Let’s Talk: The Sins of Love Triangles

I’m going to suggest something controversial, so bear with me.

Love triangles aren’t as bad as we think they are.

Yep, that’s right. You heard me.

I can hear the collective gasp from here. But Ashley, you cry, love triangles are terrible! How can you say such a thing?!

Alright, put down those tomatoes you’re planning on throwing my way and hear me out.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that LTs are an extremely overused trope, especially in the fiction I tend to read, but as we all know, there are some tropes out there that are extremely enjoyable in their trope-ishness. So why’s this one so bad? Let me just throw something out there:

It’s because they’re not well written.

Uh, huh. I said it. A LOT of authors do not know how to write a good love triangle. Let me tell you why.

A Clear Winner

Plot complications are meant to create drama. They’re supposed to be an emotional roller-coaster. But you know what ruins the fun? Knowing exactly how the damn thing is going to pan out.

One of the main sins of many LTs is a glaringly obvious outcome. Most of the time the author already knows exactly which character is going to win their fair maiden or…er, fair dude’s heart and they’re so damn happy about shipping them that they do an absolutely terrible job of hiding it in their writing. Take Vampire Academy for example. Were Dimitri and Adrian both great characters? You bet, but was there ever a chance in hell Rose was going to end up with our favourite mopey, alcoholic moroi? Not one.

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Even worse, once you know result, every bit of information or scene introduced to try and make it seem like the other side may have a chance (you aren’t fooling me red herrings!) feels like a waste of time and just ends up being extremely frustrating.

Sucky or Underdeveloped Suitors/Suitresses

In a well done triangle, readers should be able to root for both sides of the equation (how do you think Twilight got to where it was?). Going even further, they should be able to understand why the MC might end up with the either one of their potential partners even though it may not necessarily be the reader’s choice. One of the best examples of this is probably found in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices Series. While I may have been drawing hearts with Will and Tessa’s names in them I also adored Jem. Why? Because both suitors were well written and likeable characters, given an even amount of page time, and had vastly different dynamics with Tessa. This meant that Jem as a final decision would have been fine as it made just as much sense as Will did.

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In order for a triangle to work, all characters need to be given a little love by an author – they need their own stories and captivating personalities (I’m looking at you Mal from The Grisha Trilogy *glares* ). It sounds simple but so many authors fail to meet this, with members of their triangles ending up either two dimensional or just complete assholes.

Too Much Angst

It’s time for the worst reason of all. Angst. WHY IS THERE ALWAYS SO MUCH ANGST?? With a situation like a love triangle, of course there’s going to be some emotional turmoil. What would be the point of the plotline without it?

I mean, just sayin’, if there were two amazingly gorgeous men with six packs and killer smiles fighting over me, I’d have an intense internal dilemma too (if only, am I right?) and the same goes for if the person I liked was torn between me and someone else. The problem is, authors have a tendency to flog this emotional horse so hard that it’s died, zombified and then died all over again.

A little bit of pain and suffering among the characters is expected but so much moaning, back and forth, and whinging that I actually want to stab someone is NOT OKAY.

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Writers tend to have this problem when they don’t resolve their triangle quickly enough or they fail to give the plotline an intermission (e.g. the MC dates one suitor exclusively for a while, one suitor exits for a book, etc.).

So let’s be clear – we want some angst okay, just don’t make us take a bath in it.

They Render the MC an Annoying, Senseless Idiot

Most of the LTs you find feature a female character at their centre. Yet, for some reason these storylines have a habit of turning once smart, witty and generally wonderful women into complete morons. Suddenly all they can do is think about their love interests, fall into pits of tear filled despair, and make some really awful life choices. It’s like, girl, get your ass into gear and worry about saving the world! BOYS CAN WAIT.

Then, even worse, there’s the MCs that become almost insufferable in the face of love triangle-dom. Case in point, America Singer from Kiera Cass’s The Selection series. Now there was a girl I wanted to hit with something heavy. Like a dictionary. Or a bus. JUST BLOODY PICK MAXON ALREADY, WE KNOW YOU WANT TO.

If a book has to damage the quality of its MC to make its LT work, it’s doing something wrong.

Let’s Stack Tropes

A LT is a well-used trope on its own. What potentially sends it heading for an iceberg is when authors layer tropes on tropes. It’s like playing a game of Jenga, you’re just waiting for that sucker to fall. One of the most common and annoying ones is the BFF vs New Shiny Object trope. How many times have you read a LT in which one of the suitors is a long-time friend of the MC who’s only just decided to make a move and the other is an intriguing newcomer to their life?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I have faith in the idea that, one day, I will eventually find some other non-cringe worthy love triangle plotlines. ONE DAY. And sure, it’s always easier to criticise than to do but eh, that’s bookish discussions for you.

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Let’s Talk: Are you guys avid haters of the LT trope? What LTs out there have you found that defy the odds? What are some of the worst ones you’ve seen?

Love Ashley

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Let’s Talk: Lending Books

It’s time for another Let’s Talk bookish topic. This time we’re talking lending out books, the pros and cons, because after all, sharing is caring isn’t it? Or so I’ve been told…

PROS

You Save Them Money

Books can be expensive. Whether you’re a serious bookworm or a more casual reader, the costs can easily sneak up on you. One minute you’re going into the bookstore for just one title, the next you’re standing at the counter with a stack bigger than your torso and the shop assistant is reading out a three-figure number while you attempt not to hyperventilate because you know you couldn’t possibly part with any of those beauties.

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By lending there’s at least a little bit of a saving which they can put towards a book neither of you own.

You get to scream about it together!

There’s nothing better than lending a book or series and finding out that your friend loves it just as much as you do. There’s a brief period of joyous screaming, followed by some jumping up and down, and then you get to talk ships, plot twists, favourite characters and mutual grief.

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Plus, if the series is unfinished, you have someone to share in the waiting and go to book launches with. It’s the most awesome thing EVER.

Temporarily Free Bookshelf Space

Books going out means more room for books to come in! WIN. I hear you saying, but Ashley, you’ll have to fit them back in when people return them? HUSH I say, that’s future Ashley’s problem (aka. Game of Tetris).

They’re Likely to Return the Favour

YESSSSS!! You get to save a little money, potentially be exposed to some amazing new reads and don’t have to worry about finding space in your house within the already existing book fort. Sure, if you love the book and want to re-read it later on, you’ll have to either borrow it again or buy a copy, but hey, at least you know it’s worth the effort.

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CONS

Entrusting Someone with your Precious Babies

I’m a nutjob when it comes to my books. I’ve probably gotten a lot better in recent years, but I’m still pretty strict. When you lend books there’s always the concern of: will they treat my book the way I would treat it? Will the spine come back with five million enormous, ugly cracks down it, will the cover be creased, the pages marked, or heaven forbid…they’re a page corner folder…

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Regardless, there’s always a sense of the unknown and accidents do happen to everyone. It’s a roll of the dice.

When Will it Come Back?

Everyone reads at different paces. Some people finish a particular book in one or two days, others take a bit longer. And then there’s others that get busy and just decide to forget about the book or lose all reading motivation until it’s eighty-gazillion years later and I’ve almost forgotten I ever owned the damn book in the first place *cough* one of my friends with A Darker Shade of Magic and Throne of Glass *cough*.

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I just want you to finish it so we can talk about it, OKAY? Is that so much to ask?! Definite word of advice though, make a list of who you lend things to in order to keep track. Especially if it’s books you love.

Book Enjoyment Envy

I’ll admit, I get serious fear of missing out. I could have read a book a zillion times already but you can bet your butt that the minute my friend starts quoting or referencing one of my recommended reads, I will want that book back in my hot little hands for a re-read like the selfish person I am. I can feel you enjoying it from here and I want in, damn it.

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Then I have to wait, during which I will pout and sulk like crazy. But in a totally classy, not pathetic, adult way, of course.

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And that’s all from me. Despite my concerns, I’m definitely in favour of lending. Spread ALL the book love!

Do you guys lend out your books? Why/why not?

If you do, what are some of the books that you try to force onto people the most? Vampire Academy is definitely one of mine but I’ve lent out Harry Potter as well!

Love Ashley

Let’s Talk: Bookish Merchandise

One of the best (and possibly worst financial wise) things bookstagram has introduced to me is bookish merchandise. Who knew there was an even greater way for me to prove just how big a nerd I am? Now that I’ve started, it’s almost impossible to stop! If I’m being honest, I really don’t need any of the stuff I’ve bought under this heading and yet, to sound like an angry two year old at Toys R Us, I WANT it. So, for fun, here are some of my favourite kinds of bookish merch.

Bookmarks

This one’s kind of obvious and at the very least they serve an actual, functional purpose. Do I need millions to choose from? Probably not. Do I collect them anyway and then proceed to stare at them adoringly, why yes, yes I do.

One of my fave types of late are the magnetic character ones. They’re just so damn cute. I don’t even actually use them. Firstly, because I’d want to use all of the main characters at once and who has the time to move six bookmarks at a time, and second, because I’m terrified of tearing my pages . I just stick them on a string across my book case and once I run out of room on that string, I’ll start another one. There’s so many different sizes and designs, and they’re really fun to collect. Plus they don’t take up too much room. Two of my favourite sources at the moment are Nerdygrldesigns and Designs by Theia, both of which can be found on etsy.

The other category of bookmarks that I’m super in love with are wood marks. To be brief – they’re like bookmarks…but made of wood. Whoa. Out there man, I know. They’re gorgeous designs printed onto thin, lovely slices of wood and because of this, every bookmark is unique. They’re light, don’t get turned up at the corners and fit nicely inside the book itself. My supplier is Ink and Wonder Designs. The shipping is super fast and also ridiculously cheap (free in Aus!).

Bookish Candles

I don’t understand my fascination with candles. They burn. That’s it. And yet, they’re just so pretty…(there’s clearly a repressed arsonist buried deep down somewhere). I especially love scented candles. There are so many companies out there now that make scents inspired by different characters, locations and events from popular books. Want something that reminds you of Outlander’s Scottish highlands or The Raven Boys’ Cabeswater? There’s a candle. Always wondered how the mix of smells Feyre attributes to Rhysand comes together? There’s a candle for that. Want to make your room smell like HP’s The Three Broomsticks? Well, you get the point. My go to shop is Burning Page Candles. The products are great but honestly, it’s one of the few bookish candle shops in Aus. Want to see something scarier than a horror movie? Check out shipping rates for candles from the US to Australia. Absolutely terrifying.

Candles

For other Aussie bookworms, there’s also Kool and Co in Perth. US & UK book lovers, the world is your oyster – there are HEAPS of companies – Reverie Library, Meraki Candles, Flickering Tales, Novelly Yours, A Court of Candles, and so on…

Art Prints

Another fairly obvious one. There are some absolutely amazing and talented artists out there that manage to bring life to fictional locations and characters in ways you can’t even imagine. I discover new artists on instagram all the time. The problem is holding myself back from going shopping crazy. You have only so much wall space, Ashley. Society6 is my go to place for prints. You can get them in a number of different sizes and the site often has promotions with free shipping. WIN! So if you’re keen for a couple of Kaz and Inej pics or maybe some fabulous A Darker Shade of Magic quotes, this is the go to.

Tote Bags

I bought a bookish tote a few months back and it’s become one of my favourite buys. There’s nothing better than popping it in my handbag, knowing I’ll be bringing it home full of brand new books. Looks awesome AND I’m helping the environment. Woo! A lot of designers will translate their art print designs onto things like tote bags so places like Red Bubble and Society6 are great for finding these but there’s also individual designers’ etsy pages. I thank EvieBookish for my gorgeous tote! However I’ll continue to sit here patiently until Charlie Bowater’s fabulous Six of Crows tote is available for general purchase… *twiddles thumbs*

Jewellery

I absolutely adore my golden snitch and Arwen Everstar necklaces. I really should branch out and find some more bookish jewellery – people on Insta keep making me jealous! You’ve got your direct examples like Hunger Games Mockingjay pins or Mortal Instruments angel necklaces but across Etsy you can also find some more subtle examples like pendants and earrings. A popular style I’ve noticed lately is those with cut outs from book pages to highlight a few words or a phrase. Desperate for a pair of earrings which show off your true love of Sherlock Holmes or the fact that you’ll never ship anyone as hard as Elizabeth and Darcy? Well, Etsy is the destination for you.

Pop Vinyls

Custom pop figurines for book characters have seemingly become a massive thing all of a sudden. The quality varies from site to site and they’re usually not cheap (understandably of course) but some of them are absolutely awesomely done. I don’t own any custom pops – I own a lot of regular ones (especially Harry Potter ones) but I have been tempted in the past by the occasional well put together one.

And that’s quite enough for now I think! Before you ask, no I don’t rep for any of these companies – just thought I’d share some bookish merch love.

Do you collect any bookish merchandise? If so, what’s your weakness? Shirts, mugs, perhaps tea (yes, it does exist)?

What are some of your favourite online stores? Air hugs and rainbows if they have good Aussie shipping rates *winks*. 

Let’s Talk: Books vs E-Readers vs Audiobooks

In the land of 2017, we bookworms are extremely lucky to have so many different mediums through which to enjoy the wonders of books. While some people argue strongly for sticking to the good old fashioned physical copy, many others have happily gotten on the technological bandwagon in favour of electronic reading devices and audiobooks. But pros and cons considered, which is the one medium to rule them all? Let’s discuss shall we…

E-books

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Pros

Portability

E-readers are so light and compact it’s ridiculous. For less than the weight of one paperback you can carry thousands of books around with you. As someone who’s been hit with a heavy tag on their suitcase before while travelling, I cannot tell you just how amazing it is to have an e-reader.

Cheap!

A lot of the time e-books are significantly cheaper than actual books. What’s even better is that sites like amazon will often do special sales and promotions which might mean you manage to grab a book for a crazy cheap price. I managed to score the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for the price of one paperback, while last month I bought the first in Elise Kova’s new series for $5!

Immediate Purchases

Ever started a series and been so captivated that you just had to have the next book then and there? Yep, I feel ya. Well, with an e-reader, you can! As long as you’ve got an internet connection and the money to burn, you’re mere taps away.

No Spoilers!

Okay, so I have a bad habit of occasionally flicking through my books to see if certain names pop up any time soon (*cough* Edward in New Moon *cough*) or even just accidentally opening the book up to a spoilerific page. My e-reader has fixed both of these problems. I don’t even have to flick to the last page (and risk MAJOR spoilers) just to find out how many pages there are.

Reader Friendly Features

E-readers are full of amazingly user friendly quirks. First, they allow the reader to adjust the size and font of the text which is great for those with sight problems. Second, they always remember exactly where you are in the novel so there’s no need to worry about losing your place or scrambling around in search of a bookmark. Third, they allow you to highlight your favourite quotes for future reference. And lastly, there’s an info database for each book so say you’ve forgotten a character or place, just tap it and the reader will remind you!

Cons

Upfront Expense

You have to be prepared to pay the upfront cost of actually purchasing the e-reader. There are a number of different brands but most of the time, the middle of the range models are above $100 each. In Australia, they’re closer to the $200 mark. On top of that, you’ll also likely  need to buy a cover to keep it safe (that is, if you’re like me and clumsy).

Book Lending

So, even though I’m a crazy person about my books staying in good condition, I love encouraging other people to read things I love and I do this by lending them out. With a paperback, the process is quite simple – hand it over. With e-books, not so much.

Sterile & Electronic

If you’re someone who loves the feel and look of a book, then you’re bound to be a little disappointed with an e-reader as these things disappear. Page turning becomes tapping, the feel is very different in your hands, and there’s certainly none of that new or second hand book smell.

Audiobooks

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Pros

Multi-tasking

Audiobooks are fantastic for people who love books but still want to be able to do other things at the same time. Got some household tasks you need to get out of the way? Pop on an audiobook. Long drive ahead of you? Audiobook to the rescue. Want an alternative to music while exercising? Audiobooks!

Easy on the eyes

When I was a kid I used to visit the optometrist for eye check-ups and every time he’d ask me whether I was remembering to take regularly hourly reading breaks to give my eyes a rest. “Sure,” I’d say, trying not to look guilty as I remembered my 8-hour Harry Potter bender culminating in an eyestrain headache… This is one thing you most certainly don’t need to worry about with audiobooks because there’s no visual element involved!

Great Narrators

There are some audiobooks out there with absolutely fantastic narrators. For those who often have difficulty visualising or imagining certain elements of a story, a good narrator can really help with this. What would the Harry Potter audiobooks have been without the dulcet tones of Mr Stephen Fry? With first person novels, the right narrator can also really help you in getting a better sense of that character. A great example of this is Alana Kerr Collins and her narration of The Bone Season books in which she even manages Paige’s Irish accent.

Cons

Expensive

Depending on where you buy them, audiobooks can be a great deal more expensive than regular books. Sites like audible offer you a free book when you first sign up but buying from sources such as amazon or itunes can mean your books end up costing almost double (or perhaps more) a paperback. Eek!

Time

Reading a book isn’t a flash bang quick process, particularly if you’re a slower reader, but it’s still faster than an audiobook. Even something as reasonably sized as Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones has a run time of over fourteen hours. And if you’re someone who enjoys lengthier novels, something like American Gods clocks in at about twenty hours. Game of Thrones is over 33 ½!

Distraction

Following an audiobook requires you to maintain focus on what you’re hearing for extended periods of time. As a result, there’s always the risk of your mind becoming disengaged and wandering off to other things. I don’t know about you, but I find that my brain tends to do this more often with audio than it does for visual mediums.

Books

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Pros

They’re just so…nice

The feeling of a book in your hands, there’s nothing like it. The most wonderful thing in the world is curling up under the covers with a book, turning the pages and breathing in that new book smell. And after reading and re-reading it, your copy becomes personalised especially to you.

Appearance

One of the things you don’t get with e-readers or audiobooks is the ability to appreciate a beautiful book cover in all its glory. I love being able to look at my paperbacks sitting on my bedside table and seeing the combination of wonderfully colourful spines in my bookcases. Their physical presence in my room and the rest of the house adds more of my personality to it and makes it feel more welcoming.

Book Signings & Dedications

There’s something amazing about getting your physical copy of a book signed by an author. Plus, it’s lovely to receive a book as a gift from a friend or relative with a personal dedication on the inside cover that you can look back on in the future.

CONS

Hard to Hold

This is the only real thing that bugs me about my books, especially if they’re large ones. There are only certain ways you can lie on the bed and still easily see the pages. In some of my favourite positions, my wrist tends to start aching after a bit. Then there’s the moment where my hand slips and they either slam shut or land on my face. Also, as I said before, I ride the train a lot and during peak hour I have to stand up with one hand holding onto something. Holding a heavy-ish physical book with one hand is not exactly fun after about 20 or so minutes. And every time I need to turn the page, it feels like mission impossible – how quickly can I do this before a bump in the tracks rocks the train carriage and I go flying?

I think I’ve covered the rest under the previous sections.

VERDICT: Physical books (but Kindle for holidays!)

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Seems like a pretty illogical verdict based on the pros and cons above but the emotional side will always win in this instance, I think. I just love actual books. I get such a rush of happy feelings when I bring a new book home with me and when I first crack that cover to start reading. I think a lot of you guys probably feel the same way and it’s for this reason that I’m sticking to the opinion that I don’t think physical books will ever die out, regardless of the technology to come.

What’s your favourite way to read? Why?

Love ash 2

Let’s Talk: Pirates, Assassins, and Thieves, Oh my! Why We All Love a Good Antihero

anti-hero – noun

A central character in a story, film, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

I love a good antihero. Considering the rise in the numbers of less than traditional protagonists in recent years, I’m definitely not alone. The anti-hero, in all their shades of grey glory, is definitely not a new feature to literature but these days, the image of the perfect hero is increasingly being left behind. Pirates, assassins, thieves, rebels, vigilantes, it’s pretty clear that these aren’t the kinds of people we’d want to run into on a darkened street, let alone hang out with on a regular basis. The majority of the time these people are engaged in activities we consider less than savoury or if they are acting heroically, in many cases it’s for completely the wrong reasons (money, power, revenge, glory). And yet, why is it that we’re so fascinated and excited by the Victor Vales, Kelsiers,  and Nikolai Lantsovs of the book world?

They’re Diamonds (Flawed)

One of the most appealing parts of anti-heroes is the fact that they’re perfectly imperfect. I think we can all agree when I say, who wants to read about a character that never makes a mistake and is always selfless – let me just polish that halo for you. It’s BORING. Better yet, it’s not realistic. It’s safe to say that there is no person out in the world walking around without at least one flaw, bad habit, or annoying characteristic. Anti-heroes may not always have the same issues that we do or to the same degree, but we can empathise with their fallibility. I’d much rather read about a character who understands that feeling of being happy for a friend while simultaneously being bitter and resentful towards them, or who also wishes they could occasionally punch someone in the face (and does). They make the wrong decisions, fail in their endeavours, or just act simply in their own self-interests from time to time.

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But it’s watching them succeed despite these things that’s so much fun. Sure, Edmund Pevensie’s betrayal of his brother and sisters to the White Witch for attention and affection may make us want to slap a bitch. However, it makes his actions later on in which he overcomes his insecurities (and just plain idiocy) in order to help save Narnia that much more satisfying.

They’re Roller-coasters (Unpredictable and Exciting)

Predictability can be comforting, it’s safe. However, it’s also bloody dull. Typical heroes can always be counted on to dive into the fire to save the world and sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They don’t betray people or suddenly chicken out at the last moment (okay, okay, heroes other than Monty Python’s King Arthur when forced face to face with a bloodthirsty rabbit).

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As a result, a reader can generally work out exactly what they’ll do in any given situation. *Zzzzz* Sorry, I think I just fell asleep in boredom. Anti-heroes on the other hand are a little more unpredictable. You never know exactly when they’re going to move beyond their idiosyncrasies and do something actually heroic.

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Or better yet, just at the point when you start to get too comfortable and think of them more as a hero, bound by certain rules or obligations, they do something so questionable that you’re forced to re-evaluate your entire perspective on them again. A great example of this is Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight in which Mia Corvere tricks, and essentially poisons, a classmate to death in a bitter and misplaced act of revenge. While she may be our protagonist, Kristoff makes it very clear that Mia is far from a haloed hero.

They’re Like Onions (Complex & Layered. Not the Crying Part. Well, Maybe for Some People…)

The best writers create complex characters with interesting backstories and layered personalities. One of my favourite things about reading a book series is comparing my views on, and knowledge about, certain characters at the end to what they were when it first began. Anti-heroes tend to provide some great room for complexity and depth. Mostly because we’re so fascinated by learning exactly how these people have come to be the morally questionable or closed off individuals that they are. I mean, for example, what would Kaz Brekker’s character have been without the flashback devoted to his brother? Or those of a young Lisbeth Salander covering her abusive father in gasoline before setting him on fire? The inclusion of the right moment or experience can irrevocably change a character on the page and in a reader’s eyes. Severus Snape’s entire character was explained and completely altered in the space of one chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. These are the moments I flip page after page searching for because I know that everything will suddenly click into place. Mystery Solved.

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Well, sort of.

They’re Like Businesses (Potential for Growth)

While villains provide one of the best canvases for character growth through the means of a redemption arc, antiheroes also hold a great deal of potential, even if it may not always be in the typical “heroic” direction we expect. One could argue that George RR. Martin’s Arya Stark’s growth could be characterised as the growth from a hero into an anti-hero in that she becomes a stronger, more independent, and morally grey individual so as to allow her to take actions she might once have considered wrong. On the flip, and possibly more satisfying, side of things we have the development of anti-heroes towards acting more like a traditional hero (but still with their own sense of flair). Readers enjoy watching questionable individuals strive to try and be better, to do better.

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There’s nothing more entertaining than an anti-hero experiencing that “Oh, crap” moment where they realise that they’re not a shit enough person to just walk away and leave everyone to misery and destruction. I don’t know about you, but I definitely wanted to cheer when Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora decided to try and save the city’s population rather than hopping the nearest boat and high-tailing it out of there to avoid the blast radius.

They’re Optical Illusions (They Challenge Us to Think Differently. Yes, My Analogies are Getting Worse)

There’s nothing like a whole lot of theft and bunch of mass murders to challenge a reader’s thinking process. Viewed in isolation, the violent acts of characters like Celaena Sardothien or Dexter Morgan would be considered morally questionable at best however, the particulars of their stories (e.g. trying to free a kingdom from tyranny, or the killing or murderers) is what causes us to question and think about ethics. Where does the line sit for our support of certain characters? What happens if they cross it? Just how good a reason does this person need to have to slit someone’s throat and still remain in our good books? The answer will vary from person to person and story to story because there always has to be a line. Stray too far across it and the character is no longer an anti-hero, they’re a villain and I don’t know about you, but I did not sign up for some American Psycho like stuff.

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Bye, Jared Leto!

Then again, maybe you’re someone willing to completely set aside morality for a few hours of reading, simply to live vicariously through someone else. In that case, you do you. Rock on.

There we have it! While there are a great number of pitfalls to anti-hero characters, just like anything in literature, I’ll save the discussion of those for another time.

What do you like and dislike most about anti-hero characters? Who are some of your absolute favourites and why?

Love ash 2

 

Let’s Talk: The Five-Star Novel Checklist

Recently I’ve been feeling the strong urge to try and resurrect my efforts to write a novel. I’ve had the same idea for years and years now, always remaining in the planning stage, but I constantly lose motivation after coming up against wall after wall after wall of PLOT HOLES. Regardless, I’ve been thinking hard about what it is that my favourite reads seem to include or do right and these are just a couple of things I’ve noticed:

Image result for check boxLayered & Complex Characters

This applies to both heroes and villains alike. I don’t want to read about completely pure of heart main characters from which the sun shines out of every orifice, without weaknesses, demons or quirks. It’s flipping BORING. I want to see people push through vulnerabilities, fail on occasion, and sometimes make the wrong choices. They’re a work in progress, constantly being shaped by the events of the story and the characters around them. This is why anti-heroes are so popular these days. Everyone enjoys a little unpredictability in their protagonists and there’s nothing better than watching someone grow as a person during the course of a novel.

The same goes for the antagonist of the story. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with what that group or individual is doing, I want to be able to understand it – to sympathise. Depth is important. If they’re an awful person, how did they come to be that way? What are the stakes for them? I mean, it’s not like they popped out the womb that way. Crazy men who just want to watch the world burn only work in certain circumstances. Okay, just one – this guy:

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That’s about it.  Everyone else better have some realistic motivations.  There is absolutely no logic to having a villain who wants to end the world just cause.

Image result for check boxHumour

I tend to read a lot of fantasy novels in which the characters are forced to come up against some pretty dramatic and trying circumstances. So, things can get pretty dour without the occasional burst of humour. I’m a massive fan of the occasional witty throw-away line of dialogue, burning comebacks and sarcastic retorts, or recurring inside jokes. What would Cassandra Clare’s shadow hunter stories be without their amusing exchanges between the characters. For example:

“Do you remember back at the hotel when you promised that if we lived, you’d get dressed up in a nurse’s outfit and give me a sponge bath?” asked Jace.

“It was Simon who promised you the sponge bath.”

“As soon as I’m back on my feet, handsome,” said Simon.

“I knew we should have left you a rat.”

_______________

“We came to see Jace. Is he alright?”
“I don’t know,” Magnus said. “Does he normally just lie on the floor like that without moving?”

Image result for check boxPlot Twists & Unpredictable Events

Without sounding like an arrogant ass, I’m someone who is usually quite good at predicting how stories will turn out. Usually this is because there are certain lines that most authors refuse to cross e.g. they won’t kill off main characters, they want their key characters to be at the centre of their plot twists, so on and so forth. There’s nothing I love more than reaching a moment in a book that I did not see coming and which sends my mind reeling.

Game of Thrones, in its early books, is a great example in that George RR Martin was willing to brutally murder off many of the characters his readers thought were here for the long haul (we know much better now, of course).

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The first instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is another book that managed to get me, while the twist three-quarters in Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae also hit me real hard *shakes fist at sky*.

I will say though that even if I’m able to predict a plot twist, I’m perfectly okay with it as long as it makes sense and it’s entertaining. The last thing I want is to accidently roll my eyes out of my head at the complete cliché-ness of it all.

Image result for check boxA Gradually Developed Romantic Relationship

As much as I’d love to be able to say: who needs romance, I can’t because the majority (not ALL, but the majority) of my favourite books involve a romantic relationship in some form or another. I really enjoy having some variation in the dynamics between characters. I want something to root for, to ship! However, when I say romance, I do not mean insta-love. One of the things that annoys me the most about romantic relationships in books is how often authors fail to properly develop it before the characters are dropping the ‘L’ bomb and diving headfirst into danger to save the other person. Insta-lust, totally cool. Love, nope, nope, I’m out.

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I’m looking for a gradual build up and an understanding of one another. More importantly, I don’t want the relationship to serve to damage or limit the involved characters. If it’s a story intending to show off a toxic relationship, that’s fine as it’s another kind of plot all together. But if this is something you’ve been dangling in front of my face for an extended period like the carrot before a donkey and it involves two characters I already love, the last thing I want is to see them reduced to shadows of their former selves. In other words, no “I forbid you to do that” or stupid, petty actions that are ridiculously out of character. A perfect example of this is Sarah J Maas’s relationship between Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Mist and Fury (however, not all authors have the luxury of spending the majority of a 600 page book developing their romances). Also important is that the relationship serves to add to the entertainment of the story, not make me want to bash my head against a wall in frustration.

Image result for check boxFantastic Friendships

I mentioned romantic relationships earlier but friendships or close bonds between characters are another must for me in books. I love, love, love watching small groups of people with strong ties come together to support one another or fight against a greater threat. As you read, you can’t help but feel a part of the social circle yourself – whether it be a group of mothers as they support each other through domestic violence, false accusations of school bullying and general feelings of inadequacy in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or a gang of thieves as they attempt to rake in money for their own selfish exploits as in Six of Crows or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

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Where would Eragon have been without the wise-cracking dwarf, Orik, or Gansey without Blue and the rest of the Raven Boys? Exciting plots may be one of the biggest parts of a great novel, but the best bits are the smaller movements between characters.

Image result for check boxExciting World Building

There is nothing I love better than falling into an original and amazing new world – one full of possibility, secrets, histories, maybe even magic. You know a world is great when you’re lapping up any chance to see more of it. Part of the wonder of the A Darker Shade of Magic books, for me, was the excitement of having so many different versions of the same city scattered through different dimensions. And then on top of that were the parts of Kell’s world alone which we never got to see. Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse was so wonderful that people were willing to read a whole different set of books just to see more of it. Meanwhile, Tolkien basically began the modern fantasy genre with the creation of Middle Earth. Never underestimate the power of an expertly crafted world. Just don’t rub my face in every little unnecessary detail of it (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).


I could sit here and talk for ages about more common threads like magic and training sequences but we’d be here forever. So I’ll leave it for now.

What characteristics do your favourite novels tend to have? It could be anything, small or big! General or specific! action sequences, poignant writing, wars, multiple character perspectives, a romantic relationship between best friends – what’s something that makes you fall in love with a story? I ask totally not to help me in my writing pursuits *cough*…

Love ash 2

 

Top 10 Tuesday: Kick-Ass Female Characters

Today marks the beginning of June, a new season, and the second half of the year. Woo! However, today is also the day that the DC comics’ movie, Wonder Woman, opens in cinemas. This is the first big comic book movie ever to focus on a female protagonist. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal! I’m super excited to see the film and it’s got me thinking about the many other wonderfully strong, brave, determined, and just generally kick-ass women who have their origins on the page. There are so many amazing women that come to mind that limiting my list to 10 is a crime, so for now, here’s fourteen:

Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)

It’s impossible to leave Hermione off any list of this nature. She’s kind, courageous, and incredibly smart. While Harry may have been the chosen one, without Hermione both he and Ron would most certainly have died (many times) over the years, and failed a heap of school assignments along the way. Whether she’s solving riddles, crafting massively complicated potions well beyond her years, or erasing someone’s memory, Hermione is most certainly the best person to have in any magical situation.

Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass)

If there’s one thing you can say about Sarah J. Maas, she knows how to write strong, bad-ass women. As a trained assassin, Celaena knows just about every which way to make a person hurt and yet, still takes a great deal of pride in her femininity. When someone can kick your ass wearing a dress and high heels, you know they’re definitely not someone you want to piss off.  Having lost her family and spent several years as a slave, Celaena hasn’t let her suffering slow her down. This is a girl who knows how to best serve revenge: ice cold.

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

Katniss goes through quite a bit over the course of her life – the death of her father, extreme poverty and almost starvation, risking a lifetime of slavery to hunt for game, and that’s all before the books even begin! She’s agile, strong, and a wiz with a bow and arrow, but more importantly, she’s not afraid to throw herself into danger to help the people she cares about or fight back against those who prey on the weak. Even through all of her suffering, Katniss never loses her exceptionally kind heart and it’s from this that she draws her enduring strength of character.

Delilah ‘Lila’ Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic)

A thief, a pirate, a magician, is there anything Lila can’t do? Having been on her own for most of her life, Lila has had to keep herself alive on the rough streets of London. An adventurer at heart, Lila is willing to throw herself into new languages, skills, lands, and experiences without so much as batting an eyelash. Where she finds herself at a physical disadvantage, she relies on quick and creative thinking to get out of tough situations. In doing so, she proves that size and strength are no indication of the trials one may overcome and the enemies they can defeat.

Feyre Archeron (A Court of Thorns and Roses)

My most recently discovered kick-ass protagonist. With her varied and powerful magical abilities, strong will, and determination to protect the human race, she most certainly belongs on this list. Feyre isn’t afraid to speak her mind and call someone out when they’re being a prick. She’s also constantly working to better herself and improve her usefulness to others. Most importantly, she can kill a giant worm utilising only some mud and a couple of old broken bones. If that isn’t kick-ass, I don’t know what is.

Lisbeth Salander (The Millennium Series)

Having grown up with an abusive father, been admitted to a psychiatric facility as a teenager, and survived a sexual assault as an adult, Lisbeth’s life is not a happy one and it’s sometimes difficult to understand how she remains as strong as she does. An exceptional hacker with a photographic memory, Lisbeth is intelligent, calculating, and unafraid of personal expression, even where it makes others uncomfortable. No matter how bad the situation, she never stops fighting. As someone who ties up and tattoos her rapist, sets a man on fire, and even survives being buried alive, Lisbeth is most certainly a kick-ass heroine.

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows)

Inej, or The Wraith, is the right hand woman to thief extraordinaire, Kaz Brekker. Reserved, spiritual, and honest, Inej has the balance and flexibility of an acrobat, and the strength and knife skills of a warrior. Often filling the role of spy, Inej spends much of her time traversing the roof tops of Ketterdam. Kidnapped and sold into prostitution at fourteen, Inej somehow manages to retain an underlying belief in the goodness of others. As someone who is able to move through the night without making a noise, defeat trained assassins, and scale heated metal chutes with only a pair of rubber soled shoes to assist her, Inej is in good company on this list.

Paige Mahoney (The Bone Season)

Paige, also known as the Pale Dreamer, is a member of one of the rarer clairvoyant categories in Scion. She’s powerful enough to enter dreamscapes and push people’s souls out of their bodies. This would be badass on its own but on top of her magical abilities, Paige is also a part of the Seven Seals, one of the more powerful gangs in Scion’s criminal underworld. Her time with such a group has made her very capable of protecting herself, skilled in picking up on small details, and unwilling to give up when the going gets tough.

Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs)

Clarice is a student at the FBI academy and determined to prove herself in a field largely dominated by men. Despite her inexperience and extreme discomfort, Clarice constantly throws herself into each stage of the Buffalo Bill investigation. While others doubt her investigative efforts and hunches, it is through careful questioning, reviewing of the evidence, and persistence that Clarice digs up the necessary clues to identify Bill. With no back up and only her side arm to protect her, Clarice takes on Bill in a final showdown, her success resting on quick thinking and smart use of FBI training.

Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy)

A trained dhampir guardian, Rose is direct, witty, protective, and kicks a lot of ass. Over the course of six books, she decapitates strigoi, overcomes death (repeatedly), fights back against bullies, discovers a way to retrieve her boyfriend’s soul, and travels half way across the world to fulfil a promise. At first a little arrogant, Rose grows and develops, and eventually comes to realise that protecting Moroi isn’t as simple as she’d once thought. She’ll make you laugh, make you cry, and in the end you’ll believe, with a little help from her friends, there’s almost nothing she can’t do.

Kady Grant (The Illuminae Files)

The second hacker on this list, Kady is stubborn, extremely tech savvy, and not afraid to bend the rules from time to time. She’s a bit of a flirt, a little snappy, and likes to go in guns blazing. But when your planet gets attacked, your AI goes psycho, and a zombie outbreak hits your ship, this is the girl you want on your team. She reboots entire computer systems, tracks down even the most secure information, can survive a ship full of murderous infected people, and somehow stays on the good side of the crazy AI. Definite kick-ass protagonist material there.

Irene (The Invisible Library)

Irene is a librarian. An awesome librarian. One who jumps between different universes, fights fey, makes deals with dragons, and solves mysteries with Sherlock Holmes like detectives. She’s level headed, articulate, and yet still able to deliver a beat down to pesky werewolves if need be. Irene is the kind of heroine who will bravely rush in to save a friend but she’ll damn well do her best to plan it out beforehand. If that’s not possible, she’s an expert in improvisation. Plus, you can’t help but love a character with the same appreciation for books as the reader.

Daenerys Targaryen & Arya Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire)

It seemed unfair to pick between these two wonderful female characters. Martin’s women are all well-developed, complicated, and just as strong as the men (in many cases even stronger). Both Dany and Arya have suffered great personal losses and been forced to leave their homes because of them. However, both have also worked extremely hard to reshape themselves into people who can claim what they are due, by force if necessary, and will get revenge for those they have lost. Dany and Arya are determined and resilient characters, and although one may show strength through dragons, and the other a “needle”, each is set to accomplish big things in books to come.


Who are some of your favourite kick-ass heroines?