Alright, it’s time for my very first Reasons I DNF This Book review. Before we get started, a couple disclaimers:
- I thought long and hard about whether or not to actually identify the books I’ll be discussing in this series. It is definitely not my intention to name and shame here. That said, this is still a review series and these are my honest thoughts on particular works. It would be kinda hard to talk about why I couldn’t finish a book if I’m not able to get into specifics. So, while I will be identifying the titles here, bear in mind that this is just one self-admitted picky reader’s opinion.
- Since I did not finish these books, I am judging them based on the information I was given. Maybe it gets more interesting later. Maybe another character is introduced that changes the landscape. Maybe there’s a cliffhanger that makes it all worth it. I can’t speak to those, however, because what I did read wasn’t enough to compel me to finish. All of that to say, I may make a factual error or two simply because I don’t have all the information. It’s not done maliciously.
- And lastly, as always:
Although somewhat less so since, you know, I didn’t finish. Anyway, here we go.
This week’s DNF: Fireblood by Jeff Wheeler; DNF at 53%
I picked this book as the first for this review series, because my biggest issues with it are pretty simple: the characters. As such I’m not gonna get into the plot too much, so sorry for the vagueness. The story follows three main characters, plus a fourth somewhat absent character that still manages to drive a lot of the plot. Three are men, one woman.
Character 1: Annon. Annon is angry. It is very important that we remember this, because we are constantly reminded of it in the prose. In fact that anger seems to be the main thrust of his entire character, despite him being just a young man of 18 and we aren’t really given much of a reason for why he’s so angry. Early in the story he learns he has a sister and is instantly, vehemently protective of her, despite never having met her. He also takes issue (at least at first) with another young man who joins their quest… because he’s a man, I think? Who makes eyes at his newfound sister? I don’t know, it’s all very rote and cliché, and feels rather superficial. Like, I get some people would just jump in and feel an immediate familial bond upon suddenly learning as an adult that they have a close blood relation, but… it didn’t feel earned. Annon was quick to jump at the call to pRoTeCt his sIsTeR but the two were never given a chance to really get to know each other before they had to go do the thing. Which meant I had to suspend my disbelief that these two utter strangers would then join a third stranger to go on this life-changing journey to find some mysterious treasure at the behest of an uncle who is essentially yet another stranger?
Character 2: Paedrin. Honestly, the most memorable thing about Paedrin is his introductory scene, and it only stood out to me because it was a fight scene (*ahem* sorry, a sparring sequence) that was… well, let’s just say lovingly-detailed is putting it mildly. That the whole thing was done as an attempt to get a cute girl to notice him? Cue the eye rolls. Paedrin continued to be underwhelming and bland after that, his most interesting feature being that he is clearly set up to be the only female character’s (of consequence) love interest. Which leads us to…
Character 3: Hettie. Hettie is the aforementioned mystery sister of Annon and affection receptacle of Paedrin. When first introduced to her, I remarked in my notes PROTECT HER AT ALL COST simply because she was the only woman in the story. She did have spunk and personality, which already made her more interesting than the boys, but, more importantly, she is the only female character in this book (of consequence). And that right there forms the crux of why I could not finish. Hettie is one of the three main characters, she is pretty much the whole reason the heroes are going on their grand adventure in the first place, and yet we aren’t afforded a chance to even meet her until Paedrin has a POV chapter dedicated to ogling her. She doesn’t get her own POV chapter until we are almost halfway through the entire book. Why, you might wonder. Well, friend, because she’s actually been working for one of the bad guys all along and plans to betray her new friends (and brother). Because of fucking course she is.
It was this reveal that led to me putting this book down for good, after struggling through the first 50% for two weeks. This book managed to make its only female character a nexus of awful clichés for women in fiction. I haven’t even mentioned that the driving force behind this novel is the fact that she’s about to be sold into slavery and the heroes are trying to stop it. So. To recap: the novel’s only female character is smart and fiery (in some scenes literally), yet she’s imperiled by circumstances beyond her control, the men in her life consist of a mystery brother who’s never met her but wants to SAVE HER from SLAVERY because she’s his SISTER (not because he cares about who she is as a person or anything), a bodyguard who has the hots for her and therefore also wants to SAVE HER, and an uncle who is mysterious and edgy and orchestrated the whole misadventure, because he also wants to SAVE HER. But, surprise, she actually has been planning on betraying them all this whole time! Which feels like some cheap attempt at actual agency, but considering the setup it comes off really weak and tropey.
All told the premise had promise, but I thought Wheeler’s prose was a little dry and the story itself lacking in any interesting action (at halfway through I remember thinking that not a lot happened yet and I’m already at the midpoint??). Couple that with the bland characters and it’s complete mishandling of its only female protagonist (only female full stop, really), I wasn’t sad to close the door on it.
(There’s also something to be said about the harmful Romani stereotypes the novel traffics in. Weaver doesn’t even try to hide them, he actually uses the term Romani! I bet you’ll never guess what people are responsible for selling Hettie into slavery!!!! Yeah, it’s super gross. I’m not Romani so I don’t feel qualified to dig into this topic specifically, but felt it worth mentioning, especially since it was so blatant.)
Did I mention I sometimes think I should have been an editor? It’s posts like these that remind me of that. Anyway, thanks for joining my on my inaugural Reasons I DNF This Book. If you agree or disagree with my thoughts on Fireblood please comment below. I’ll be back next week for Your Mileage May Vary, where I hope to discuss Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger, as well as on Thursday and Sunday for a regular blog post and Short But Sweet respectively. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.