Friday, May 31, 2013

Switched by Amanda Hocking

Book 1 of The Trylle Trilogy
Synopsis: Wendy has moved to a new town, but there are already people who are far too interested in her. After she meets another new student, Finn, her life takes a turn into another world. There she finds she has another (non-human) family with some high expectations of her.

Like a lot of avid readers, I have a To Read list and I make an actual effort to get to those books. I also have a passel of web bookmarks that are essentially a To Read If I Live Long Enough to Get to These list. I had heard about Amanda Hocking, the e-publishing darling, and put her on the latter list. Honestly, I misremembered her name as Jennifer something so it's really just dumb luck that I saw the final book of this trilogy on the shelf and went in search of the other two. After reading some other similar trilogies set in a supernatural world with teen heroine and two hot alpha males pursuing her, I was thinking I was done with this formula for the foreseeable future. The writing tends to be mushy (as in soft, like fan fiction) and the characters are underdeveloped and overdrawn to the point of caricature. Although I wish I could say Trylle is a huge exception and my faith in YA fantasy is restored, I can say that I hope this is the beginning of an upward trajectory in quality.

Switched leads off with a difficult teenager who can't seem to stay in school or in any one town for long. Wendy Everly and trouble are joined like a chain gang. She's not a bad kid, but her unlucky streak is taking a toll on her and her family, which consists of her older brother Matt and aunt Maggie since her mentally unstable mother tried to kill her as a child. See, unlucky.

Wendy has one more year of school left and everyone is trying hard to make things work. Except there is another new kid in her class who can't keep his eyes off her. Of course Finn is cute and mysterious. It's also the beginning of an end - of Wendy's human life. Magic and family drama kicks into gear and this is where Hocking's take on the supernatural-teen-love-triangle trend sets her apart from most of that lame crowd.

Frankly, I don't know a whole lot of the mythology Hocking has chosen and so I can't really comment on how faithfully or imaginatively she has construed it. It's a refreshing change though and I felt more engaged because I had so few preconceptions about it. Hocking's version is not a particularly robust mythology, but it serves. In general, the story flowed well and kept a good pace - enough that I want to know what happens next, although I may just skim the next two. (This is a step up from the Twilight series, which I wikipedia'ed after reading the first book.) That's because while the characters are diverse enough and have defining personalities, there isn't much depth. A plot will get you so far, but the way to hook a reader is to have characters to invest in and this book is mostly propelled by the chain of events unfolding. The characters seemed jerked around a lot by forces beyond their control. Don't trilogies tend to establish characters in the first book and set them off on the adventure/quest/dilemma/mystery to be built up into the next two books? Maybe it's because the people in Wendy's life are decidedly one-note, but Hocking tries to add tension or dimension by having just about every male character attracted to Wendy to some degree. Two aspects of this irk me to no end. One: men all falling for the same woman is completely an eye-rolling cliché that instantly discredits a writer. Two: When you make readers confused about who the second male in the triangle will be, you have truly gone off the rails. Not knowing which characters are significant is not helpful when the action is barreling on - who is driving the train?? As far as characterization, Hocking gives us cotton candy: a sugary novelty, but when you want a satisfying bite, it's all air.

Despite these blinding flaws, I can see why Hocking has been so successful. Her prose is very consistent and readable. Also, some of her word choices are surprisingly good. The world-building is unoriginal, but simple is way better than disconcerting or confusing. While characterization is shaky, Wendy's struggle to find herself and her place in the world is also astutely done. I didn't find her particularly appealing or admirable, but she sticks to her guns and I can believe in characters like that. In that spirit, I am hoping that I'll have reason to read the next two.

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