Round 2, Match 1: The Cardturner vs. The Demon King

2_1Judged by Melissa • find her on Goodreads

I have trouble comparing books cross-genre, in general; it’s too easy to start faulting a book for not being something it was never intended to be, like saying 13 Little Blue Envelopes was bad because Ginny didn’t have a magic sword. So I went into this terribly conflicted about what, exactly, I was looking for in choosing a book to advance to the next round – I didn’t think it was fair simply to go with my default, the fantasy book; in general I think the best fantasy literature in the last forty years has come from the young adult section of the library, and it gets ignored for that very reason, so I like promoting it. And putting a relatively inexperienced novelist up against Louis Sachar in his prime… that’s not very fair either. So I went back to the basics.

The Demon King and The Cardturner are both very good books – obviously so, since they advanced from the first round. The Demon King is an extremely exciting story, everything you’d want from an epic fantasy: multiple viewpoint characters, dark magic, plots against the throne, and at least three factions all at odds with each other and the promise of more in books to come. I particularly like the strong worldbuilding and the fascinating backstory, with the intersection between legend and reality as the story of the Demon King is constantly called into question (and the truth of it was beautifully poignant on so many levels). Chima’s characters are interesting; she takes the stock figures of the rebellious princess and the outcast hero and gives them life enough that they’re archetypal rather than stereotypical, which I think is something epic fantasy often fails to do. I’m also a sucker for a good romance, and there are several in this book, not all of them healthy, but all of them perfect examples of how teens explore being in love (Amon and Raisa, anyone?). I was definitely drawn into the story, and the ending sets up the next volume in the series well.

The Cardturner, for its part, is a beautifully written and tightly plotted novel that’s exactly the opposite of the world-spanning The Demon King; it’s about one young man and his relationship with his “favorite uncle” Trapp, and how that relationship changes because of the relatively prosaic game of bridge. Maybe it takes someone like Sachar to make bridge, now the province of the old and uncool, interesting to an audience of young people, but make it interesting he does, and I’m incredibly impressed by that. Sachar’s strong characterization on all levels is also impressive, because everyone Alton interacts with is unique and well-defined, even the one-off bridge partners he and Trapp encounter. It’s this skill with characterization, I think, that makes Alton’s romantic entanglements so compelling, particularly since it’s uncommon to see a boy as the POV character in a love triangle. And then there’s the story behind Trapp and the great love of his life – a story in which legend and history are tangled much the way they are in The Demon King. The Cardturner really is exquisite.

So there you are. I liked both books and thought them both very good. But I’m not allowed to advance both of them; there must be a winner. So now I’m going to tell you why it’s The Cardturner.

I said before that I think YA fantasy is at the top of the heap when it comes to all fantasy literature, and my temptation is always to privilege the YA fantasy book over a YA mystery or a YA contemporary novel. I’m particularly inclined to do so in the case of high fantasy, which seems to be disappearing from the field these days. However, as much as I liked The Demon King, I didn’t feel good about giving it that push. Raisa as a character is multidimensional; her storyline is not. It is the all too familiar tale of an adventurous girl forbidden to be herself and forced to do girly things, and since the reader is meant to identify with the heroine, the implication is that those girly things are bad – and this ultimately teaches girls who are interested in domesticity that there’s something wrong with them. I am tired of seeing the empowerment of nontraditional femininity come at the cost of dismissing the traditional kind.

I would, however, merely have been disappointed that Chima took the easy road here if it hadn’t been clear that she was willing to sacrifice good sense to achieve that adventurous-girl trope. Raisa is the heir to a queendom, and they’re not giving her queening lessons? In all Raisa’s griping about what she’s being taught, there’s never a mention of learning geopolitical history or the basics of strategy; if she gets it, she gets it second-hand. I simply don’t believe that Raisa not being taught to rule is solely the fault of the man who wants to insinuate himself onto the throne; nobody says anything like “wow, she’s sure not getting taught like her mother the queen was” to suggest that this is a new development engineered by Gavan Bayar. Yet Raisa’s mother, even in her enthralled state, has a good grasp of politics, and she had to learn that somewhere – so where is Raisa supposed to get it, if her mother isn’t providing it? The only thing this omission does is reinforce the image of Raisa chafing at unfair restrictions meant to stifle her personality, and I fault the author for not trusting her characterization enough. When Raisa’s plot is compared with Han’s, with its complexity of someone searching desperately for his place in the world, the difference is even more striking. Given that Raisa’s plot is half the story, I consider this too big a failing to let slide.

On the other hand, I had a really hard time finding flaws in The Cardturner. It’s slower than The Demon King, it’s not as exciting, the romance isn’t as powerful (let’s talk about Amon and Raisa’s potentially doomed love affair sometime), and there are all those sections on bridge that might be off-putting to a young reader, even if Sachar does provide useful summaries and shows how to skip the longer bits if you want. But the only way I can really call those things flaws is to set up some artificial standard by which all YA fiction should be judged, and I’m not going to do that. Besides, all those things make the book what it is: tightly plotted, smoothly characterized, and all without the seams showing. Alton’s voice is evocative of youth, from his vocabulary to his approach to life. As the book begins, he’s rather… laid-back is the wrong word, but so is apathetic; he’s somewhere in the middle, willing to take action if he’s pressed into it, but like so many teens uncertain of what he wants to take action about. He’s honest enough not to want to have anything to do with his great-uncle Trapp, wealthy great-uncle Trapp whom Alton’s parents have been pushing him toward since he was a child, hoping Trapp will write them, or at least Alton, into his will. And Trapp isn’t any more enthusiastic about having Alton around; his treatment of Alton as not very bright and probably not very reliable is exactly the way you’d expect a man of seventy-odd years to treat a teenage boy. Their relationship progresses in a way that feels natural, with both Alton and Trapp overcoming their respective first impressions of each other to come to a state of mutual respect, so when I reached the first climax (there are two) I was engaged enough with both characters to be emotionally moved.

Alton’s relationship with Toni, Trapp’s former cardturner and bridge protégée, really captivated me because it looked like it was going to be a typical romantic relationship until it was sidelined by Alton’s “best friend” Cliff, and the scare quotes are there because I think Cliff’s habit of stealing girls Alton’s interested in isn’t entirely coincidental. That Toni and Alton manage to come back together at the end says a lot about the nature of teen relationships and how shared interests are far more powerful a bond than casual attraction. Alton is sort of bumbling along here, which I found endearing, and this romance, though not as powerful as Raisa and Amon’s (did I mention I really liked that one? Because I did), had an incredibly satisfactory resolution – or, possibly, a beginning.

The one issue that I think readers of The Cardturner get stuck on is how mental illness is addressed in this book, specifically Toni’s schizophrenia or lack thereof. I think it’s possible to read this book as being dismissive of the seriousness of mental illness, since Toni’s diagnosis is shown to be false; that could imply that Sachar thinks it’s possible for people with schizophrenia to be sane but misunderstood (and therefore capable of fixing themselves if they just want it badly enough). But that’s not the way I read it, for two reasons. First, it’s very clear that Toni does not have schizophrenia – her hearing her dead grandmother’s voice is established as fact, not as a delusion she’s having. I found this interesting because it kept The Cardturner from being a problem novel with a sort of is-she-or-isn’t-she coyness; I like a little supernatural thrown in with my realistic fiction sometimes. This approach means that Toni not taking her meds is not only reasonable, it’s the only possible approach; one does not take antipsychotics if they are unnecessary. Second, the circumstances of Toni’s diagnosis are iffy. No reputable psychiatrist would treat schizophrenia simply by throwing pills at the patient, which is what seems to be going on here. I don’t want people thinking that psychiatrists are quacks and that mental illness is imaginary, but I also don’t think it’s a good idea to forget that sometimes the system fails us – a point that is reinforced in The Cardturner by the forced hospitalization of perfectly sane Annabel King, and we are not all that far from the days when that sort of thing was possible. It’s still an uncomfortable aspect of the novel because Sachar doesn’t ever show a positive side of psychiatry, which allows for the reading that psychiatry is always to be distrusted, but this isn’t a book about mental illness, it’s a book about bridge, and in general I don’t get the feeling that Sachar’s got an axe and is looking for a grindstone.

The feeling I do get from The Cardturner is that it has a sense of completeness that The Demon King lacks. (And before anyone starts yelling about how The Demon King is part of a series and therefore can’t be complete, I didn’t ding it for being just part of a bigger whole. In fact, one of the brilliant things Chima does is give us a sort of mini-resolution, wrapping up one aspect of the story while opening up possibilities for something new. Han learning the truth about himself resolves the issue of why he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere; Raisa being forced to flee resolves the question of her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. That was all very good. It’s just not the kind of completeness I’m talking about.) It satisfied me on a visceral level, left me feeling at peace with the world because not only did everything come out all right, it did so on a narrative level and an emotional level and an analytical level, too. The whole story just fits together so perfectly it’s hard to remember, as you’re reading, that somebody crafted this book. And since my preference in reading is solidly skewed in the direction of the fantastical, the fact that I could experience this with contemporary fiction left me thinking there was something special about it. And that sense of completeness is why I’m advancing The Cardturner.

Congratulations to The Cardturner, which moves on to Round 3!


50 thoughts on “Round 2, Match 1: The Cardturner vs. The Demon King

  1. It is the all too familiar tale of an adventurous girl forbidden to be herself and forced to do girly things, and since the reader is meant to identify with the heroine, the implication is that those girly things are bad – and this ultimately teaches girls who are interested in domesticity that there’s something wrong with them. I am tired of seeing the empowerment of nontraditional femininity come at the cost of dismissing the traditional kind.

    YES. I like Raisa a lot, but I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t read a lot of YA fantasy because the blurbs are all about girls wanting the nontraditional things. Give me a fantasy where a girl wants the traditional things and that’s okay and it STAYS OKAY. (As in, she doesn’t have to pick up a sword because that’s just what girls in fantasies do.)

    And ha–I had a similar experience in that I went into my battle cautious of my bias towards fantasy (and also didn’t pick the fantasy!).

    1. You know, after reading this decision last week I went over and dug up an old post/conversation I had about Graceling, and this was my exact problem with it. It’s a bigger problem with Graceling because Katsa’s role/definition is such a focus, whereas The Demon King has so many facets and is so skillful at juggling so many ideas. It didn’t bother me personally, but I can see how it would come into play when having to choose between two great books!

      1. I think it did bother me a little when I first read the series, but there was enough great that it wasn’t a huge issue for me.

        If I read it for the first time now, I think it would bother me more though, just because my annoyance about this issue has grown so much. (With Graceling, I just didn’t connect to the book, though that was probably part of the issue.)

        (Sorry, again, for the mysterious name switch. :P)

        1. You know, I reread it just before the book battle and it didn’t bother me, even though – like you and Melissa – this is something I dislike much more now. I think it’s because the story isn’t only Raisa’s, and it’s not about her femininity (or lack of it) but more about her place in history and how she tries to shape that, and maybe to some extent the way she responded to circumstances outside her control.

          I’m not disagreeing with either of you! Just trying to figure out why this is something that didn’t bother me as much as, theoretically, it should have.

  2. It’s been a while since I read these, and I don’t really remember reading Raisa’s story that way, as an utter rejection of the traditional female sphere. Rai LIKES being a girl, she likes a lot of feminine trappings. She just wants more than them. That, plus her more or less acceptance that she can’t do whatever she wants romantically due to the princess thing means I wouldn’t class it in the type of fantasy you mean. (I know the type of fantasy you mean.) But like I said, it’s been a couple of years since I read this. I’d be curious to see how much of that is my memory being faulty and how much of it is just a different reading.

    That said, any time you want to talk Rai/Amon, let me know. I have feelings. Lots of them.

    1. The second I saw Melissa’s comments on Raisa and Amon, I thought of you! And like I said to Katie above, I didn’t read Raisa like that, either, because the story is about so much more to me that it never stood out. But I can see how it’s something an insightful reader would pick up on if she liked both books and still had to choose one to advance.

    2. This is exactly why I made the distinction between Raisa’s character and her storyline. She comes across as really well-rounded–and then the story adds things like “resists feminine-type instruction” that don’t fit with the kind of person she’s set up to be. If she’s smart enough to know that she’s not going to be allowed to love just anyone because she’s a princess, she ought to be smart enough to know that she’s not being educated properly and to make a stink about it. So I blame the author for not trusting that she’d created a character who was believably resistant to her destiny without turning it into a story about how society represses bold girls. And that’s really how I saw it turning out, which was disappointing.

      Honestly, there were a lot of other things about the book that bugged me personally–I am not a fan of epic fantasy–but I set all those aside in favor of looking at what I thought was a more objective criticism. I was really bugged by how poor Dancer’s heartrending story got trampled on by the revelation about who Han Alister really was, for example, but then I found I got more involved in the lives of the secondary characters than the heroes, and I think that’s idiosyncratic.

      And I’m afraid to read any more of the series because I have a Bad Bad Feeling that we’re meant to see Raisa and Han together, and my son (who read the series a long time ago) didn’t remember if he ever finished it, or what happened, except he said something like “wow, Alister was like SO COOL and it was all stuff and things.”

      1. Stooooop saying smart things and making me want to springboard off them! (Hi Jess! I am kinda hijacking Melissa’s response to you.) I’ve had vague thoughts about supporting characters for – oh, the past few years – that have never quite coalesced, but I think there’s something about either a less-developed character, or one who maybe doesn’t need to make so many mistakes to drive the plot/conflict, or one who’s so supportive because that’s his/her function in the story – but supporting characters can be so compelling. And I loved Dancer! He does get great friendship moments in future books, but he’s never as prominently featured as Han.

        And I realllly want you to read the next books – especially The Gray Wolf Throne, which is my favorite – and I’m not going to spoil you, but I was happy with how it was done. Jess would be your best bet as to the reaction, though, because her perspective is similar to yours re: Amon and Raisa!

        1. My Amon/Raisa feelings are complicated because they are largely about Amon’s character arc for the remaining novels. Or in some of them, a lack of arc thereof.

          Basically, I love Amon more than Chima does.

          Which didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy other ship-related aspects of the series a lot, but the ultimate Amon/Raisa resolution did leave me pretty frustrated. For Amon’s sake.

          1. I love Amon more than Chima does, too. And that’s probably why I won’t go on reading the series: I don’t think he deserves to get what I can definitely see is coming, even after only one book. I admit that my attachment is irrational, but basically there’s nothing Chima can do that will persuade me that Han is a better match for Raisa than Amon is. Emphasis on “persuade me” there. Sad, but true. But these days I care a lot more about the character relationships than I do about the big story.

            If I had read this five years ago, when I liked epic fantasy, I probably would have loved it. Right now, I feel more admiration for it than love. My son (who finally cracked and said “yeah, she ends up with the guy”) is devastated that I won’t read Words of Radiance so he can babble about it. For me it’s like an entire chunk of my reading life just vanished. I can remember reading David Eddings’ Belgariad as it came out, over and over again, and the sheer delight of a new Robert Jordan novel with the attendant pleasures of reading the others again, but no more. It’s…unsettling. And very sad. But there it is.

        2. To springboard further . . . and my thoughts on romances in non-romance genre books! (Or secondary romances in romances.) Something about them not having to bear the weight of the story and maybe about the audience getting to fill in some of the blanks.

          1. maybe about the audience getting to fill in some of the blanks

            Yes. I like this point a lot. I think it can apply to supporting characters in general, too!

          2. I think this articulates accurately why I tend to prefer romances shelved in the Fiction section, as opposed to the romance section. The romance doesn’t have to carry the entire book and there’s more room for reader interpretation.

            (It also applies to television, imo.)

            1. Yeah, and I enjoy the romance genre! But it seems rare for those romances to be the ones that really grab me.

              (YES. Very much to television.)

              1. Yeah, I really enjoy the romance genre too! Sometimes that’s exactly what I feel like reading. But they often aren’t the love stories that stick with me for very long (with some exceptions, obviously).

  3. she takes the stock figures of the rebellious princess and the outcast hero and gives them life enough that they’re archetypal rather than stereotypical

    I just love how this is phrased, Melissa! And I really like your distinction between Raisa’s characterization and her storyline, because it’s a distinction I hadn’t made before.

    Re: the sections on bridge – I found your thought as to the artificiality of standards by which we judge YA really interesting, because it opens up all sorts of conversations as to how and why certain types of storytelling are successful. There are certainly people who have difficulty with the breaks in the story for bridge, and with the pacing in general, but I wonder if those readers like more plot-centered stories in general. Sherwood Smith wrote a really interesting post last week on Book View Cafe, and the comments touched on the difference between what readers expect in a story and what writers need to include to make the story actually work, facets which readers might not consider, specifically ones who read for plot. I need to give it more thought when I’m not super busy, but your post brings up the topic again, at least in my head!

  4. Well, now that my work is done, I feel I can sit back and root for my favorite to make it to the top! (The Cardturner is not my favorite, in case you were wondering.)

    1. I WAS. And now I’m thinking there should be a sideline in mock (Melissa) brackets. 🙂 Not sure which of the remaining books you’ve read, so I’m more handicapped in guessing your favourite than I should be, but… Is it the obvious?

        1. Okay, then, I do. It isn’t my favourite, by a long shot, but that’s probably all part of my “it’s complicated” feelings about this author’s books.

  5. I found the reasoning behind your choice interesting, Melissa. Not because of the choice itself (I’ve never actually read Cardturner, so I can’t really comment one way or another), but because when I first read Demon King, one of the things I liked most about it was that it felt like it did a better job of not making Raisa the traditional YA female heroine who rejects all things associated with being traditionally girly (unlike a lot of versions of the trope who are often totally uninterested in boys). She still wants to flirt with boys and all that sort of thing, but she doesn’t want all of the role she’s supposed to take. I found her to be somewhere in the middle, which I liked. I agree that the novel absolutely doesn’t do a perfect job at it (and I also think in my head I just accepted Raisa not getting Queening lessons as linked to the fact that her mother is possibly not as strong as she once was; that seems to be the explanation for a few things). I just think it’s ineresting how people read things differently.

    And that said, I read this about a year and a half ago, so my memory is fuzzy. And I still have yet to finish the series, despite liking it a lot.

    1. one of the things I liked most about it was that it felt like it did a better job of not making Raisa the traditional YA female heroine who rejects all things associated with being traditionally girly (unlike a lot of versions of the trope who are often totally uninterested in boys). She still wants to flirt with boys and all that sort of thing, but she doesn’t want all of the role she’s supposed to take.

      To me, liking flirting and making out isn’t part of being traditionally girly. An uncommon characteristic of the trope, yes, but I think that’s more because it’s a cheap way to get readers invested in a romance–make the girl have to come as long a distance as possible to end up with the guy–not because it is somehow more feminine to be a sexual being. I’m glad you brought this up, because it’s a good point that we don’t see YA heroines who think about sex very often, and I think this did make Raisa a more interesting character. But Raisa is not only not interested in quiet occupations, she’s actively dismissive of them, and that is what disturbs me. I’m not saying I want her to be a girly girl, though I think it would be far more interesting if she were and then was thrust into this situation. I’m just saying that the story seems intent on reminding us at every turn that she’s being forced to become that most despicable of things, a proper lady.

      But you said something that interests me more–in my head I just accepted Raisa not getting Queening lessons as linked to the fact that her mother is possibly not as strong as she once was. I wonder how much, as readers, we’re expected to fill in gaps to make our reading more enjoyable. What I mean is, at what point do you think that turns into covering for a writer’s failings? Because Raisa’s mother being less competent is as good a reason as any, even though I didn’t read it that way. Suppose I, as a reader, was so annoyed by Raisa and the queening lessons that I hated the entire book because of it (I did not). Is that wrong?

      1. So I often look at these questions in the opposite way! Is it wrong that I wasn’t bothered by that? (I think I filled in the blanks the way Andree did.) Or, to use another example, is it wrong that I usually don’t care if a book gets some real life details wrong?

        What if Sacher got a bridge detail wrong? Or maybe not even completely wrong, but some detail was unrealistic? Given the author’s love of the game, I don’t think that happened, but . . . I wouldn’t know. And if someone who DID know told me what he got wrong, it wouldn’t really change my opinion of the book. I’d probably be a little sad he got it wrong, but, overall, I’d still feel the same way about the book. But if this was a book about baseball . . . oh, I HATE wrong baseball details.

        And I wonder if it’s unfair (if natural) that those reactions depend more on me than the book or competency of the writer.

        1. I think it’s perfectly natural for us to react against wrong information about things we know more strongly than we would about stuff we don’t. For you, that’s baseball. For me, that’s hockey and football. And like we’re talking about this morning, a park that an author made not nearly as cool as she could have if she’d actually lifted it from real life.

          I’m willing to allow for narrative convenience and to fill in reasonable blanks. But if I know the blanks, I’m going to know that it’s wrong. And that’s going to bug me.

          1. It is! My question is more how should I react now that I know the park is wrong? I don’t expect you to just brush that aside (unless you want to!) and (presumably) you don’t expect me to magically know it was wrong when I read the novella.

            Buuuuut now that I do know it’s wrong, should it affect my opinion of the work?

            1. Personally, I think the question is less “should it” and more “does it”? After all, if you read a book at ten and then read it again at twenty, your opinion of it might change because you know more/understand more about the world and because you’ve changed. Maybe you’ve learned something about the subject of the book in the last ten years and your worldview had changed. Admittedly, learning a particular detail about an inaccuracy in a book is that on quite a small (and specific) scale, but your reactions to books change as you do. That isn’t wrong. At least, I don’t think it is.

              If learning the detail is wrong really irks you and takes away from your enjoyment of the story, then that’s maybe unfortunate, but I fail to see why it’s not a perfectly valid reaction.

              1. It’s valid! (As is my generally not caring about the details.) I mean, ultimately there aren’t any right answers here. But I find it interesting to think about, to see how people’s reactions differ when it comes to things like this.

          2. I don’t think it should, no. At least it shouldn’t revise your original impression. If you were to reread it, I don’t think there’s a way to escape it and it might influence what you thought (though really, a park is not something I think should really change your mind about emotional resonance which is why you liked it) then. It might depend on WHY you liked something. If you liked it because you thought it was realistic to a setting or even or whatever and then you gain knowledge that says otherwise, that I could see making you change your mind.

            I don’t know. Work has destroyed my ability to think. :p

          3. No, that makes sense.

            And I think it’s a little hard for me to personally judge because (outside those pesky baseball books!) I’m not the most detail oriented person in the world, so I’m very rarely even going to notice something wrong.

          4. I think it’s reasonable to expect an author to put in a certain amount of research! These details definitely bother me when I catch them, and they do affect my opinion of the work after the fact, because they seem to paint the author as lazy. Yesterday’s SLJ battle post had the judge pointing out historical inaccuracies, and much as authors can claim poetic license, if they don’t get details correct they do run the risk of alienating knowledgeable readers. (And why would they want to do that?)

        2. I don’t like it when an author gets something dead wrong. And in some cases I do think that matters, like if in the introduction the author says “and I lived with Tibetan monks for fifteen years so I would understand their religion and get it right.” But isn’t it more important that your reaction is your own and you’re the one who gets to decide if you should or shouldn’t care about those details? (This is essentially Melissa’s Second Law of Reading.) Personally, I think it makes you a happier reader if you aren’t usually bothered by wrong details, because think of all the books you aren’t giving up on, and are loving, because you don’t get bogged down in something small? (Except baseball, apparently.) 🙂

          1. I think it DOES make me a happier reader. And I do agree that it’s worse when the author claims to have the knowledge and it’s clear s/he doesn’t.

            But isn’t it more important that your reaction is your own and you’re the one who gets to decide if you should or shouldn’t care about those details?

            YES. But I do find it interesting to consider, especially since I have a lot of friends who will point out wrong details that I hadn’t noticed. (The example Jess and I talked about elsewhere in the comments isn’t really the best example of this, as it’s a park in her city, so not really something I could’ve reasonably known.)

      2. So, I think what I may have done when I read this first time is took the “interested in boys” and the “likes traditionally feminine pursuits” characteristics and they got merged in my head as part of a general type that is not often seen in heroines of these types of books. Then, because Raisa exhibited some of those things, this book felt better to me on that front than a lot of others, which might not have been entirely accurate. I think my general positive impression was probably helped by the fact that I seem to remember their being a lot of different types of female characters in this book, which goes a long way with me.

        That said, I don’t remember Raisa being consistently dismissive of traditional female pursuits. So this could be just a case of me remembering what I liked and ignoring the rest (I have been known to do that).

        As for the question about filling in the gaps and writers failings, I don’t know if I’m a great person to answer that. Simply because, if there is an element of a book that I love enough, I have been known to mentally “fix” things in my head (essentially re-writing parts of the story, or ignoring them), so that the whole book works better for me. I don’t always know I’m doing it. Though, that does tend to happen more for movies…

        I will say, I think that the point at which it becomes covering for a writers failings is highly individual. Say for example, we were judging a skating performance. My understanding is that certain points are awarded for different things (degree of difficulty, artistry, technique, etc.). So a more difficult jump gets more points, and a more artistic performance gets more points. Essentially there are several ways to achieve the same score, in the end. Being really good at one thing can compensate for another. But, when readers evaluate a book/author (unless they’re doing it for some specifc/professional reason and there are strict rules set down on how to do it), they aren’t all using the same judging criteria. To go back to my (possibly not ideal) skating metaphor, say I really, really am impressed by jumps and you’re really, really impressed by spins, if the skating routine is generally competent, but has some really fabulous jumps in it, it might be good enough that it scores enough “points” with me that I think it’s fabulous based on the jumps alone (because I love jumps). Whereas, because you are less swayed by jumps, you might see it as a more average routines. And you might love another routine with really fabulous spinning that I would think is only average, because spinning doesn’t quite do it for me.

        So, to bring it back to writing, if the fact that Raisa was not adequately trained as Queen and no one noticed bothered you a lot, then that’s a major deduction of points for you. And maybe that deduction brings a book below a certain mean score where you can enjoy it. But I mark less heavily on that sort of thing, so it doesn’t for me. Because I was perhaps distracted by really excellent dialogue (as I pretty much always am – though I can’t remember one way or another in this specific case).

        I guess my main point is, NO, that is NOT wrong. Reading is highly individualized. If it wasn’t, everyone would like the same books and rank them in the exact same order, and this entire book battle would be entirely pointless. 🙂

        (Not sure if any of that made sense at all. I tried.)

        1. I have been known to mentally “fix” things in my head (essentially re-writing parts of the story, or ignoring them), so that the whole book works better for me. I don’t always know I’m doing it.

          Oh my gosh, my husband does this ALL THE TIME. So I know exactly what you mean. It used to bother me because it makes for really difficult discussions–I can remember one in particular because we had such dramatically different opinions of the book, and he kept saying “when so-and-so did this” and I would say “THAT NEVER HAPPENED.” I think it’s a very valuable trait, honestly. Think how many more books you like because you can fix them! At least, that’s what I tell him.

          And I completely agree with you on weighting different aspects of a book differently. (The skating analogy is good. But I don’t know much about skating either.) I don’t think there’s ever been a book in the history of the world that every reader agreed on. The important thing, to me, is that it should always be clear that in most cases a reader’s not liking something doesn’t make a book bad, just as that reader’s liking something doesn’t make it good. (This is Melissa’s First Law of Reading.) But that leads into a discussion about the difference between objective and subjective truth, and the thought wearies me. So I’m just going to say that I think you put this very well.

          1. That’s really interesting about your arguments with your husband. Although it’s not quite what I mean when I say I “fix it” in my head. I’m almost always aware of what actually happens in the book. I think I just invent copious amounts of backstory to make it fit (such as Raisa’s lack fo Queening lessons hasn’t come up because the throne is weaker now), or, more commonly, I decide to believe the version of the backstory that lends itself best to how I want the story to go (like my Beatrice/Bennedick interpretation for Much Ado About Nothing).

            My arguments tend to be with my best friend and involve her saying things like, “IT’S NOT A GOOD MOVIE ANDREE. You were just seduced by the idea of two opposing lawyers falling in love and then an accidental!marriage trope. IN IRELAND. So you have chosen to tweak the characterization and inner thoughts of the characters in your head, to fix the genuine issues.” And then I think about the movie critically, and recognize that she’s right, but it doesn’t mean that I love Laws of Attraction any less (for all that objectively, it’s pretty godawful). That is also the extreme example. Mostly, I find that with most stories, since you’re never provided with absolutely 100% of the context/motivations, it is generally possible to slant them in different ways. Much Ado About Nothing (or really most Shakespeare) is a good example of this. It’s all the same text, but the staging really matters.

            The objectivity v. subjectivity thing is something I tend to deal with by acknowledging both. And I admit, I tend to place more weight on subjectivity. A book that is technically well written, but I hate (see: Gone Girl), I will rate poorly. A book that I really enjoy, but has flaws, I will rate higher. Ideally, a book is both. Though obviously everyone will have different criteria for measuring those two things.

            1. YES. That’s how I make up stuff, too. It’s sort of way of making the flaws of a story I otherwise like work for me, instead of criticizing them or ignoring them.

          2. Andree, that’s pretty much what my husband does, but his memory is really bad for certain things, so he doesn’t always remember when he’s invented backstory. He’s gotten better over time. 🙂 On the other hand, he’s capable of reading the same book for the first time three different times, so who am I to say he’s wrong?

            I can never decide whether to rate something objectively or subjectively. I’m more likely to dislike a book if it’s got serious flaws, but usually I can tell if I dislike something just because it isn’t a match, and then I’ll rate it more highly because I don’t think it’s the book’s fault–or at least I’ll find ways to be generous about it. But then, my subjective feelings are unreliable most of the time, which is why I cling to objectivity when I’m reading.

            1. I always try for some reasonable balance of objectivity and subjectivity. I do try not to excuse massive flaws of books I love, but I don’t necessarily let them affect my enjoyment of the book. Sort of a they’re there, I see them, but I still love the book. Really, the only situation it’s an issue is a book battle where you’re comparing two books.

              I do think for me subjectivity will always win, because I am very objective, very fair and very logical, and in a way, reading became sort of a safe space to break free of that. To the extent that I would be highly resistant to being given a rubric and told I had to judge all books exactly equally (obviously, I’m not saying it’s what you’re suggesting, but is the extreme example). I have such a compulsive need to be fair, and I am even when I review books. But at the end of the day, reading has always been the one place I felt comfortable saying “this is what I like, right or wrong; this is what speaks to me.”

              I think I’m

  6. Love your analysis of why you’re choosing your book to send on, which is making me wish I remembered THE DEMON KING a lot better than I do. It would be great if your thoughts could bounce off against more than — vagueness. What I wrote on GR when I read it wasn’t very helpful.

    1. I wish this too. I think it’s weird that I’d never even heard of it until I started working at the library six months ago.

      1. And this is a series that was actually on the NYT bestseller list for 3 weeks! Not this title – it happened when Gray Wolf Throne and Crimson Crown came out, so Demon King was never on the list itself, not that the newer way of organizing bestselling titles is especially helpful in that sort of distinction – but all these books fly under the radar to such a weird extent, considering their quality :/

        1. Which is what I love about this whole Book Battle thing–I’m either finding books I’d never heard of, or learning why I want to read something I’ve seen before!

  7. Melissa’s Three Laws of Reading, developed over the course of many years of debate, discussion and argument over on the DWJ-list:

    Quality of writing and enjoyment of reading have very little to do with one another. Or, in the vernacular, you can like a book that’s terrible and you can hate a book that’s brilliant. If this law were not true, no one would ever eat Twinkies. (I have a whole treatise on the First Law.)
    No one ever gets to tell another person that their reaction to a book is wrong, or tell another person how they ought to feel about a book.
    Literary criticism is not the province of the old, boring, classic text. Think about what you read. Ferret out why it works for you. What you read is already turning you into the person you’re going to be; you should probably be conscious of what’s happening.

    3a. No, I’m not saying you should analyze every book you read, because that would be exhausting. I’m saying don’t think something has to be critically acclaimed or “deep” or a thousand years old in order for you to subject it to some good old fashioned analytical thinking.

    That’s it. I used to have more, but I realized they were all just elaborating on those three things.

    1. I’m writing the Round 2 roundup post – well, I’m outlining it – and definitely linking to this! I like how it’s an actual delineation of the idea behind the battle – that it’s a celebration of being a reader.

    2. I love these!

      I used to upset friends in college because I did 3 so much–analyzed things that they’d rather not think about much. (Thankfully, the internet has led me to people who do enjoy the analyzing!)

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