Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Makes a Truly Good Book....

I just finished The Last of the Demon Slayers by Angie Fox. As expected it was an exceptionally good read. It made me start thinking about what I consider makes a good read. So here's my list. I'm going to use Angie's book as an example of someone who gets it right.

1. Storyline - Obviously there has to be a storyline. Good book or bad, without an actual story that needs to be told you have nothing. (I've read some books that had no story that I could find other than the filler from one sex scene to another.)

Lizzie used to be a preschool teacher. Prim & proper, in an effort to make her adoptive parents proud. Until she discovered she's a demon slayer. And met Dimitri, a shape shifting griffin. And hooked up with her grandmother & the Biker Witches. And all hell broke loose. Now she's just trying to keep her head above water as she saves the world.

2. Pace - A good book needs to move along. It shouldn't have the same pace beginning to end because then it feels stagnant and can be frustrating. Too jerky from fast to slow and it's like being yanked on a chain. A good book flows from one extreme to the other and never leaves the reader behind.

In this, Angie gets it right, too. Her books are fast paced. There is a sense of urgency to them, and this latest was no exception. Lizzie's birth father needs her help. She, Dimitri and the Biker Witches need to save him from a demon. The race to figure out how to save him and the actual saving is action-packed. But within that, there are these moments where Lizzie gets a chance to catch her breath, to connect with Dimitri, to worry about whether she's doing the right thing. Those moments make the book.

3. Character Motives - Whether you like them or not, characters have to have motives for their actions. A bad guy has to have a reason why he's a bad guy. A hero/heroine needs to make sense. They can't just run around willy-nilly making decisions with no merit. But, if you have to take too much time to analyze those reasons, if it requires huge chunks of back-story, then that's not good either.

Again, The Last of Demon Slayers does a phenomenal job. Lizzie is insecure. She has abandonment issues. She doesn't ask for help. She doesn't expect it. But it all makes sense. She's an adopted child who never fit in. She always felt lacking. And when her mother finally showed, it was not a good experience. It's not analyzed to death. The explanations are neatly and succinctly explained in brief glimpses of her past. You understand her and her decision making from the very beginning.

4. Solid Backup Characters - There has to be relationships with other strong characters. And those relationships need to make sense. The support cast is just as important as the main characters. They have to have a role in moving the plot forward. Extraneous, unnecessary characters drag a story down. So do flat, depth-less characters.

From the Biker Witches, some of whom have bigger parts than others, to Dimitri, to Sid the Danny Devito look-alike fairy, to Pirate a talking Jack Russell - each and every one of these characters are integral to the story. There isn't an extraneous character to be found. And each of them is beautifully described.

5. World - A believable world is important. It has to make sense. What kinds of supernatural creatures exist? Do humans know about supernatural characters? Are they afraid of them? Do they intermingle? What laws of supernatural creatures apply? Can they transport? Can they fly? Can they use magic? How does the magic work? It has to be thought out. A world that's poorly explained will kill a story.

The Demon Slayer world is crazy. And hilarious. Spells made from horse poo and mint that you have to throw? Euw - and yet, from the Biker Witches it makes sense. A necklace that turns into armor - clever. A dragon pet for a dog - an absolute riot. Fairy paths that sound like something out of Candy Land - perfection. It's all just brilliant.

6. Emotion - If the book doesn't make you feel anything, it isn't good. If there isn't emotion woven into it, it's just not worth reading.

You feel Lizzie's love for Dimitri and his love for her. You feel her worry that he's going to leave her. Her affection for the witches even as she's frustrated by the craziness of them - it's there. Her worry about being less than capable - absolutely. I laughed, I worried, I might have even panicked over her relationship with Dimitri. My heart broke with hers (and I'm not saying why) over certain things that happened. Lizzie's emotions spill on the pages in beautiful detail.

In other words, I LOVED The Last of the Demon Slayers. I started it yesterday. And even though it has plenty of break stops in the story where I could have put it down, I didn't. That's what a good book does. It makes you want to keep reading even when your eyes are blurring and the clock is creeping up on 1 a.m. I finished this morning with a huge, satisfied sigh. Every last one of the Demon Slayers books has been that kind of read for me.

I followed Angie Fox's woes in getting this book published.It was heartbreaking. And I'm so happy she found a press to publish it. I know that its more expensive than her other books because its a trade paperback. I hope that doesn't hurt its sales. Because its a great book - no, its a fantastic book. A wonderful book. Go out and buy it. You'll see what I mean. (But buy the rest of the books first - it is the 4th book in a series...)

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