Mercedes Lackey is one of the authors who, following the terrorist attacks that shook the country, immediately began including dedications to the victims and heroes of 9/11 in her books. At the time, I thought it was a nice touch. However, then we have Mad Maudlin. The third of the “modern day” Eric Banyon books written with Rosemary Edghill, this one clearly takes place in November of 2002. The date is never actually said, of course, but 9/11 is mentioned repeatedly throughout and if it’s November and yet the Christmas tree liglhts were lit on time, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first Thanksgiving since.
It’s here that Mad Maudlin ties most closely in theme to the SERRAted Edge. The original four books in that series were PSAs shedding light on abused and homeless children, one of many problems that was magnified in New York City following the attacks. Considering that three characters spend most of the book as homeless children, it’s not exactly a background subject either. The authors touch on how much damage the simple fact of the 9/11 did to the psyche of the city and country – something that should not be overlooked.
Mad Maudlin is that mid-series book that sees that most of the continuing plots have been concluded, and so brings in something new (that has already been set up) that won’t be wrapped up in a single volume. Hence the not-so-subtle plug at the back of the book for Music to My Sorrow. For some reason this is also the book where I start to get a bit of fatigue. Every time. But I always persevere and push on to the next, which also happens to be the last. Which is a good thing, because I think that’s the point where it starts to stretch my credulity.
Every piece of fiction gets one suspension of disbelief, I’ve been told. You can say that magic is real, that Hitler was assassinated, etc. Whatever your one “gimme” is. But you only get one. And if you need another, you’re likely to lose your audience.
There’s an author out there – Barbara Hambly. I first learned about her through Mercedes Lackey’s CD Magic, Moondust, & Melancholy. It’s a filk CD of songs Lackey wrote about various topics, most of them books or series that she herself enjoys. One of the songs, Gil-Shallos, is about one of the main characters from Hambly’s Darwath trilogy. And since Lackey seemed to be advertising the books, I decided to pick them up. They were good, and I began to keep an eye out for more Hambly.
Through a series of strange but real events (I’ll save that for another post), I ended up at an estate sale where I was able to buy a large number of Hambly’s books. It seemed that she had written some of the novels based on the Beauty and the Beast TV show. The old one from the late 80s. The books were cheap, I figured I might as well buy them while I could. I only got the first three, since only two of those were by Hambly (the first and third). They weren’t bad, but after the third, I decided that it just wasn’t logical that this one woman would be the center of even more events after this. And I knew I’d reached the end of my suspension of disbelief for that series.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of series end up going strange places by the fourth book. But there’s a difference between “so, um, I guess we’re working with gods now?” and “I really don’t think this would happen.” The former is deus ex machina that still makes sense within the world created. The latter is plot convenience and bad writing technique. It can be a very fine line – and I can be very forgiving to some authors more than others – but it is a line to avoid crossing if possible.
I think my other issue with this set going on for four books is that there’s a reason why trilogies sell. Three is a powerful number in multiple ways, and we tend to find threes a comfortable way to break large things down into chunks. Quartets don’t always work as well, and in this case, while I know that there would otherwise be too much going on in any one book if we cut out the fourth, I feel like the set as a whole would be stronger if it had been reduced to three.
Just looking at the bookshelf next to me, I see a lot of trilogies and other sets of three. Daniel Fox’s Moshui books, Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, The Lord of the Rings, Joanne Bertin’s Dragonlords, the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel comics most especially. Those are rather interesting. There are currently four complete sets of three out, and a new one has just begun as of Tuesday. Since amazon delivered it, I of course had to read it when I got the chance. That chance happened to be today.
This is North and South: Part One, written by Gene Yuen Lang. As I mentioned, this is the first volume in the fifth follow-up story to the animated series (previous installments being The Promise, The Search, The Rift, and Smoke and Shadows). These stories as a whole help explain how the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender became the world of The Legend of Korra within mere decades (think medieval Asia becoming early 20th century). In North and South, Sokka and Katara are finally returning home to the Southern Water Tribe which has been making changes…but they may not all be for the good. I can already make some guesses as to where this is going, of course, but it’ll be some months before I can verify those guesses. Regardless, I enjoy the graphic novels and will keep collecting them.