A while back, I analyzed a book trailer for The Unfinished Song fantasy series. If you want a refresher, here’s the trailer again, too.
At the time, I was impressed enough with the trailer to buy the first book and read it. The series is by Tara Maya and the first book is titled Initiate. Unfortunately, the title of the series is all too apt, but will get to that later.
I’ve struggled with how to go about writing this review. I’ve put it off. I’ve mulled it over. There’s many different pieces I think are worth addressing and the best way I’ve come up with is to start at the beginning.
A story starts with a question. The opening pages and scenes of a traditionally structured story ask a question that should be answered satisfactorily by the end of the story. This isn’t the “What if…” concept question, though that plays a part in it. This is the plot question. The opening question of Initiate is: Will Dindi become a Tavaedi?
There are two primary characters in this story. One is obviously Dindi. The other is a man who is too uncertain of himself to have a solid question. The story jumps from mind to mind, but it all comes back to two things. Will Dindi become a Tavaedi? What will Kavio decide to do with himself now? Those are our questions.
So, that’s your first warning: The story involves many viewpoints. So many that I lost count and it’s a fairly short book, only 173 pages. Now, here’s your second warning: If the author had stuck to Dindi’s and Kavio’s points of view, then this book could be classified as a young adult novel. The sentences and style are simple and straightforward enough to make a good young adult novel. The only big detractor would be the use of unfamiliar (made up?) words to set the milieu of the story, which are not really explained outside of the context of the story. (This relates back to the issue of dumping from an earlier review—too much explanation feels like dumping, but too little leaves the reader feeling a bit detached from the story.) The book includes at least one other point of view that makes the story inappropriate for younger readers.
There is a graphic sex scene in this book. While that, in and of itself, might not be enough to warn off some parents who actually oversee their children’s reading, it gets worse. This graphic sex scene is a rape scene. That there is a sex scene and that it is a rape scene still wouldn’t put off some parents, even if they did oversee their children’s reading, but this is an ambiguous rape scene. The girl is raped, but she doesn’t fight back—she doesn’t even acknowledge to herself that she was raped. As the abuse continues, she even begins to respond physically, even though she is emotionally sickened by it. Instead of any kind of justice, he’s rewarded for his crime and she’s left feeling guilty, confused, and ashamed her entire life.
Now, as an adult, I know this is perfectly realistic. But, for victims of this kind of abuse, it is also traumatic. For our children, it’s too complicated and the implications of harm are too subtle for some of them to really understand. Because of the lack of consequences and the failure of the author to take a clear stand against the behaviors depicted, the result is a scene that glorifies and endorses rape. This impression is further exacerbated when the same woman is subjected to a second round of sexual abuse in the story—the second guy is the only one to really find fault with the first guy, but obviously not because he sexually abused her. So, if you want to allow a child to read this book, at the very least read it first and be prepared to seriously discuss the issues it raises without resolving.
Now, this book, like the last one I reviewed, seems to be a self-published novel. Again, a publisher (Misque Press) is listed, but this publisher doesn’t seem to exist outside of the relationship with this series. Furthermore, this book also strikes me as a journeyman’s efforts; though, this author seems to have more books available for purchase, so this may or may not be the first published book. Unfortunately, unlike the previous book, this book has a major flaw. I’ve seen this before in unpublished novels, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a published novel. Your typical gatekeepers just don’t let this fly.
As an author, I know there are two essential things you need to get right: the beginning and the ending. You need to get the beginning right or else readers will not get into your book enough to ever finish it. You need to get the ending right or else people will not buy your next one. In this book, the beginning was good. The middle was good. Not great, mind you, but good. Even the lead up to the conclusion was good. The conclusion itself was…missing.
As I got closer and closer to the ending, I started to worry. There didn’t seem to be a way for the author, maintaining her pace and style, to finish the book properly. There was too much story left unresolved. There was too much up in the air. The author was running out of words, running out of time, but not running out of story. Then, I got to the end…and being right wasn’t any consolation.
In all fairness, the question (Will Dindi become a Tavaedi?) was answered. Then, the book just stopped. Right there, right at that sentence, the book just stopped.
The book ends with an Author’s Note. “This is just the beginning of the story, of course. I hope you wouldn’t think I’d end a fairy-tale…” I can’t share the rest without spoiling what there is of the ending. The point is that the author knew she hadn’t finished her story, and she decided to stop telling it anyway. That she continues the story in another book doesn’t make up for the fact that she didn’t actually end the first one.
You see, we know Maya wanted to write a series and we know she marketed a series, yet to be a successful series writer, you need to write books. A book is a complete story. Beginning, middle, ending. It’s all there. That’s a book.
Compare this, for a moment, to a television series. The cliff-hanger ending is a common technique in television. You have cliff-hangers before commercial breaks. You have cliff-hangers before the show goes on its mid-season hiatus. You have cliff-hangers between seasons. This works, as long as you know there’s going to be another show. If the show is canceled (um Firefly), then people get upset.
But a book is not a television show. Sure, you have cliff-hangers at the end of chapters. You have cliff-hangers in other important spots, too. You can even have sub-plots end in cliff-hangers. But the primary story should NOT end as a cliff-hanger. The author should know how the story ends and should be able to share that ending with readers. Otherwise, it’s a badly structured story.
You get people like me all angry and riled up, because you left us dissatisfied. That last word is intentional, by the way. I’m not just “unsatisfied.” I’m “dissatisfied.” All the gains the author made in the first 172 pages were lost on page 173, because the book ended on page 173, but the story didn’t. It wasn’t just that there was another story to tell with the same characters. There was more of this story to tell.
So, the story was sufficiently well-told and moving that I want to know how the story ends, but the author bet all her chips on a cliff-hanger ending. She lost that bet, at least with me. To know how this story ends, I have to buy another book and start another story. And I’m not going to do that.
Why? If the story was good enough to get me to the end, why won’t I see it through?
Because I don’t trust her to ever end it. I don’t trust her to know what an ending is or how to write one. I don’t trust her to write a story that actually satisfies me as a reader. I simply don’t trust her. And that’s kind of sad, because up until then, she had promise. But I will not spend my money only to have her do this again, and again, and again. No. Not going to happen. Repeat business relies on trust, and trust has been broken.
I don’t consider it a complete waste of money, however. I enjoyed the fact that this book was shorter than my usual fantasy fare. It gave me ideas for a certain story that wasn’t really a short story but wasn’t quite long enough to be the kind of novel I usually try to write either. Of course, I’ll make sure my attempt at a short novel actually has a proper ending.
But that’s just me. Up until the non-ending, it was a good book. If you, as a potential reader, can stand the fact that you’re buying an incomplete book, then by all means go for it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.