Although I’ve been a self-proclaimed book reviewer for nearly a decade now, if there was ever a story element that I shied away from as much as possible, it’s themes. And with good reason. Themes are intangible and vague, requiring in-depth analysis to figure out, especially on a long-form story like a novel. For me, if a book is good, it’s good; I’ll leave the theme analysis to people more capable than me. The more concrete story elements like character and plot are more of my jam.
Of course, now that I know better, I realize you can’t actually treat individual story elements without touching upon the theme at all. In fact, story elements don’t exist separately from one another. They’re all interconnected, they’re all related and defined by all the others. The theme just so happens to be the one element that’s more pervasive and subtle than the rest. It weaves the whole story together, makes the sequence of scenes, dialogue, and conflict have some higher meaning.
I didn’t quite understand just how important the theme was until I read a Megan Crewe’s Ruthless Magic, a book that failed at communicating its theme at the most basic level despite having all the necessary tools at its disposal.
Summary: Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages’ Exam.
Disadvantaged by her parents’ low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic. Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth. Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win? [blurb taken from GoodReads]
I meant to write another Epistolary post – since I insisted that it’s a “series” I’m doing on my blog now – but I kept putting it off in favour of working on more interesting, more pressing posts. Honestly, last week was supposed to be that Ruthless Magic in-depth analysis that I’ve been vaguely working on for weeks but… apparently themes are much more difficult to sort out than I expected so that post will have to wait until next year.
Anyway, ever since my first Epistolary, a lot of things have happened. Not all of them good but most of them aren’t nearly as bad as I thought it was. Though my paranoid pea-sized brain does tend to exaggerate every little inconvenience so that’s not really saying much.
Just a little preface in case my actual message/review is buried in my haphazard asides: I LOVED Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger. It was riveting, emotional, and immersive. This book went far beyond my expectations and I went into this book expecting to like it. Spellslinger is a wonderfully magical book that stands out from other recent fantasy novels and is, in my opinion, offensively underrated.
That being said, watch me contrast it to possibly the most overrated fantasy series of all time.
I know that it’s trite and unfair to compare every book about a kid who can use magic to the Harry Potter series but hear me out for a second. Spellslinger might just be the anti-Harry Potter series that we didn’t know we needed. That’s right. I said it.
Whether de Castell intended it or not, most of the elements in the story are almost in complete opposition of everything the Harry Potter books stand for. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the two for a second. (Note: I’m looking at the HP series as a whole while only talking about the first book of the Spellslinger series. Uneven footing, yeah, but I feel like my point still stands.)
In Harry Potter, Harry was brought up in a strikingly non-magical household after the death of his parents. He starts learning how to wield magic and is quite a natural at wizardry. Harry quickly gains fame as a powerful wizard, though people expected nothing less from The Boy Who Lived. Harry immediately falls in love with the magical world and ultimately ends up putting his life on the line for his people.
Spellslinger goes in the exact opposite direction. Kellen grew up in a powerful magical family, both of his (living) parents accomplished mages in their own right. He was taught how to do spells since he was a kid but has always been rather mediocre at practicing actual magic (though he knows all the theories behind the spells to heart). Kellen quickly gains infamy within his clan as the weakest initiate. And, one of the biggest contrasts to Harry, Kellen, over the course of the story, slowly realizes that the magical society that he has loved all his life is actually really, really shitty.
I’ve been meaning to blog about this since last month and I even started working on a draft weeks ago (a sort of May Life Update post) but then something terrible happened. My dog, Lily, died. I was devastated. I knew that I couldn’t write a life update post without talking about my poor baby Lily. Lily was such a huge part of my life for nearly a year and I couldn’t gloss over her like that just because I wasn’t emotionally ready for the task. So I scrapped that idea.
Now, though I still miss my Lily like crazy, I feel it’s time to write about what’s been going on in my life. It’s as dull and uneventful as always (even more so with my puppy, my little slice of heaven, gone) but I believe that I can only move on when I accept things as they are and proceed as planned.
With all that said, here’s an update blog that absolutely no one asked for.
Yes, I am fully aware that NaNoWriMo ended more than a month ago (last year, if you want to be cheeky) but I can’t seem to process anything properly without writing about it ad nauseam and posting my feverish ramblings on the internet for all to see. So I’m going to try and analyze exactly how I failed the online writing contest so catastrophically. I’ll review my tweets that November, cross reference certain good days on my NaNo stats with diary entries/tweets (Twitter is my diary now) and my actual novel-in-progress, and fathom the cause of long stretches of inactivity. Perhaps with this “comprehensive” investigation, I’ll be able to form a better response to my NaNo failure than a simple “I just couldn’t do it” because that is a shitty excuse and I refuse to accept it because fifty thousand words aren’t that impossible to write goddammit.
So my earliest tweet about my NaNoWriMo progress was on day 2. Let’s take a look at what tweeted at half past eight in the evening after presumably a whole day of fruitful writing:
two days into nanowrimo and i'm already thinking about giving up. why is writing so hard it's not fair
Looks like I was doomed from the start. I mean, with optimism like that, is it really any wonder why I couldn’t even hit the halfway mark? Case closed, right? No, no, let’s dig a little bit deeper. I’m sure the story’s much more complicated than this. I definitely remember going through several hurdles. Or at least trying to.