Recently, Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms
Series vaulted up to one of my favorite current reads in YA
. I was desperate to get my hands on an advance copy of the third book, The Gray Wolf Throne
, but as time dwindled down to the release date, I lost all hope of getting a sneak peek. But then—miracles of miracles!—late Friday afternoon, I had a PDF of the story dropped in my lap. I squealed like a schoolgirl and immediately dove into the narrative.
Only to surface three days later with a distinctly disgruntled expression.
Absolutely nothing happened in The Gray Wolf Throne. When I told Canary The First the plot of this book, it only took 34 words and four commas. I usually spend more time telling her about a pitch I just read.
Yes, the characters were still as strong and well-written as ever, but there was practically no plot scaffolding to support them. It didn’t even read like a positioning novel—those books where everyone is shuffled into place so that, in the next installment, shit can really hit the fan. What I had on my Nook felt like 500-pages of prologue before the real novel begins.
Not to say that there wasn’t a lot of superficial moving and shaking. We pick up right where the second book leaves off (spoilers, ahoy, for those who have not finished The Exiled Queen): Princess-Heir Raisa is on the run, trying like mad to make it home to the Fells and reconcile with her mother before the entire kingdom falls apart under the dastardly influence of the bastardly High Wizard Lord Gavan Bayar. Han is hot on her trail as well, still unaware that the girl that he knows as Rebecca Morley is actually the next in line to be Queen–a truth that, when it comes out, sets their relationship on a deadly, dangerous spiral.
There are several attempts on Raisa’s life. Han almost dies. Traveling is all sorts of tense. But it’s all just sort of a façade of plot with a lot of hand-waving as Raisa ponders once again on the dilemma that is her love life. Oh, and it’s not just a love triangle anymore. It’s a full-blown love pentagon of constant angsty ponderings.
Okay, calling it angst may not be entirely fair—Raisa’s choice is terribly difficult, and it is only fair that she should get some time to deal with the issue. But I would have preferred to have spent significantly less than 75% worth of the book wallowing in the affairs of a wounded heart.
In the end, I think the real issue is that all the action took place off page. Other players would arrive and inform Raisa and Han about what had happened off in the distance while our main characters sat and played in love and politics. Opportunities to get some real traction on the action and suspense are turned aside with dogged regularity. At one point, Raisa has the choice to continue her journey home or turn tail and rush to the warring nation of Tamron to rescue Amon (who, if you’ll remember, is totally my current literary crush). And she chooses the path that kills that potential subplot dead.
I spent the rest of the read wondering what it would have been like had she gone into the fray, wondering how much of a better book it would have been if Raisa ever even dipped one toe into the action.
Of course, Chima still spins a good tale. I was engaged for all of those 500 pages, completely immersed in the world she’d created. I have a particular fondness for how thoroughly she uses language to bring the narrative to life. At times, for example, wizards are polite charmcasters–or dirty-word jinxflingers; these endearing details are what drew me to the stories in the first place. The world isn’t based on something–it’s alive.
And I do love the characters (especially Raisa who, despite the constant wallowing, remains one of the strongest YA heroines this side of Katniss Everdeen
), and am wholly committed to seeing the series through. I just hope that next time, the story pours a stronger foundation for the magnificent world and characters that Chima creates.