Take a milieu with great possibilities for magic, heroism, and romance: a realm once ruled by four magical queens who combine the powers of the elements, now dominated by the Fire Queen, who is quite mad by any normal standard, and an invading army, there at her behest. Place in this world some potentially very interesting characters: the four women who will become the next Queens, an ambitious adviser with a secret, the street snitches of the capital, the disparate leaders of an army of rebellion, and others. The time is ripe for a restoration of the old order, a peaceful, fruitful land ruled by the four with justice and compassion, although it will be a hard and bitter struggle to get there.
Now kill it.
I love reading, although I can’t always rave about what comes my way. Those of you who’ve followed my career here know that I always try to find something positive to say about every book and every recording that crosses my desk. Everything positive that I can think of to say about Midori Snyder’s Oran Trilogy is in the first paragraph: it’s all in the potential. There is, however, a great deal to be learned from these books, mostly in terms of what not to do.
As you read books, you begin, if you think about it at all, to pick out characteristics that make a good story — one that is not only a pleasure the first time through, but that leaves you feeling satisfied, like a good home-cooked meal — a compelling story with people you care about, couched in language that guides you along, whether that guidance be gentle or strong, so that you want to discover the next word, the next sentence, the next chapter; a pace that keeps you reading, that brings you up in your chair as the action tenses, that lets you relax again as you discovering some new quirk of character, some new detail of setting. Not every book you read has to be a work of genius. It’s enough that they keep your attention, and if you come through it somehow enlightened, so much the better.
I am hard put to discover any of those characteristics in The Oran Trilogy. The story is plot-driven, noticeably so, and pacing is chancy, at best. I can’t imagine what benefit the author felt her story derived from building minute descriptions of characters’ inner thoughts into crisis points in the action. The heroes are largely cardboard, although one can see that Snyder was trying desperately to build some dimension from time to time, and the villains are caricatures who might just as well be in a Saturday morning cartoon. Snyder spends too much time telling us who the characters are and doesn’t really give us a chance to see them in action. Characters continually slide through situations without doing the obvious, even if it’s in their own self-interest. At the very least, if you are going to write of rebellion and war, you should have some rudimentary sense of politics, strategy, and tactics. If your oppressed peasants and their foreign overlords are somehow going to combine to create a new nation, you should lay some groundwork and not present it as an overarching goal of the struggle midway through the last book.
I didn’t really care about these people at all. I just wanted them to finish whatever it was they thought they were doing to so I could write this review and be done with it.
I’m not one who believes that every book has to be terrific. I have my own “guilty secrets” list of books that are flawed, some badly, but I reread them from time to time anyway because there is some quality in them that makes them deserve it, whether it be the lovable protagonist, the brilliant universe-building, a breathtaking plot, magical writing, or some other element that is just too appealing to consign them to the used book store. I can’t place The Oran Trilogy on that list — Snyder missed every chance she had, and above all, committed the unforgivable sin of boring me.
This trilogy was torture. At least it’s over — I can go back to my dank, musty cell and read something.