Monday, July 26, 2010

Thoughts on Reactions to Starlighter

Thomas Booher has posted some interesting thoughts on his Yellow House News - Christian Fantasy blog  concerning the state of Christian fantasy for young adults. His remarks prompted a mini-debate with Rebecca LuElla Miller in the comments. You may not agree with everything Booher has to say, particularly if you liked Starlighter, but his remarks are worth a read for the alternative perspective.

In short, Booher does not like the writing in Bryan Davis's Starlighter although I believe he finds parts of the story compelling. Some of his criticisms are valid. He finds the pacing too fast and argues that it detracts from character development. I agree that the pacing, particularly in respect to the Jason narrative line, is too fast. As I stated in a previous post, we do not often see Jason in situations that are not fraught with danger. However, I think Davis is trying to explore Jason's character as he reacts to adversity. Putting someone in a stressful situation often brings our their true character. We need more of a balance with Jason. I want to see him reflecting on recent events, especially in conversation with other characters. Perhaps in the  next volume we'll see a lot of Jason and Koren talking as their raft drifts down the river. We also could use some more reflection on Randall's change from foe to friend. The transition is sketched but the rush of events do not leave much time for exploration. Both Jason's and Randall's characters could have been explored to more depth if the search for the portal spanned multiple days and provided opportunities to talk around the campfire. The pacing of the Koren narrative is slower and that may be why I found her the most compelling character. I think I would have been happy to read a book just about Koren and the dragons. Booher finds Tibalt Blackstone the most compelling character. I agree he is memorable but he's missing for much of the story, particularly the later chapters where he is  literally stuck holding the door.

Booher also finds fault with Davis's method of exploring a character's thoughts through a series of rhetorical questions. I too find the method obtrusive. It's difficult to insert that type of question in a narrative without it sounding unnatural. The questions do not suggest anything surprising but summarize what I already suspect the character is thinking. I had forgotten about them by the time I wrote my reviews. They are a blemish on the narrative but not enough to spoil the story's strengths.

In the comments to his second day post, Booher states that "Bryan is simply not a very good writer." I think that is unfair. Davis has published several novels with an established publisher. That is not an easy thing to do. His work is "peer reviewed" in that it must pass muster with at least an agent and the editors at the publishing house. It's important to review the book the author has written and not the one you want the author to write. You can't fault a carpenter for not building a desk when he set out to build a coffee table. To be fair, all you can do is remark on the merits and flaws of the coffee table and suggest he next set his sights on the desk you're hoping for. You wouldn't approach a book by John Gardner, author of the James Bond series, with the same expectations you would approach the work of John Champlin Gardner, author of Grendel. After reading Jill Williamson's interview with Bryan Davis, I believe Davis knows exactly what kind of book he wants to write and I think he's achieving it within the boundaries he has set. Would I like to see him expand his boundaries, slow down the pace, and spend more time on character development? Yes, but that may not be what interests Davis the writer.

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