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Hanagami Danjo no jo Arakage fighting a giant salamander.Have you ever read a book and gotten frustrated by its cycle of events? Where the characters are afflicted by failure and misfortune, Where any hope of refuge or relief is denied, and flickers of hope are extinguished? Have you ever gotten so frustrated you put the book down? Or maybe even thrown it across the room?

This happened to me while reading George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. While a brilliant writer, GRRM is absolutely brutal to his characters. Things just keep getting worse and worse throughout the book. Failures and consequences, tragedies, frustrations, and death. Sometimes it looks like something might go right–but instead things just get worse than before. I got so frustrated with the lack of success that I stopped reading. Multiple times. (The book wasn’t mine, so I didn’t throw it. I thought about it, though.)

Now, don’t get me wrong–conflict is a necessary part of stories. Without it, there would be no story. The more conflict, the more tense and interesting things get, and the more the characters have to rise to the occasion to save the day–or themselves. There has to be conflict, and it should definitely increase as the book progresses toward the climax.

But there has to be a balance. I, for one, want to feel like we’re getting somewhere. There have to be victories. The characters have to succeed at something, or something good has to happen to them. There has to be encouragement among the frustrations. There has to be hope, even if it’s temporary. There has to be something to lift the spirits to encourage me to keep reading.

I did finish the book, amazingly. I suppose I was hoping for a big payoff in the end–which was silly, given that this is only the first book of the series. So understandably, I was disappointed. There were some victories, but not nearly the magnitude necessary to make wading through the rest of the 800-page book worth it. So I probably won’t read the rest of the series, since I don’t know how much more dredging I can do through these books. If the next books get any better, those of you who have read through the series should let me know. Maybe I’ll give them another chance. Maybe.

On the other hand, I am currently reading The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett. I am only a third of the way through the book, but so far I am enjoying it far more. The difference? The victories. Good things happen. The characters succeed at things–even if they’re small things. Good things happen to the characters. A lot of bad things happen, of course–family members are lost, people are mauled by the coreling demons, shame and failure (all in the book synopsis, so those aren’t spoilers). Yet there are triumphs along the way that keep me interested. After a success I am excited to continue the story. There is a sort of satisfaction that makes reading a story worth it.

Have you ever experienced this? Ever been frustrated with a book because of its lack of victories, or been delighted by one that has a good balance? Have any good suggestions for once you thought were well balanced?

Teegan

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