Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tirade: The Iron Tree etc. by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Sigh. Such pretty books, such pretty people.
an9ie SMASH!

This is not so much a book review, as an enormous grouse about the waste of time that was Cecilia Dart-Thornton's The Iron Tree, and the even bigger waste of time that was The Well of Tears.

If you are a fan of CDT, please read no further, because you may cry and send me disagreeable comments. Which in turn will make ME cry, right before I delete said comments, chortling through my salty, delicious tears.

First of all, let me say that I used to like Cecilia Dart-Thornton.

I was mesmerised by The Bitterbynde Trilogy, which kept me wide awake and reading ravenously over many sleepless nights.

Cecilia Dart-Thornton derives a lot of inspiration from mythology (always a plus with me), and her stories are very imaginative. She has a very vivid, colourful way of writing that draws you in, however, as soon as you start becoming interested in the story, you are immediately alienated by the protagonists, who always seem to be front-runners in the genetic lottery. But more on that later.

Anyhoo, I just can't get into her second trilogy, The Crowthistle Chronicles.

The writing in this is just so, well, florid. Florid and disconnected. "Overwrought" was another term that I read in a recent review, and I thought it was extremely apt.

Cecilia. Please, I beg you. Here is a word you need to memorise:


You know that writing tip, where they say, go back over your manuscript, and simplify it as much as possible? I think the rule is to cut it down by a third.

It's a really, really good tip.

Learn from masters like C. S. Lewis, Andre Norton, Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper. Their writing appears simple, but it lasts. Classic, clean, and intelligent, it goes the distance.

Their writing is not something you read as a sentimental hormonal teenager and discard as an adult, thinking, hoo-ee, what was I on back then? The best writing lasts you through all the ages of your life, and that's saying something.

And while I doff my cap to you, Cecilia, for writing two lots of best-selling trilogies, the purple prose is starting to become a little burdensome, like an ermine mantle soaked in brine made from the tears of numberless little war orphans.

Oh, whoopsie.

THAT, my friends, is what the books are like.

The trouble is, all the beauteous metaphors tend to get in the way of the story. You're reading about how someone's hair is like the silken coat of a wildcat shimmering in the twilit sky before the time of cities, when the first caveman looked into a limpid pool and saw the reflection of the moon, which was so clear that you could see how it was pitted with craters like the black hairs on a spotted seal's back, and . . .

. . . oh yes, hair, she was talking about the hair.

See how annoying this style of writing can be?

Speaking of hair, the way she kept describing Jarred's (the hero of The Iron Tree) "cardamom-coloured" hair really started to make me antsy. For some reason I kept craving chicken vindaloo. In between wanting to set Jarred's Old Spice hair on fire.

Now, here is the Wikipedia entry for cardamom. If you would be so kind as to direct your attention to the pictures on the right.

What is CDT trying to say?

Is his hair a rich brown colour? Is it green? Is it the colour of cracked wheat? If she's not going to be more specific, it's like me posting a personal ad that goes, "Hey there boys (only those named Nathan Fillion need apply)! I'm a slightly pudgy, ill-tempered, short-sighted female, GSOH, and my hair looks like a sunset filled with wild geese returning to their ancestral homes to nest."

Another word that made me want to reach out for the nearest stuffed toy and bite its head off, was a creature called the "marsh-upial", basically a rip-off of a small cat that lived in the (duh) Marshes.

A marsh-upial? AAARRRRGH! It appalled me that an intelligent woman who did so much research into mythology couldn't even do a simple Google for the origin of the word, "marsupial".

"Marsupial" comes from the Latin marsupium, meaning "pouch." So calling some animal a marsh-upial, and stripping the Latin of its meaning, is calling it a marsh . . . ouch? What the heck is a marsh-ouch? Sigh. Take some Latin lessons from J. K. Rowling, already.

Now, onto that genetic lottery thing. Naturally, I'm just bitter because in comparison my looks seem to be from the $2 scratchie bin.

Why, oh why, are the hero and heroine always THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MAN AND WOMAN IN THE WORLD?

By the time you read the seventeenth description of how their eyes are like stars/jewels/gentian pools, and how their flawless skin is like creamed peaches, and their waists resemble serpents or willow saplings, you can't help but reach for a plastic bag to contain your dry retching until you can stagger to the loo.

What's wrong with being ordinary on the outside and extraordinary on the inside?

What's wrong with being an interesting, complex person who hasn't had their looks to carry them along for their whole life?

At the very least, how about developing the character a bit more before reminding us on every page about how supernaturally good-looking they are?

You can always recognise the lead characters in a Cecilia Dart-Thornton novel. They're the ones whose pulchritude stops chariots, attracts small animals, and drives people to murder.

And of course the best-looking man in the world has to marry the best-looking woman. Gosh forbid they settle for less, or have an ugly child.


Anyway, it's not just me. Look up The Iron Tree or The Well of Tears on Amazon and you'll see quite a few reviews from readers who are just as disgruntled as me.

Well, maybe not just as disgruntled as me. Some days I can be the Grand High Poobah of Disgruntleland.

Oh yeah, I guess I should talk about the novel too. Unfortunately the narrative kept distracting me from the actual plot. Here's a summary of the book in point form:

********SPOILERS FOLLOW (but do you really care?)********
  • The Iron Tree of the title is a plot contrivance that reveals the true ancestry of the hero, Jarred.
  • Despite their incredible beauty, Jarred and Lilith are cursed by blood, and they come to a sad end. But it's OK, you won't care enough to feel bad.
********END OF SPOILERS (seriously dude, you didn't miss much)********

I also started The Well of Tears, the story of their daughter, Jewel, but only got halfway through. She's pretty much exactly as beautiful as her parents, but unfortunately, she's also just as boring, despite being a little feistier than Mum and Dad.

If you would really like to plow through The Crowthistle Chronicles, I would recommend the services of your friendly neighbourhood library. Please don't spend money. Go buy some nice stuffed animals instead, they're super-cuddly and won't mind that you're (comparatively) hideously deformed or don't have food-coloured hair. I was just joking about biting their heads off earlier.

It may also be handy to have some vindaloo on standby, because halfway through The Iron Tree, you'll find yourself gripped by an irrepressible craving for curry. Trust me on this.

Now, to end on a good note, may I recommend some books that you will want to read over and over again, if you haven't already? Note: these books may be of a little more interest to females, and hey, last time I checked . . .

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
Black Trillium, co-written by Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton
A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones


kris said...

Oh crap. Reading "florid and disconnected" made me want to go delete my blog. Gulp. ;)

an9ie said...

NOOOO!!! Touch not a hair of that blog, kris! It's worth a thousand CDT novels!

Anonymous said...

so, now that you've finished reading those, how about picking up that book I lent you again?

- RaZeR

Juliness said...

Oh A - how well I am acquainted with the anger of which you speak. It never seems to fail...authors that we know and love turn to the dark side of verbosity after tasting the sweet exilir of success. (It pisses me off too.)

I adored the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis...devoured them actually, so I must check out the other titles you listed.

And this descriptor? " ermine mantle soaked in brine made from the tears of numberless little war orphans."

Awesome stuff, my friend.

girl and dog said...

When I saw the "hair the color of cardamom" I cracked up! I had hair the color of cardamoms when I was a seven year old blond and spent too much time submerged in a chlorine-laced swimming pool! Hmmm, maybe that's what she was getting at? ;)

ジェネヴィーヴ said...

my hair looks like a sunset filled with wild geese returning to their ancestral homes to nest.
Hahaha that made me laugh really hard.

I've read books that are like that. You have to put them down every hour or so because you're just on adjective- overload. Good lord!

Now I really want some Indian food. Mmmm.

an9ie said...

RazeR - Oh ALRIGHTY I will read your book this weekend. I'll give it 30 minutes to amuse me mightily, or back to Razey's bookshelf it goes!

juliness - Anne Rice is one of my biggest disappointments. After Queen of the Damned, she seemed to lose a lot of fire and started writing potboilers. Sigh.

Please do, they're my favourite books and I read them about once a year.

Hey, I can verbose with the best of them. Do you think CDT needs a ghost writer?

girl and dog - Ah, the cardamom hair. Thank goodness that's over. I think she was trying to be original, but it just made me hungry.

Genevieve - Yeah, you try and read each sentence, going "Oh I see, I have to savour it," and then 5 minutes later you throw the book down, yelling, "GET TO THE POINT, WOMAN!"

I was feeling the muse that day. Right, I'm sending that resume to CDT's publishers!

Anonymous said...

This CAD comic comes to mind:

- RaZeR

an9ie said...

Haha! Overblown similes are always heaps of fun to write. But they're an express train to Boredville for the poor readers :)

Anonymous said...

Have you read any of the Raymond E. Feist books starting with magician? They are fantastic and do seem to get to the point.

an9ie said...

I sure have! I am also a big fan of his Empire collaboration with Janny Wurts :)

LeeBee said...

Thank you thank you thank you. I have been googling desperately for reviews which verbalise my own increasing frustration towards the books (I gave up halfway through the second).

You are eloquent beyond words.

Nikki said...

I have to thank you for the time you spent writing this blog- it worked because it's saved one more poor soul from getting sucked in to reading CDT's second trilogy. After reading your comments I'm convinced. I've written your list of good reads and am looking in to them. I'm bummed though. I indeed loved her writing... You may enjoy this book/author (if you've not yet discovered it...) "A Nameless Witch" by A. Lee Martinez. Enjoy and thanks again!

an9ie said...

LeeBee - thank you! Comments are always appreciated. I'll try to write more reviews when I can :)

Nikki - thanks for the recommendation - I shall see if my local library has it. Always glad to get hot leads from like-minded readers!

Mir.Lynn said...

If only I had looked for reviews before picking up all 3 books of the trilogy at once. I read 4 chapters (at the pace of approximately 3 paragraphs per session before throwing the book down to go do something else) then loaned them to my grandmother, now I'm trudging slowly through The Iron Tree again (since I haven't had a chance to go get any new books) and am almost finished, THANK GOODNESS!

I believe I shall not start the second book and instead go trade all three books into the local used book store for something worth my time.