I was actually looking forward to reading this book. A paranormal romance with an average of 4 stars on Amazon and more than 50 reviews? An absolutely gorgeous cover? All right, I’m sold. Let’s give this a go.
I went ahead and downloaded the entire thing because it was free. And thank God it was. I got three chapters in and the ONLY reason I would have kept reading would have been the same reason I kept watching Ultraviolet: to see how bad it would get.
(Side note: This is the same reason I kind of want to read Breaking Dawn. I know pretty much the entire story thanks to the Internet, but it sounds like there are a lot of delicious, delicious crazy moments that would be even more fun to actually read.)
A summary, thanks to Goodreads:
Gabriella’s past is a mystery, but that never stopped her from achieving her goals. As a Supernatural Specialist, and far more intelligent than anyone her age, she was always ignored by her peers. Because of the isolation she has always felt, she put her life and soul into her job. Being a Supernatural Specialist hasn’t given her the divine intervention she always longed for, until one day a shipment arrives from Italy containing three dead bodies with an uncanny ability to regenerate. Gabriella is frightened and intrigued, but not as scared as she becomes when a dark creature attacks her.
As the bodies come back to life, the plot takes an unexpected twist that you won’t see coming. The supernatural world only begins to unfold before her as angels appear, her dreams start to haunt her, and the very past she has forgotten comes back with startling clarity. Romance blooms, escape plans are made, an assassin is out to kill her, and death is only around the corner. But what is more terrifying than all of it is the fact she is the chosen one, the Illuminator, the one who will save them all.
…You know, after rereading that summary, I should’ve been a bit more wary about hopping in with both feet.
Problem the First: The Prologue
I have no quarrel with prologues in and of themselves. They’re a great way to introduce aspects of a story that either happen outside of the regular timeline or are from the viewpoint of a non-major character.
However, I do NOT like the prologues where the author just grabbed a page from the climax of the book and slapped it at the beginning of the story. Books and TV shows alike do this, and I hate it every time. (I love Castle, but my God, when they did this at the beginning of season 3 I could’ve kicked the TV.)
It’s a gimmick, a way of artificially heightening tension. While that does kind of work with Castle, because we’re already familiar with Castle and Beckett and care about them, it doesn’t work so well with a novel where we have absolutely NO IDEA who any of the characters are.
That’s precisely how Shadow of the Sun starts out: with a page that looks like it’s straight out of the climax of a book. No names are mentioned, except for “Aiden,” and I haven’t the foggiest idea if Aiden’s a good guy or a bad guy. It’s confusing, and it makes me think it was added to the front of the book because the first chapter wasn’t exciting enough. And, as we learned earlier this year, there are numerous problems with that idea.
So I’m one page in, and already this book has a strike against it.
Problem the Second: The Main Character
I did not like Gabriella at all. I went from ambivalent to loathing faster than I’ve ever done for any fictional character ever, and yes, that includes Bella Swan.
Within five pages, all we see from Gabby is that she’s a bitch to her assistant, Sally. (Warning: long excerpt ahead)
“You know? Top secret experiments?” I whispered with a quizzical half smile, just to goad her a bit. I knew it was wrong, but it was so easy to get her riled up.
But she wasn’t hired to do scientific work; she was hired to assist me in other ways. Some days she just couldn’t grasp that concept, and I had to remind her. Like today, for example.
“Will you take this to the post office?” I pushed a blue and white cooler her direction…”This needs to be in New York City by tomorrow morning.” There it was—the reminder of what her job was.
I decided to press her a little. It was only fair; she did it to me every day with dirty comments whispered under her breath. “And could you pick up my dry cleaning? Same place.”
She froze mid-stride and turned around more slowly this time. “Again?” she grumbled through gritted teeth. “Can’t you pick up your own dry cleaning?”
Here comes the explosion….
I plastered a huge grin on my face, ready to put her in her place. I wasn’t a mean person, honestly. I’d just lost all of my patience because I was up all night dealing with things I couldn’t fathom telling someone as small-minded as Sally.
Keeping the mocking smile in place, I said, “Sally, you were hired as my assistant. If I need you to flush my toilet, you’ll flush it. But since I’m not a horrible monster, I’m not going to give you the shitty jobs.” … “If you can’t handle running one simple errand, then I’ll hire someone who can,” I added. “Is that clear?”
Here’s what’s going on: Gabriella TELLS us that Sally is petty and spiteful. What we’re SHOWN is that Sally is, at most, insubordinate (which could be for any number of reasons). Gabriella TELLS us that she’s not a mean person. But what we’re SHOWN is her deliberately provoking, demeaning, and threatening her assistant.
And even if Sally is petty and spiteful, as the boss and the main character, Gabriella ought to be taking the high road instead of being petty and spiteful right back. She acts more like a teenager instead of the 24-year-old research scientist she’s supposed to be.
I don’t care if she’s not that way normally. This is the very first time we meet the character. By the end of the first chapter, her actions have contradicted just about everything she’s said in her narration.
Unreliable narrators can work, yes, but I don’t think that’s what the author was going for here. By all accounts, we’re supposed to like and sympathize with Gabby. Instead, she comes across as a hypocrite.
And just FYI: If you have to tell us you are not a mean person, chances are you are very, very wrong.
Problem the Third: The First Chapter Structure
So we’ve given Sally a cooler to mail, asked her to pick up the dry cleaning, and threatened to fire her if she complains anymore. Now that Gabriella’s alone, it’s time to think about just what her job is (Supernatural Specialist!) and what this big discovery is that she’s been not-so-subtly hinting at for several pages.
I’d investigated everything from a man covered in mostly scales to a “werewolf,” who was actually just a really—and I mean really—hairy man. Everything seemed silly, honestly…until last night.
INSERT FLASHBACK HERE
I damn near threw my Kindle across the room when I saw that. Why the author didn’t start the book THERE instead of giving us half a chapter of bitchy dialogue and vague references to a major discovery? Why in God’s name would you relegate the inciting incident of your story—the discovery that launches the entire plot—to a FLASHBACK?
Plus, the section was so handled so poorly that it reminded me of a print version of a flashback scene from the MST3K episode Riding with Death.* I could practically see the fade-to-flashback and hear Mike and the bots saying, “And that’s when the acid kicked in.”
And as if that weren’t enough, the writing itself was amateurish and clumsy, with poor word choices (“screamed in bewilderment”) and strange structure (it takes us another four paragraphs to find out what ACTUALLY made her scream).
By the time I’d finished the first chapter, only morbid curiosity compelled me to read more. And by the time I finished chapter three, even that wasn’t enough.
I read one review that said Shadow of the Sun picks up considerably after the first hundred pages. Frankly, I don’t think I could make it that far unless Gabriella gets a personality transplant somewhere between chapter four and then. Not when I’ve got so many other, more interesting books to read.
Writing Lessons to Take Away
1) Does your prologue add something to the story, or is it a gimmick to increase tension? If the latter, take a look at your first chapter and fix it.
2) Does your main character say one thing and do another? Does what you tell us match what you show us? If it doesn’t, do you have a good reason why?
3) Have you started your book with the inciting incident? If you have not, is there a good reason why?
And now, for the bonus question:
4) Does any part of your first chapter call to mind Mystery Science Theater 3000? If so, is that the effect you’re going for?
*Seriously, if you haven’t seen Riding with Death, look it up online. It’s HILARIOUS, and one of my favorite MST3K episodes precisely because of all the random WTFery that goes on. Mike and the bots get in some brilliant lines.