Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hollow Reading

I recently finished Sunny's Mona Lisa Awakening. As I read, I debated over and over again if I would write my opinion in a post when I was finished. I teetered on the edge of no right up until the point in which the main character orgasms from a tongue thrust in her neck wound. As I realized that Sunny had pushed me past my comfort zone (forcing me to skip several pages to catch my breath and distance myself from that scene) I also realized I wasn't stopping. I didn't set aside this book. And it wasn't because the rest was so good I could overlook the character's delight in wound-play during sex (I'm sure there's a more technical term, and I'm not sure I want to know it). The reason I didn't stop reading was because it was so bad.

Sunny (who did not get on my good side from the get-go with a one-word name that screams overinflated ego) has a dedication in the beginning of the novel that thanks Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Bishop "whose wonderful stories inspired my...series." The acknowledgments intrigued me. I've read both those authors and liked both their works. Their mention had a lot of promise. The reality fell short.

The world Sunny created was a mixed fan fiction of Hamilton and Bishop's worlds, mashed together by their most primary elements, filled in with knock-off cast members from both novels and a main character, Mona Lisa, who reads like a flat character sluiced off the leftovers of the larger-than-life heroines of Hamilton and Bishop's novels.

Mona Lisa is where everything fell apart to me. I might have forgiven the plagiarism/homage of the world Sunny created if her main character had the meat to uphold her own tale. She didn't. A dozen bizarre and dangerous situations happen around her, and she accepts them all with aplomb. She falls in love in less than twenty-four hours, almost all of it off-page and unbelievable. She accepts her remarkable heritage—which comes complete with the magical ability to feed from the moon, shift to other creatures, manipulate humans' minds, and heal with an orgasm—with grace and dignity, always perfectly genteel to the good guys, merciless with the bad guys. She focuses only on the current situation, her thoughts rarely farther than the man in front of her, with nary a thought to the very large problems lurking in their future, including danger to the people she loves.

Above all these problems was a major flaw in the overriding theme: Sunny sets up a world corrupted by people who've held power too long, learned to kill off those with more power and enjoy torturing the rest (usually with rape). A world without love, without compassion, where all the men are broken, longing for a woman they can respect but finding none. And along comes little Mona Lisa, who shows unprovoked, bottomless compassion and intense love with little prompting, and who merely has to be in the same room with a broken male for him to fall madly in love with her (unless he's already insane, in which case, he wants to use her for his own gain).

Now, with my beloved Evanovich novels, I don't expect a lot of character depth, and I don't need a lot of time spent on the main character's motives or reactions—they're action novels meant to be guided by the plot. Sunny's novel was developed around a character, and for me to believe that this character can inspire such devotion and flourish so easily in her new, bizarre world, I need to understand her motives and her reactions and they way she thinks and the leaps in logic she makes. Sunny left me dangling. The novel leapt from action to action, Sunny's attention as tunnel-focused as her main character's. I was struck halfway through the novel with the thought that the book felt like a world Sunny knew so well, had built so clearly in her head, that when she saw it on paper, she was filling in pieces in her head that she never bothered to type. The thought remained true to the last page.

In the end, the novel felt hollow. I'd traveled through a miraculous week with Mona Lisa, and I never grew to care about what happened to her, because I always knew she'd come out unscathed, and if she did get a scratch, she'd just have to have sex with the nearest man to heal. The world felt like snapshots of scenes from Hamilton and Bishop's novels, as if Mona Lisa's tale had been lived out in the backgrounds of these more well-written novels, and a publisher had picked it up simply because it came with the rest of the territory.

Of course, Sunny is a nationally bestselling author, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

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