Editor’s Note: Today we’re introducing another one of our regular features, “List-o-Rama,” which is part opinion, part airing of grievances, part miscellany.
I really try to be an open-minded reader. I’ve tried loads of genres and authors I assumed I wouldn’t like and have found gems that really speak to me. With that said, I have a few absolute reading dealbreakers. You know, those things that just leave you saying, “No, no, no.”
Now, you may be saying,
“But Sarah, you love Urban Fantasy, which is full of this character type.”
Which would be a true statement.
However, the UF that I love has actual consequences for this sort of behavior. For example, in Patricia Brigg’s marvelous Mercy Thompson series (Goodreads, Amazon), Adam has to learn to keep his domineering tendencies in check—it’s a key part of his character development. The same goes for Jeaniene Frost’s incredibly fun Night Huntress series (Goodreads, Amazon), in which Bones (that name still kills me after following this series through a slew of books) has to change his behavior because he can’t call all the shots anymore. So, really, I’m fairly forgiving as long as there are consequences and a change in the behavior for this character type.
However, my patience flies out the window when there is no accountability. Last year, I got Nalini Singh’s first Guild Hunter novel (Goodreads, Amazon) from the library, because reviewer I really generally agree with raved about her writing (there was no way I was reading the first book in her other series with that title and cover). While I thought the premise was fun (power-hungry angels run the world with an iron fist), I despised the male lead, who was a hard-headed, domineering asshole who seemed to have zero interest in the main female character as a, you know, complete human being with opinions and whatnot. So all of the interesting world-building was for not, because I couldn’t get beyond that character. The same was true for Meljean Brook’s Iron Duke (despite that I really enjoyed the second in that series)—I couldn’t get beyond the WTFery of the male lead’s behavior.
It’s even a bigger dealbreaker when this character type is present in YA. I almost dropped Rachel Vincent’s wonderful Soul Screamers (Goodreads, Amazon) series over that, until I realized where she was going with the series and that in many ways the theme for the entire series of books is Consequences. When the audience is intended to be young teens, especially girls, it enrages me to no end to read a book that sets up such an unhealthy gender dynamic.
Which brings me to a related problem…
Who the hell are the women who’re writing these women who are absolutely inept? I mean, I think stupidity is an equal opportunity condition, but I really am weary of the frequent instance of female character who are constantly doing absolutely dumbass things to force the plot forward. I am really hot and cold with Laura Griffin’s fun, brain candy novels, and her latest one featured one of my bid dealbreakers, the TSTL female lead. Snapped’s (Goodreads, Amazon) lead is an utter moron who goes running off into the line of fire for no apparent reason (note: I believe she isn’t the first Griffin lead to pull this same TSTL stunt).
I recently finished a reading another book (I’ll review it soon) that was marketed as a caper/heist type novel and the female lead is once again dumb as a brick. She is stupidly trusting, so much so that she not only allows one random dude to handle (and then steal) a very valuable gemstone, she then randomly runs off with another dude who promises to help recover the diamond from Random Dude #1. Needless to say, none of this works out all that well for our rocket scientist in training.
A dead giveaway for this dealbreaker approaching is if the author goes out of her/his way to tell us at the very beginning how brilliant this character is. She never, ever is.
Often related to the TSTL female lead is…
Dealbreaker #3 Stupid decisions related to condom usage, or actually lack thereof.
I’m going to pick on poor Laura Griffin again, and I feel kind of terrible about it, because some of her books (especially the Glass Sisters novels) are all kinds of fun. When I finished reading Snapped, this was what I posted to Goodreads,
…had I read this as a paper book and not an ebook, I would have thrown my book against the wall during the inevitable unsexy sex scene in which they have an awful “conversation” in which Sophie tells Jonah that condoms are unnecessary—yet, she has no basis for knowing this! I mean, come on… in this day and age? Really? I mean, condoms don’t just prevent pregnancy! Geez… Basics, people!
I just have no words for this trend. (Except I actually have many…)
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve quite reading a book because of this—and it spans all genres (I’d argue that back when I still read literary fiction, it seemed like it occurred even more often in that genre—and yes, I believe lit-fic is a genre). I don’t need a blow-by-blow (ha!), but some reference so I know that the chances of these folks catching Chlamydia or crabs or whatever the kids are catching these days has been reduced. I’ve read that some readers think that since it’s fiction, we don’t need that, but it’s totally distracting to me and honestly kind of gross.
And, seriously, folks, just because the two characters have gotten to know one another or proclaimed their undying love for one another doesn’t negate the need for this issue to be addressed.
I remember having an email exchange with Maggie awhile back about how this bothers me so much, and she pointed out that Shannon Stacey, Julie James and Victoria Dahl all handle this very well in their novels. So, note to writers: read their books.
And, yes, this is another one of those instances where it’s way worse when it happens in YA.
And, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have…
Dealbreaker #4 Infertility and/or babymania as a major plot point.
It’s not that I hate children, but I really don’t want to read about infertility. It’s simply not something I want to read about and why I generally avoid any novel classified as “women’s fiction,” as those themes seem to sneak into that subgenre quite often. I could pick on Laura Griffin again and say that the character in her second novel is the absolute worst I’ve ever read with regard to this theme (she steals a bunch of money to pay for fertility treatments!), but I won’t, because that’s mean. (This isn’t to make light of something that truly impacts people’s lives, but rather to point out that for me, this theme is a dealbreaker—I will DNF a book if this becomes a major plot point.)
Plus, isn’t that what Facebook’s for?
And finally we have…
This is a sneaky one, because usually the forgiveness doesn’t happen until late in a novel, so I end up finishing because there are only, say, 30 pages left. But, this is one that really bothers me in YA, but is common in adult novels as well (especially those with romance themes). Basically, this is the scenario in which a character is forgiven, despite that their behavior is so assholish that in real life one’s friends would stage an intervention to keep Character A from actually forgiving Character B.
This was my big problems with Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. In that novel, the main character’s father is completely unworthy of the forgiveness he receives from his daughter. The guy cheated on her mother and basically opted out of acting like a parent because he was so swept up in his new life with the much younger woman with whom he had an affair. While I can see the father and daughter reconciling and attempting to have a relationship despite his completely despicable actions, it happens incredibly quickly and the father has essentially accepted zero responsibility for wrecking his kids’ lives.
And, I have to pick on poor Laura Griffin again(ag! some of her books are so, so fun!). In One Wrong Step, Celie does so many bad things and John, a seemingly smart guy, forgives her way too easily—with no real assurance that she won’t engage in similar WTFery in the future. And I get that this is fiction, and ultimately, a fantasy, but I am so fed up of fictional characters acting like jerks and the writers shying away from creating a story with real consequences for their characters. And, frankly, that road toward real forgiveness can be a far better storyline than the artificial obstacles created in many novels featuring undeserved forgiveness.
It’s interesting looking at this list, because the thread that runs through all but one is that theme of consequences. Particularly in contemporary fiction (including suspense), I want reasonable ramifications for characters’ actions, because it’s supposed to have some sort of relationship to real life. But even in urban fantasy, I just stop caring when the characters seemingly exist in a bubble that protects them from the consequences of their actions. And, many of my favorite novels (ie, books like the Mercy Thompson series and Mindi Scott’s brilliant contemporary YA, Freefall) consequences are significant themes.
I’d love to know what your book dealbreakers are. Is it the Alpha Male? Historical inaccuracies? Unlikeable narrators? Share your dealbreakers in the comments. :)