I’ve mentioned before my frustration with most mystery novels. The authors seem to think that withholding information from the reader, even when the point-of-view character knows that information will make things more tense. It just makes me bored, or frustrated. Hiding information is immensely difficult to pull off and almost always fails. I can only think of one example that works (Ocean’s Eleven) and I think that only does because it’s the point of the story that nothing is fully explained until the end.
A perfect example of doing it the right way, since I’m talking about movies, is the Bourne movies. (Not the books, the books are boring and poorly written.) In the movies, we, as viewers, are privy to the motivations and actions and plans of the bad guys as well as the good guys. That’s what introduces the tension. We know that there’s an assassin waiting just around the corner to off Jason Bourne and we can’t tell him. Take away that knowledge and there is no tension just another fight when some random guy jumps out the shadows and tries to kill the hero – we see that in every action movie.
After reading A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham last year I had a newfound respect for the power of his story telling and his brilliant, almost poetic, prose. With A Betrayal in Winter my respect for his skills has grown even greater.
Daniel Abraham has written a novel that teaches mystery writers how to write an engaging mystery.
It starts when the oldest son of the dying Khai Machi is poisoned, beginning the traditional war amongst his brothers for the succession – only his two living brothers did not kill him, and they don’t know who did.
What follows is a tale of intrigue, mystery, suspense, revenge, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption told through a window of prose so well crafted that the words seem to sing on the page, as if they belong in the air instead of on paper.
Not once does Abraham keep anything from the reader, in fact the reader always knows more about what is going on than any of the characters do.
There is a lot of debate in the literary world about ‘plot-driven’ versus ‘character-driven’ stories. Usually what this means is that the ‘good’ stories, those that are ‘character-driven’ have no plot and nobody but a bunch of stuffy elitist English professors care about them anyway. (Plot has somehow become a bad word in most literary circles and indeed in many creative writing classes.)
What Daniel Abraham writes is character-driven stories with a plot. The plot in the previous book was much larger than the characters and so the story revolved around them living their lives and reacting to the plot taking place around them. In this book the plot more directly affects them and some of them are key instigators. The story remains driven by the characters and their actions and reactions to the events around them. These are real people who deal with trauma and stress in the ways that real people do and it is their deeply felt emotions that drives this story. Every scene brings emotion with it, usually more than one. The story is at times joyful, heartbreaking, tranquil, sad and uplifting.
This book, while a sequel to A Shadow in Summer, takes place nearly fifteen years later and could be read by itself. It is also short (about three hundred pages) for a fantasy and is part of a series that is completely finished.
Note: Daniel Abraham, while brilliant is also, apparently, largely unknown. It was recently announced that the final book in his series will not be getting a paperback release – I hope that he can find some other publisher to bring his books market.