There is nothing new under the sun

Posted on June 25th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews, Writing

Note: I wrote this back in February but never posted it. I have left it unaltered, so in my time in the following it is still February. Better late than never.


I’ve been thinking about a complaint against one of my review videos that just came out. It wasn’t on one of my own posts or the video itself, so you probably won’t be able to find it. In any case, in the commenter’s mind, my review missed the mark because I hadn’t given enough attention to the originality of the book in question. The thing is, I’ve seen most of the elements used in that story somewhere before. Every book is going to recycle something. Usually many somethings. What makes a book shine, what makes it good, is when it reuses the expected in an unexpected way. 

Every book of any quality is a unique compilation of elements. But those elements, those same building blocks, have probably been used and reused a million times. If you don’t believe me, go watch or read my (very positive) review of That Time I Broke Time by Sarah Emily Lelonek where I lay out examples of other books with the same core premise. That premise is that the heroine discovers she isn’t who she thinks and has special powers. Usually, all hell breaks loose around the time of such discoveries.

So, let’s look at the book that’s actually in dispute, which is Franc Ingram’s Heirs of Eternity.

I’ve seen the whole re-incarnated until you get it right thing in Heirs of Eternity and Katherine Kerr’s Devverry books. At first blush, these books are nothing alike, but the core premise that these characters will keep coming back and play out the same drama as different people and only one of them knows it/really understands why is the same. The execution is completely and totally different, but they use the same building block.

Then there’s the main plot thread. It has a lot in common with classics like Lord of the Rings. That’s why I said in my review that it was a pretty standard high-adventure plot. I can sum it up in one sentence: the main character must go to a particular place to do this particular thing to stop this particular evil (usually at the risk of the world ending) and he/she collects some friends along the way.

If I dig deep enough in my stack, I can probably also find a few books where the gods or god-like creatures made an oopsie and set some terrible evil loose on the world in a manner not dissimilar from the Twelve when they created the Ultras.

This is not a bad thing. I repeat this is not a bad thing.

As I said with That Time I Broke Time, tropes and story arcs are reused because they’re good. They’re a formula that our brains recognize and appreciate.

My own books are full of tropes. I like to joke that when writing Saving the Dragon I wanted to see how many tropes I could squeeze into one book. Just touching on the obvious ones, I have the rebellious princess/noblewoman trope (see Disney’s Brave for another popular example) and the shapeshifting character trope. I could go for days with examples of dragon-shifters alone. A quick glance at a list of paranormal and/or romance novels and you’ll probably find a few pretty quick. Actually, someone just fairly recently published one with the exact same title as mine. Talk about unoriginal.

I can’t think of a book or movie off-hand that follows a similar arc to my first one, but I am sure one exists (if you know it, please tell me in the comments. I’m dying to read/watch it). My second book plays with the arranged marriage trope. My third planned book of the same series will follow a questing plot #NotASpoiler. I’ll bet when I say “questing plot” all sorts of stories come to your mind. And I’d like to think that I put my own personal spin on the tropes and character archetypes I’m using. I manage to make myself laugh, at any rate. Then again, what do I know? Maybe my stories are a colossal snoozefest and you all are too nice to tell me so.

In any case, this is why I didn’t choose to focus on Heirs of Eternity’s originality. I thought there was something much more important to focus on, and that is what I think Franc does best: writing beautifully rendered characters. So, to the commenter who thought I  missed the mark, I say to you: I stand by my stance that the strength of Heirs of Eternity does not lie in the plot, the wide cast, or the worldbuilding, but rather in the exceptionalcharacter creation that Franc displayed in writing Oleana. WhoOleana is drove her on that go-to-this-place-to-do-this-thing-to-stop-this-evil-style journey. Her strength didn’t let her give up even when her weakness begged her to. Her inner turmoil was far more interesting and soul-rending than what was going on outside of her. She gave everything, all that she was, to see her mission through to the end. Thatwas the story. And I hope to see so much more of such talented character building from Franc in the next one.

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