Top critical review
No character arc for the protagonist (WARNING: contains SPOILERS)
2 November 2018
Serena Smith lives in a small village on the farthest outlying area of her land. An 18 year old young woman, her life had been stricken with grief since her mother’s death, and only went downhill from there with the introduction of an evil stepmother, then the death of her father, a molesting friend of the stepmother, then having to go through witch trials where she faced being burnt at the stake. The judges make a concession for her and she is exiled to the forest in a cage with little food and water and warm clothes. Here she faces a murderous rapist who is about to rape her but she gets rescued in the last minute by two fae who are slavers of humans for the fae realm.
Serena, despite so many tragedies and misfortune, so much grief and abuse, seems never to change. The whole point of adding trails and tribulations is to change the way the character develops but Serena never grows up. Her mental and emotional age is that of a 15 year old, and temprement is that of a spoilt high school girl with little imagination.
The author tries to make her sassy but it comes off as naive and silly. Her remarks and thoughts are very girly and childish. After all the treachery she saw and the injustice of her village, she is constantly craving to go back there, where she knows her return would jeopardise the lives of the only two people (the baker and his wife) who ever cared for her besides her parents.
After being kidnapped but also saved from rape and murder, I think anyone would be just a little relieved to live another day, knowing she won’t be sacrificed or killed by the fae, but Serena was utterly appalled at the fact that her rapist was killed and gutted. Frankly I would have been thankful, she complained incessantly to her captor and this didn’t stop even when he put his life on the line for her and saved her from the slave market to be in the safest and most tolerant place for her.
So starts Serena’s life in the Riverlands where she is training to become a solider alongside other fae, humans and human witches. She immediately makes friends and allies, and there are threats from three known bullies, but she is protected after a scuffle with the bullies by her new friends.
A series of elimination trials begin after she trained intensively. She luckily gets grouped up with all her friends and allies, most of whom having formidable skills and strength. The trails are reminiscent of Hunger Games but a lot less violent and with much fewer danger to life, so they are more like an upgraded Scouts challenges, with magic involved, a swamp witch, sprites, the standard bullies of the camp, etc.
I’m now about 70% through the book and there is a huge revelation for Serena. It feels abrupt and I realise that the book won’t be finished but is a part of a series given the pace of the plot and all that is prophesied for her by a swamp witch and the revelations by a Priestess. Even at this point, Serena is a nervous, twitchy, frightened high school girl. She falls for an instructor and has the emotional maturity of a 15 year old girl, getting wobbly at the knees over a buff handsome noteworthy fae warrior then insanely jealous over any female who so much as smiles at him, blushing at every mention of him. The character could have been kept so naive and girly to appeal to a younger audience but it was getting boring and I just wasn’t buying it. How can a character remain so jittery, scared, frightened and suspicious of most things, so immature, at the brink of fainting at every new revelation and swooning so much with her crush.
Compared to many fantasy characters, serenas life after the kidnapped by the fae seems positively blessed especially given her life in the village, though there are challenges, enough to have hardened her a tad and given her more gumption, her character more edge, a sharper mind, more imagination, etc. This so far has not come to pass. It’s just seems impossible for a mind not to have matured even a little or changed in some interesting ways, when I’d expect any psyche to undergo some very interesting arcs and developments after having gone through so many challenges.
If Serena was a side character, I’d like to have seen her get killed off because she is uninteresting. In fact, the side characters are given more grit and personality than the protagonist, and some undergo good arcs eg. frazer. I always want to know more about the side characters than about Serena herself, even after now knowing her origins which are revealed about 60% through the book.
Since I haven’t finished the book yet, I’ll come back and write another review if anything has changed and suddenly things are developing in an interesting way inside Serena’s head. Since it’s a first person narrative from Serena’s perspective, I’m pretty much stuck inside just her mind, and wish that this book was written a little like Game of Thrones where different chapters have different perspectives from other characters and so decentralising the book a bit more, especially since it looks to be one in series. Being inside Serena’s brain is one hell of a dull flat ride, moreover it’s not convincing.