Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saying Good-bye To A Favorite Series, Part I

Last week Becky Levine contacted me about what was then my recent mystery post. I said that mysteries with amateur detectives, particularly child amateur detectives, had to be forced and unnatural because there's no logical, realistic way to bring mysteries to an amateur over and over again the way detectives in police procedurals can be presented with mysteries over and over again. Becky is finishing revisions on a mystery for young readers and said, "There does have to be a semi-false construct, maybe a bit more suspension of disbelief, but what I find is that I'm working more in the world of what kids WANT life to be, rather than the way it is."

An excellent point, one that I think is true for adult readers as well as child readers. Often we do want an author to create a world that doesn't just reflect life as it is for us but as we want it to be for us.

But even so, readers want to believe that the life we'd like is possible if not probable. And that, folks, is my lead-in to my thoughts on the end of one of my favorite series, The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. The Underland books are fantasy thrillers, not mysteries, but I think the problem with child main characters in that genre is even more difficult than with mysteries.

Collins has always been clear that she sees the Underland books as war stories. The first four volumes, though, were also quests (the first three self-contained), in which our hero, Gregor, must travel to achieve something that the human occupants of the Underland believe only he can do because of the prophecies they've been living by for generations. In the course of these quests, Gregor, who is only eleven at the beginning of the series and twelve at the end, learns to fight and acquires certain skills. It is very unlikely that a child Gregor's age could do the things Gregor learns to do, but the quests propel the stories and we are (or I am)able to accept the improbabilities because they're not the biggest part of the narrative.

The final book, though, Gregor and the Code of Claw is all war, all the time. There is no journey to propel the story. We have a traditional war story (except for the giant bats and talking rats, of course) complete with a war-time romance. Except that the main character is twelve years old. He's a child. Most of the other children in the book aren't doing what he's doing. When their city is attacked, they end up carrying stretchers. Gregor didn't seem realistic even within the world that had been created for him.

As I was reading The Code of Claw the whole set-up was no longer working for me. The fourth book in the series was the first that didn't have an ending, and this final one didn't have a beginning. It just picked up where the last one left off, which was disorienting. Characters who appeared in earlier books are brought back, mainly so they can be killed off. And you've got this twelve-year-old kid believing he's not going to survive and angsting over his love for the female lead, who is also only in her early teens. The humans are attacked, the attack is over, everyone sits around. The humans are attacked again. People die off stage. One character dies and comes back, which I found more than a little bit manipulative.

My beloved Ripred gets a heart, which I didn't like at all. Though, to be honest, he doesn't let it bother him much.

So, as I said, while I was reading the book, I was pretty bummed out. I wasn't finding any of this possible or probable.

No comments: