I recently finished reading Joe Abercrombie’s The First LawTrilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much and I think Abercrombie is a great writer. But dialogue and the ending were the two things that stood out for me as flawed. I make my comments on the dialogue as a writer and my comments on the ending as a reader.
Abercrombie uses alternative dialogue tags instead of ‘said’ a lot. There are literally rivers of growled, grunted, hissed and more. Not only does he use these alternatives copiously, but I felt he was repetitive in his choices. Grunted and hissed were used with disproportionate frequency – obviously, because I noticed, right?
As writers, this is something we are told to do with care and even then in small doses. I don’t think either rule was followed in this case and the story suffered for it. Not significantly, but it did eventually annoy me, and after that, every time was an eye roll moment. A definite distraction from the story, which no writer wants.
To add insult to injury, some characters hissed words, phrases and sentences that did not contain the letter ‘s’. How can you hiss a word that has no sibilants, I ask you? Go ahead and try it!
The dialogue problems were not a major issue for me, but what annoys me most is it was unnecessary. It could have been so easily fixed.
No, this isn’t the end of the post! I’m talking about the end of the book. I know what Abercrombie was aiming for when he wrote these books because I read his notes on his website. Dark, dirty, gritty, realistic. It was all those things. But, what’s the problem with realistic?
Real life is sometimes, or even often, unsatisfying. Isn’t that part of why we turn to fiction?
What annoys you about those intriguing news stories? Why did he do that? Did they ever find the person responsible? What was the motive? Did they have a happily ever after? You never find out.
Happily ever after might not be realistic, and therefore not in keeping with Abercrombie’s raison d’être for The First Law series, but in many cases it’s what the reader wants. This is particularly true in fantasy where we tend to expect the good guy to defeat the bad guy. Even if you don’t have that kind of ending, all the loose ends should be tied up and it should be possible to look at the character arc and say yes, these experiences changed the character, even if he didn’t get the outcome he wanted.
I didn’t get that feeling when I finished these books. Rather, I was looking for more – the reason I was on Abercrombie’s website, trying to find out when the sequel series (say, The Second Law?) would be released. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be one.
It is one thing to make your reader want more. It is another thing to make them want more and then not deliver.
You want to make the reader want more at the end of Book 1 so they will buy Book 2. You do not want to leave them wanting more at the end of Book 3 when there is no Book 4 (or a sequel series). Why? Because if the reader wants more, to the point where they incorrectly expect there is another book, you haven’t done something right. The reader thinks the story isn’t finished. When they realise it is, they feel robbed.
For me, the end of this series felt like nothing had changed. A group of people came together, they fought in a war, possibly on the wrong side, or at least on a side only several shades lighter than the other side, then separated and went on their merry way unchanged. The character I considered the main protagonist went on much as the series started and that wasn’t a very nice road he was walking. His romantic interest disappeared in the other direction with no satisfactory resolution to their romance of any kind. One character looked like he would probably die but the book ended before he did. One character changed into a much better man but faced a future of being used by a man who isn’t very nice at all. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of happiness going around.
The only satisfactory conclusion for any of the characters was the one I predicted. Now that’s a good ending. Where you give the reader enough subtle clues they guess at the ending and it makes them happy.
I understand what Abercrombie was trying to create, as a writer, but as a reader, it completely failed to satisfy me. If there had been a sequel series, I would have bought it by now. Instead, I’m hesitant to buy his other, unrelated books for fear of equally unsatisfactory endings.
The moral of the story? The ending should make sense, tie up the loose ends, make you happy – and make the reader happy.
If you want your readers to come back, anyway. I know I do. How about you?
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