Cliffhangers – a dilemma

A cliffhanger is a type of narrative or a plot device in which the end is curiously abrupt without offering any resolution of conflicts. Usually it involves leaving the main character(s) in a difficult or dangerous situation. As a result suspense is created at the very end of the novel, leaving the readers in such a state that they could not help but to ask, “What will happen next?” This type of end is common to the serially published novels and TV serials.

Cliffhanger plot device shouldn’t be mixed with an ambiguous or open ending, when the reader is left to decide what’s happened next for artistic reasons or with a dangling plot lines ending that ties up the majority of the story or the main conflict but leaves some things unresolved so the reader/viewer knows that the story will be continued but, e.g. with another set of main leads.

Origin and all the rest

In 1930s episodes of early film serials often ended with characters in desperate situations such as hanging literally off the edge of a cliff. Still that plot device is much older; actually it has roots in ancient oriental literature. In the collection of stories known as “One Thousand and One Nights” the king Shehreyar, disillusioned by an unfaithful woman, ordered that every virgin girl he married should be hanged after their first night together. The clever Scheherazade devised a plan to end that slaughter of innocent spouses. She married the king and told him a story  every night which ending would be left unresolved. It worked like a wonder: Shehreyar postponed the order of execution every morning, anxious to hear the rest of the story. That situation lasted 1001 nights so about three years before Scheherazade managed to persuade the king that not every woman was stupid and/or unfaithful and she was a wife worth keeping. Why she didn’t organize a coup d’etat in that time and became an independent ruler instead of that revengeful idiot is beyond me. Oh wait, I know. She was permanently sleep-deprived, poor thing.

Still you must agree such a situation is rather exceptional – I mean rarely authors, directors and writers face such an alternative. Usually they just want you to buy another part of the series, watch the next episode of a serial or return to the next act of a play. Neither William Shakespeare nor Thomas Hardy were above such tricks knowing pretty well that most people are curious creatures and they would spend and spend in order to satiate once aroused curiosity.

Personally I consider a cliffhanger a mean, cheap and rather desperate way to ensure your next piece of fiction will sell. I hate them with few exceptions. Why? First of all I find it extremely annoying – I haven’t been reading a book, spending a considerable amount of time among its heroes and heroines, only to find more questions than answers at the very end of it. It’s unfair. In my view it’s also bit like an extortion. An author says: ‘I know you’re curious but I won’t tell you this or that if you don’t pay me more’. Dear authors,  I appreciate a satisfying resolution. If your prose/series is good I will buy another part without such ham-handed ‘encouragement’. On the other hand if it is bad, nothing will force me to invest more money in it even if you leave all your characters suspended from different roofs and cliffs.

An even more vicious form of cliffhangers is sometimes featured in romance series when the author makes you guess for several installments who the main character will end up with. And then they usually end up with the wrong kind of dude/gal leaving me completely disgruntled.

What about you? Do cliffhangers ruin a story for you or you don’t mind them at all? Does it bother you to know that you’ll be left guessing at the end of a novel for some time, sometimes as long as a year or even several years? Have you ever bought another part of a series just because the previous one ended with a cliffhanger and you were curious what would happen next? Were you happy with the answer/solution or were you rather disappointed?

My sources:

Posted in literature theory | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats 02) by Sebastien de Castell

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

A few days after the horrifying murder of a duke and his family, Falcio val Mond, swordsman and First Cantor of the Greatcoats, begins a deadly pursuit to capture the killer. But Falcio soon discovers his own life is in mortal danger from a poison administered as a final act of revenge by one of his deadliest enemies. As chaos and civil war begin to overtake the country, Falcio has precious little time left to stop those determined to destroy his homeland.

My impressions:

Yes, I jumped right in the middle of a series – and I am proud of it. Who is to make me read all those series in order? ;p Anyway, a good book should be able to defend itself and stand alone without any problems, no matter whether it is the first, the second or the last part, right? And here I’ve experienced problems, unfortunately.

Aline, Aline, Aline…her name definitely should be in the title as, at the beginning, it is repeated at least two-three times on every page. Who is that precious Aline? A thirteen-year-old daughter of a murdered monarch, King Paelis, to be protected at all cost, or so her grandmother decrees. My problem was I am not exactly fond of young girls in their teens as book characters. Or prospective queens…

Ok, let’s return to the beginning. It’s a cloak-dagger-and-magic high fantasy novel featuring Falcio who is a Greatcoat meaning a kind of super-soldier. Falcio was sworn to protect Aline (whom else) and put her on the throne of Tristia but, meanwhile, he fell in love (no, not with Aline, what a pity). I disliked him instantly. Aline felt pangs of conscience because of that (Falcio will never be happy, awwww!) which, I suppose, should have made me like the kid but it didn’t. I was rooting for Trin instead – the evil, scheming eighteen-year-old b**ch who, allegedly, slept with her own uncle and was an insincere vixen and a skilled actress (translation: she was pretty, devious, clever and had an army bigger than Aline, imagine the cheek). Oh, and Trin’s late mother, Patriana, used to be a major political player. In previous part she managed to capture and torture Aline and, vicariously, Falcio. I wished she was still alive.

Dariana and Tailor, two female secondary characters, helped me to go through first 200 pages but somehow the whole conflict failed to interest me so I DNFed this one. I hate noble heroes. They reek of hypocrisy.

Final verdict:

I do hope the first part was better but, to be honest, I am  not especially anxious to find out. Lower strata of meh – just because black female characters were really good.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in adventure, book review, fantasy, historically-flavoured, meh, rating | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

May flowers part two

I am going to honour the weekends of the month of May with photos of flowers which can be found in my neighbourhood. All photos have been taken by yours truly with an almost anachronistic camera – enjoy!

Not exactly a flower but still lovely…

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Rowan tree flower

Pst, pst…if you want me to continue posting photos here in June as well let me kindly know in your comments. I might try to capture a fern flower for you all! 😀

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The Thief (The Queen’s Thief) by Megan Whalen Turner

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects a youth called Gen from the king’s prison. He was captured for stealing the king’s seal and the magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.

My impressions:

It was a YA fantasy, high fantasy too, and still I was left impressed. Really. First of all, there was no romance of any kind. It made my heart warmer instantly even though the novel featured few female characters and all of them belonged to the background – a feature I usually criticize. Secondly the world build was very original – a mix of ancient Greek mythology and stories which sounded even older, a bit prehistoric. At first I frowned, not impressed by stories within a story, but then I was left charmed almost despite myself.

Gen was a dynamic, well-drawn character who has several surprises in store. He  spent most of the book  whining about current conditions and the limited food, and sassing the magus and other members of the group. Still he wasn’t annoying, he sounded believable AND has a wicked sense of humour. His companions freed him in order to gain a thief who can steal a powerful artifact and let’s face it, Gen has no disillusions about his abilities. He was actually named after the god of thieves, Eugenides. While his father wanted him to be a soldier, he knew that was not the life for him. Instead, he honed his skills at stealing like his mother, until he was one of the best if not the very best in the land.

Such a simple premise and it worked like a wonder. The artifact in question was also well-thought-out  and made me curious. I think I am going to give the second part a try.

Final verdict:

It was one of few YA books which, instead of leaving me annoyed, made me intrigued and curious – well done!

Posted in adventure, book review, fantasy, YA | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

May flowers part one

This year I am going to honour the weekends of the month of May with photos of flowers which can be found in my neighbourhood. All photos have been taken by yours truly with an almost anachronistic camera – enjoy!

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Movie review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) directed by Bill Condon

Product info:

Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.

My impressions:

Basically I could write I wasn’t impressed and it would cover it all nicely. If you ever wished somebody directed the old 1991 animated Disney movie’s remake but with actors, here it is. Still be careful what you wish for: who is to say that a live-action/CGI-animated remake has to be better than the original? Certainly not me.

The Beastly prince wasn’t especially ugly and it was hard to believe he truly fell in love. Emma Watson’s Belle wasn’t intelligent enough and/or charismatic enough to make a lasting impression. Her fixation with books , especially Romeo and Juliet, my least favourite Shakespeare play, didn’t endear her to me, not really. She didn’t discover love, just an opportunity. In fact she seemed as desperate as the Beast to change her status quo: he wanted to return to a human form, she wanted to move forward, far away from her mundane, boring village. Because she thought she deserved something BETTER.

Yes, I admit some scenes were dazzling but they also seemed just like empty accessories, created to stun you just for a moment. Definitely not my idea of a successful remake.

Final verdict:

I might sound like an old crone but if you want to watch something truly magical turn to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic  La Belle et la Bête, which is a film told with the bittersweet poetry the story needs. Or read the fairy tale.

Posted in animation, book-film-show, fairy tale, meh, movie review, rating | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Malice by Keigo Higashino

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Acclaimed bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found brutally murdered in his home on the night before he’s planning to leave Japan and relocate to Vancouver. His body is found in his office, a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis. Or so it seems.

At the crime scene, Police Detective Kyochiro Kaga recognizes Hidaka’s best friend, Osamu Nonoguchi. Years ago when they were both teachers, they were colleagues at the same public school. Kaga went on to join the police force while Nonoguchi eventually left to become a full-time writer, though with not nearly the success of his friend Hidaka.

As Kaga investigates, he eventually uncovers evidence that indicates that the two writers’ relationship was very different that they claimed, that they were anything but best friends. Still was it enough for a crime?

My impressions:

The beginning was really slow but, being told over and over again that the book is good, I didn’t give up. I became definitely more interested in the plot when Osamu was accused of murder and owned up to the crime. My interest even grew further when Kaga kept digging anyway because in his humble opinion something was off. Kaga’s diligence was a bit strange, almost bordering obsession, but that’s how a good investigator is supposed to act, right?

Overall all the characters seemed to me a tad too schematic, almost like origami figurines, but maybe that’s a cultural thing; after all the Japanese society has never been known to encourage colourful personalities and bursts of feelings. I also wanted to read more about the females which were left out like props after a while – another move reflecting, I suppose, the position of a woman in an Asiatic country.

Then came a part with interviews, conducted by Kaga, and it almost lulled me into boredom. The final bit made it up to me a bit although I still wish it was done differently, not as a kind of monologue of Kaga facing mute Nonoguchi which once again was a pain to read. Oh well. The cover art is gorgeous, though, and cleverly done.

Final verdict:

An interesting whodunit which will surprise you more than one time – if only you manage to wade through the first 50 pages or so.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, mystery | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Promise of Blood (Powder Mages 01) by Brian McClellan

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

My impressions:

The first part of the series…it was supposed to blow my mind. It was supposed to make me overawed and so very eager to find out more. Only it didn’t.

I admit it: it was all fast-paced, with accents relocated properly within the story. I enjoyed especially the narrative of Adamat, a private investigator employed by Tamas who then was blackmailed into treason. I also liked Mihali the super-cook and an aspiring god who could feed the whole army with no tangible resources at hand.  The rest I glossed over. Why? There were no strong female characters which could make the story a tad less masculine and adrenaline-fuelled even if, officially, both sides didn’t lack females, kick-ass and not so kick-ass. What’s worse, there was no sense of humour. Tamas was a sad powder keg, constantly hovering near the edge of a collapse and mourning his late wife. Taniel was a frantic powder junkie running from one mission to the other just to forget his cheating ex-fiancee. Ka-poel, a mute voodoo sidekick, seemed to exist only to save Taniel’s life (or have her life saved by him in turn). She could have been good but she was mute, ha, ha so we knew close to nothing about her character. There were also some plot-holes and not all of the characters’ actions made sense but it bothered me less than it should, what, with all that skimming and jumping.

Add to that an inconsistent, incompetent world build, full of powder mages and Privileged whose skills and superhuman abilities could change in a blink of an eye and gods who weren’t gods until they were, but not like you imagined. Sounds convoluted? So was my impression. It seemed to me the author didn’t think out his ideas as thoroughly as he should have.

Add to that a fantasy version of the Great French Revolution which was presented in a very sketchy way and lasted days instead of years but changed hardly anything. It bothered me that Tamas decided to overthrow a dynasty without even planning his next two-three steps. Perhaps it mirrored well the author’s plot-building skills (‘I’ll patch this and that later…oups, I’ve forgotten about it entirely,’) but it certainly didn’t make me impressed.

Finally the novel ended with a cliffhanger – something which didn’t improve my mood either.

Final verdict:

Promise of Blood does indeed promise you a lot. Unfortunately, when it comes to crucial elements, it doesn’t deliver. In my very humble opinion the author lacks some knowledge about issues he was writing about, military strategy and believable magic system being at the top of the list. Meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in adventure, book review, fantasy, historically-flavoured, meh, rating | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

I read this one because of dear Melfka – thank you very much, I am obliged!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The strange planet known as Tanegawa’s World is owned by TransRifts Inc, the company with the absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. Hob landed there ten years ago, a penniless orphan left behind by a rift ship. She was taken in by Nick Ravani and quickly became a member of his mercenary biker troop, the Ghost Wolves.

Ten years later, she discovers that the body of Nick’s brother out in the dunes. Worse, his daughter is missing, taken by shady beings called the Weathermen. But there are greater mysteries to be discovered – both about Hob and the strange planet she calls home.

My impressions:

It wasn’t a bad book, not bad at all. I had a bit of a problem with motorcycles on a desert (sand and machinery of any kind don’t like each other but, I suppose, hovercrafts would be better) but overall it was fine. Hob Ravani was my type of heroine: flawed, headstrong, intelligent and independent. Her bestie, Mag, could have been more fleshed-out but I appreciated the mere fact that the author included a friendship between two girls in such a book AND almost no romance thread at all. There were hints about Hob and a creature called Bone Collector but they remained just hints, as they should.

Unfortunately the plot left me a bit unimpressed. It was all right up to, roughly, the middle of the story but after the tragic death of Mag’s mom I had an impression that everything was collapsing, becoming more and more predictable, mimicking other stories of that kind here and there. I finished the book only to check whether my personal predictions were right. Most of them were – it is not a compliment. Still I consider it a very interesting debut, perhaps a beginning of a series. A David against a Goliath, it might be interesting to watch.

Final verdict:

If the idea of ‘Dune’ with bikers and coal mines appeals to you and you don’t care about romance it is your story. Still don’t try to guess the plot twists – more likely than not you might succeed and the fun will be over. The upper strata of meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in book review, dystopia, fantasy, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

My impressions:

I loved the premise of this one. The author compared ancient Sumerian language to an audio virus which could infect programmers and spread like bush fire. I loved the beginning too, with a pizza delivery almost gone wrong. I loved the dystopian world where governments had collapsed and societies were held loosely together by anarcho-capitalism.

Still the book was far from perfect. It was obvious it didn’t age well for one thing. The ending was horrible, preceded by info-dumpish, chapter-length explanations, interesting only for nerds, and a fairy-tale interpretation of Neurolinguistics which sometimes was fine and sometimes bordered ridiculous. Some characters really made me raise my hackles, especially a teenage girl called Y.T., a smart skater Kourier Mary-Sue who enchants everybody around her even if she is as flat as a cardboard pizza box, perhaps even flatter. Different cyberpunk gizmos that she carries along seem to act as an equivalent of individuality. Don’t even let me start writing about romance story arcs, as dry as sand on the desert.

Final verdict:

The book read like a list of brilliant ideas and missed opportunities. A dated version of cyberpunk I could swallow. Some characters, especially females, I couldn’t. Still disliking it  completely was for me impossible, flaws or no flaws, especially because of lovely Sumerians who were treated by the authors as equals to our contemporaries.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in book review, dystopia, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments