Usually, funky names intrigue me. There are a few of them in my own writing. They can make characters distinct from one another, add interest, give clues to cultural or language differences, and hint at the core personality of characters. The protagonist's name in By Darkness Hid is a prime example: "Achan", the various interpretations of which involve "trouble" -- and the main character does indeed encounter trouble. However, some of the character and place names in the novel felt awkward, as there was almost too much effort to make the world feel real.
But, as long-time readers of this blog know, I do love maps, and there's a nifty one at the front of the book.
Because he's the hero, I knew I was supposed to be interested in what happens to Achan, but -- to be honest -- I really didn't care much at the beginning. For one thing, his patient submission to Poril's beatings. I didn't buy it. I've been whupped with everything from Momma's hand to Daddy's belt to a willow switch I had to cut myself, and there wasn't any quiet submission about any of it. I anticipated the pain -- that's almost worse than the actual pain -- and had a way of twisting out of the path of whatever was aimed at my backside. Unfortunately, that skill only made my parents angrier, so maybe that wasn't such a good plan.
The early scene where Sir Gavin gives Achan his first lesson in sword fighting is well done, the characters speak with confidence, and the writing seems to even out a bit. It's the first place in the book that feels real, and it's where I began to be interested.
Although Williamson pointed out in a comment on my Day 1 post that Marcher Lord Press doesn't publish young adult fiction, it fits nicely into that category. In earlier blog posts, I listed some of my favorite childhood authors, and described the vagaries of imagination. There are some names missing from that list of authors -- Lloyd Alexander, for example. I was first introduced to his work in the Prydain Chronicles, and the stories so captured my attention that I didn't notice their spare style until I re-visited them as an adult. The Chronicles are classic children's literature that many a grown-up still reads with delight.
As a young reader, I forgave authors much, especially if I liked the stories they were telling. However, as I grew up and pursued my own writing, I started looking critically at all work -- mine and theirs -- and sometimes it's difficult to turn off that editor. I realize an author has done his or her job when I make it all the way through a book without thinking about its construction, or how a paragraph could have been structured differently, or keeping a tally of all the unnecessary sentences.
Or unintentionally comical ones, such as the second sentence of By Darkness Hid:
The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic.His tunic shivered?
Yeah, we all know what the author meant, but that's not what she wrote.
As I said before, it's hard sometimes for the editor to turn off and allow the reader to just enjoy.
By not being 100% enthusiastic, I've probably committed sacrilege this go-'round. However, I also know that my own writing doesn't appeal to a broad spectrum, and I've sat through some unexpected and harsh criticisms of what I considered my best work. It happens. But we should all be free to like what we like, to write what we write, to be allowed to offer an opposing opinion.
That doesn't mean I didn't like the book as a whole. By Darkness Hid is an award-winning novel, and has opened doors for Williamson to teach creative writing to kids, and that's awesome. Any chance to get kids interested in literature, literacy, and creativity is an opportunity not to be missed.