The most striking childhood memory I have of going to a cemetery was when I was eight or nine, cajoled to tag along with my family to visit my grandmother’s gravesite on All Soul’s Day. Eight-year-old me clutched my mother’s hand, afraid of getting lost in the maze of tombs. In those days, my grandmother’s grave was in the public cemetery where you had to navigate through block after block of “apartment tombs,” the path in between only just barely wide enough for the onslaught of visitors on the busiest day of the cemetery.
Traversing such a crowded place, tombs literally on all sides, really made me realize how claustrophobic I actually was and I had to make an extra effort to clamp down my complaints. My mother promised us that we wouldn’t be there for more than ten minutes, fifteen tops. That at least was a comfort. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could stay at such a grim and dismal place for more than a day.
Over the years, I’ve honed what I now call my three-chapter sniff test. Basically, if I can’t find anything or anyone to care about by chapter three, there’s a huge chance that I’m not going to care about the story as a whole. And I’m usually right. It doesn’t have to be a something big like the main character or the plot. Really, it can be any aspect of the story, from one interesting plot point to a minute worldbuilding detail. In fact, the main reason why I was so taken by Ready Player One – to the point where I literally did not notice the problematic main character, the flimsy plot, and dumb dumb dumb action scenes – was because I fell hard and fast for the concept of OASIS.
Ultimately, readers are looking for one thing when they’re reading a book: a reason to care. It’s a simple enough requirement but anyone who’s ever dabbled in fiction writing will tell you that it’s extremely difficult to execute. Which is why I was so enamored with Helen Scheuerer’s Heart of Mist on the very first chapter alone. In such a short period of time, I cared about Bleak, the tough as nails, aloof main character who, for all intents and purposes, should have made me recoil. I’ve consumed enough media to know how… iffy these types of female characters, especially YA heroines, can be portrayed so I think I was rightly wary. I mean, tough-talking, ostracized, female character, with a pining conventionally attractive childhood friend to boot? Sounds like 80% of the heroines in the genre, let’s be honest.
However I soon learned that while Bleak might seem like the standard no-shits-given main character with a tragic past in a YA fantasy, she’s far from the typical cardboard cutout “badass” heroine.
About a year ago, right around that awful dark period of my early post-grad life, I stumbled upon this eye-catching novella by a familiar author. Rolling in the Deep (yes, exactly like the Adele song) by Mira Grant had a concept that I believe wasn’t (and still isn’t) explored nearly as much as its frilly, Hollywood-esque counterpart – man-eating mermaids. As someone who lives in a tropical country and has lived within reasonable distance from the sea for her entire life, I was intrigued. Mermaids have always had a special place in my heart and is a staple in my country’s telenovela culture (seriously, there was a time when mermaid teleseryes dominated the local TV networks *cough even though they essentially had the same story rehashed a billion times over cough*).
After years of seeing mermaids exclusively as these beautiful, magical dames of the sea that just can’t help themselves around human men (for some reason), it was with great satisfaction to see them portrayed as the bloodthirsty, apex predators of the deep waters as I’ve always suspected them to be. I mean it. Mermaids just can’t possibly look as conventionally “human” pretty as mainstream media depicts them. Things that live and thrive in the deep bellies of the sea look monstrous. Their environment dictates them to have grotesque and dangerous bodies. Just look at the angler fish. They’re terrifying! It makes absolutely no sense that mermaids would have human features instead of practical, hideous anatomies.
But I digress.
I devoured Rolling in the Deep in one sitting and could not wait for the novel to come out. Rolling was the story of how a pseudo-science channel, Imagine Network, sent a hodgepodge of experts in the cruise ship Atargatis to set sail to the Mariana Trench. Though billed as a serious attempt to find and document the existence of mermaids in the deepest part of the ocean, no one on the Atargatis really believed they’d find mermaids. And they were right. They didn’t find mermaids. Mermaids found them. And ate them. All of them.
Into the Drowning Deep is set seven years after the tragedy of Atargatis, starring the sister of one of the ship’s victims and a boatload (literally) of other interesting characters, all of whom aim to prove to the world whether the carnage of the failed cruise ship was a hoax or not. Spoiler: it’s not.
In accordance to my New Year’s resolution to blog more (and blog better… if possible), I’m going to share my surprisingly uplifting progress for this year’s Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. Hardly an interesting topic but there really isn’t anything else going on in my life to talk about so this will have to do. Adulthood is simultaneously exhausting and disappointing and I’ve moaned about that one topic too many times already.
Anyway. Last year’s embarrassing failure still haunts me so I’ve been extra careful not to fall behind this time around. I can never forget that I once pledged a hundred books in 2017, thinking that I had all the time I’d ever need after I’d graduate university, only to chop my goal in half when I had four months left of the year and barely reached a quarter of my goal.
On the first few months of 2017, I was busy stressing about graduation, chasing deadlines, fulfilling requirements that made absolutely no sense, and constantly disassociating whenever the situation called for my full attention. It was pure pandemonium and I had nobody to blame but my own stupid self. In fact, it got so bad that I was convinced that I developed hypertension because of all the headaches and bouts of nausea. Turns out that it was all just stress. My blood pressure’s fine, always has been; I just had a really unhealthy way of dealing with stress, thank god.
Modern adaptations. Loose dystopian science fiction retellings. Dark fantasy treatments. Cinderella’s story is arguably the most adapted and retold fairy tale out of all the classic children’s tales. In the YA genre alone, there are countless novels (not to mention the never-ending film adaptations) that feature Cinderella staples like the cruel step-family intent on making the heroine miserable, a prince charming waiting to be wooed, a fairy godmother itching to help, and a fallen glass slipper (or some other outlandish footwear) leading the prince back to Cinderella. The formula is so familiar, the story done so many times in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for a person to have not seen at least one Cinderella-esque story in their entire life.
There’s a reason why Cinderella’s story is so enduring though. A poor exploited heroine struggling for her own chance of happiness despite the odds against her can easily arouse sympathy to even the least romantic humbug in the room. A sprinkling of magic, a glimmer of that “true love” shtick and a backdrop of a hokey moral (being good and kind always has its rewards), and you’ve got yourself the archetypal escapist fairy tales with a lasting appeal.
However, not all Cinderella stories are created equal. Some faithful adaptations give little to no new material, relying solely on the public’s nostalgic love for the fairy tale, and produce a bland tale. Other loose re-tellings either butcher whatever elements made Cinderella such a timeless classic in favor of adding new flavors and concepts and ruin the story completely. Not to mention the mere fact that Cinderella has been done so many times that people just… get tired of it. Even the most beloved of tales can get unoriginal and uninspired when distilled enough times. And no matter how fancy the decor, how eccentric the appearance, it’s still the same old Cinderella story.
Such was my dilemma with Ashley Poston’s Geekerella. The contemporary young adult novel is about as obvious of a Cinderella re-telling as one can get, the title itself almost unapologetically so. Not even reading the blurb at the back of the book, I knew what to expect. I mean, what else could there be in something so blatant? However, despite all that, I was still intrigued. I had read no reviews of it and wasn’t even familiar with the publishing company that distributed it. Call it my special spidey-book sense tingling but I knew – just knew – that there was something about that book that’s worth checking out. A part of me convinced that I wouldn’t regret it if I give it a try. My instincts were firing off every alarm to get me to splurge just a little bit on this one, unassuming little novel so I had no choice but to comply.
I have a passionate love for books with magic or superpowered people and I’m currently in the processing of writing my own little fantasy tale and, let me tell you, as fun as imagining a make-believe world is, it’s insanely difficult to establish a coherent magic system. Depending on the kind of story you’re writing, a magic/power system can be as comprehensive or as mysterious as you want and oftentimes even just deciding which route to take can be difficult.
In my opinion, a story can have the most fascinating magic/power system ever but if that system doesn’t have consistent rules, if the system can’t even stand under basic scrutiny, then the whole story will flop. Willing suspension of disbelief can only go so far and when you’re dealing with magical folk you’re treading on thin ice to begin with. Now, from what I’ve gleaned from weeks of on-and-off research, making a rational magic/power system is attainable if you take three things into consideration: the verisimilitude of the system, the conflict/s that the system invokes, and the impact of the magic/power to users, non-users, and society as a whole.
As an example, let’s take a look at Marissa Meyer’s triumphant sci-fi adventure series, The Lunar Chronicles. Although the book series doesn’t have as extensive a magic/power system as in a Tolkien tale or any Tamora Pierce book, I believe The Lunar Chronicles is a great example of how a simple superhuman ability can shape a simple story into a complicated, riveting yarn.