), is barely noticeable, but since this book is part one of a series (shudder), perhaps he’ll get more time later. But I wouldn’t bet on it. And since I wouldn’t touch the sequel to this story with a ten-foot pole, it’s not like I’m ever going to find out. I suffered through 409 pages already. I think that’s about enough.
Destined Queen was the last book I attempted. I say that because I couldn’t get past the first three pages. It starts off with a bang (or right after a bang, to be precise), whipping out every cliché the author could get her hands on. I was amazed that she was able to cram so many of them into the first page, let alone the first chapter. And the fact that she starts her novel off with no introduction, no exposition and no plot whatsoever was appalling. Okay, so the author gets into a tiny bit of muddled backstory on page three, but I was so disgusted by the blatant wish fulfillment that I closed the book, closed my eyes, and prayed it would be burned out of my memory.
After visiting Luna’s Web site, I realized that this book is a sequel to The Wizard’s Ward, which had been published a few months earlier. I had ceased to care by that point, though. Sequels are fine, but not if the opening chapter sounds like it should have been tacked onto the previous volume. I went from “what the heck?” to “for crying out loud . . . .” to “forget it!” in less than three pages. I believe that’s a new world record. The thought of actually finishing this third entry, slogging through another poorly written travesty — one that promised to be even worse than the one I had read before, if that’s possible — made me want to crawl under my bed and pretend I had never received these books in the first place. I expect to stumble on that kind of Mary Sue-age (or just plain sewage) from badly written fiction penned by slavish fans of genre works. Finding it in published novels is a disappointment.
Although Cast In Shadow and Destined Queen have already been released on an unsuspecting world, Poison Study doesn’t come out until later this month. That’s a shame, since it’s the only book of the three worth reading; I just may pick up the next installment of Yelena’s story to see how things turn out. I almost wish that I had saved Poison Study for last, but then I probably wouldn’t have read it at all, since the other two were so terrifically bad. The other two books are going straight into the bin. Good riddance to bad rubbish? You betcha.
(All: Luna, 2005)