I bought Angel’s Fury by Bryony Pearce on July 12, 2012. Read the first three sentences (at the very least) on August 1, and wrote to her on twitter that very day to let her know that I’d just ‘had my faith in the entire genre restored’. Why? ‘No adjectives whatsoever!’
……. Bryony’s debut novel is the first supernatural novel I’ve actually read since starting work on my own series. I stumbled back into fantasy territory some two years back after five years spent happily apart, and I was surprised to find it a more daunting task than first imagined. Undoubtedly because I’d moved more as a writer in those five years (heck! In the last two of those five years) than I did in the eight years leading up to eighteen and my finally giving up on the genre, which meant that my approach the second time around was quite different. Two years with the National Academy of Writing, spear-headed by Richard Beard and his masterclasses, taught me to read as a writer as opposed to a reader and that, that is the most important thing that’s happened to me yet. It’s also the reason reading Bryony’s Angel’s Fury was such a two-level thing for me in a way that few other novels have been, because my writing in the genre and, maybe more importantly, doing research in it, really has added to the experience of reading novels from it. Coming at it with my own thoughts and ideas and worries (not to mention downright fears) and questions in mind, there’s something utterly intriguing about seeing just how others have gone about doing these things, not to mention something utterly encouraging, which is what Angel’s Fury was to me – encouraging. Why? Let me count the ways.
……. There’s that aforementioned writing. When I first realised that I was indeed going to have another go at this genre, I did what seemed like a pretty good idea, albeit discouraging (and I had a feeling it would be) – I went to Waterstone’s and got, I think it was, five novels from the shelves that I reckoned my series would end up on. Of those five, I remember two were by L. J. Smith, just because I so loyally tune in and watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries every week, and one was by Charlaine Harris. (Ain’t nuffin wrong with a bit of True Blood either, is there?)
……. Of the two, Smith stood out to me the most. Undoubtedly because her writing was far worse than Harris’ (which, I must admit, hasn’t made a lasting impression, but considering what it took for Smith to make one, that may just be a good thing), and it bothered me. Mostly because I wouldn’t have minded re-acquainting myself with Damon, Stefan and Elena, but there’s only so much wanting can carry you through.
……. When I mentioned those adjectives to Pearce in that tweet, and my excitement at their absence, it’s because they’re my biggest pet peeve. Not just in genre fiction, but in fiction in general. Granted, a fan of keeping it simple, keeping it clean, I’m biased. I’d rather have one too little than one too many. Smith? She seems quite fond of them. Moreso in groups of three or four at a time. ‘It seemed cheap and nasty and unnecessary and cruel’? That one will probably always spring to mind when Smith comes up in conversation. Also when adjectives do. Most definitely when that whole commercial versus literary debate takes off, because if this is what people think of when they think genre fiction – and considering how well Smith has done for herself (one successful TV adaptation and a failed one, which, yes, is a failed one, but an adaptation nonetheless), she may just be what some people think of when they talk genre, or the one whom some people know best (I wouldn’t know, but I suspect some people are diehard The Vampire Diaries or The Secret Circle fans before diehards of any other fandom) – if this is what they think of, then I can hardly blame them. Even less so because the sentence that follows that one and its four adjectives, which kind of all mean the same in that particular situation, is summed up in yet another one, which is the adjective ashamed. As in ‘[s]he was ashamed to be part of it’, which, as far as I’m concerned, means she might as well have scrapped that other sentence altogether. Why? The fact that that last adjective covers what she decided to spend five to say aside, this is a prime example of writing making me feel like my intelligence is expected to be at least somewhat below average – Smith pointing it all out to me. You know, just to make sure I got it. Kind of like how Cassie keeps saying Portia’s name at the end of every sentence in chapter one (fact: might be exaggerating here, but still) just so I wouldn’t expect her to be talking to one of the other groups of people on the beach. You know – the ones that are by no means sitting right by them and their conversation. God.
……. Pearce, though, she doesn’t do any of that. Not the adjective overkill, not the condescension. She takes one for Team Subtle, takes her time to get to where she wants. Touches upon things, such as Pandra’s natural dislike for Seth, with such ease that had you any less confidence in her skill as a storyteller, you might think she forgot about it. (Dear reader – she didn’t.)
……. A friend of mine, who is undoubtedly the writer I have the greatest respect for out of all the lots in all the lands, once said to me that the most common mistake among writers, in her humble opinion (which is totally legit in my opinion, but again, I may be biased), is that people don’t give the story time to unfold at its own pace. I think that might be why I liked Angel’s Fury so much – its, to me, complete disregard (and rightly so) for the (expected?) pace. Which kind of sounds like a negative, but it’s not meant as such, because what it does that I don’t feel like novels (to my very limited knowledge) always do properly in these kinds of genres, is that it puts the character at the centre of it all – not the action, not the plot, but the character. I like some stillness in-between the storms. I like some interactions and dialogues that actually pique my interest because you kind of feel like something is being said even though it’s not said explicitly. In short, I like to use my brain. And I like characters that make me want to do that, characters I want to engage with, ones I could actually see myself having a talk with – and a proper talk at that – if I ran into them in the street. To me, Cassie, the main character of Angel’s Fury, is just that.
……. Other things of note as far as this novel’s concerned? (Possible SPOILER ALERTs ahead!) I loved that there wasn’t a love triangle at the heart of it, which mostly seems to be the norm these days. For a moment there, I thought there might be some history (clever, innit? Using the word history of all the words out there) between Pandra and Seth, and while I probably wouldn’t have thought less of the novel, had that been the case – because I honestly think this is a writer who would’ve been able to put a proper spin on it and somehow give the most unoriginal of plotlines an original twist – I was so excited to see Pearce go down a different route that didn’t have a love triangle at its core. (Mind you, the lack of overly hormone-driven teenagers did make for one surprised reader when that office scene went down.) I admit I didn’t see that one coming and it was refreshing. As was the introduction of Seth far enough into the novel for me to start wondering altogether whether or not we’d get a male character to root for (I know. Silly thing to question), and, even though the dreams were obviously unusual, the fact that we weren’t introduced to the facts earlier actually made me start wondering whether or not we’d have supernatural entities despite the fact that the blurb on the back clearly states that they’re there.
……. All in all, more times than not this novel had me questioning pretty much everything, and in those moments when I thought to myself that I didn’t know if Pearce would be able to pull it off (I vividly remember eventually thinking, as Seth had yet to turn up, that we’d gone so long without a love interest of some kind that I didn’t know if it’d feel right if one showed up), she proved me wrong (all he had to do was arrive and I was like, ‘f*ck yeah!’) and that may just be what was most interesting to me, as a writer, throughout – that slight doubt that crept in every once in a while, and how easily Pearce squashed it time and time again. If that isn’t the sign of an author doing something right, I don’t know what is.
Oh, and the cover –
– isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t have one single black-haired girl in a black dress standing around, looking all emo on it. Marvellous!
For the Author Q&A, stay tuned.