Not why I stopped blogging; I'm not self-aware enough to write about that, and it's not very interesting.
But why I stopped reading this book that I had been excited about and that seemed to be giving me everything I always ask for when I talk about books. I've been thinking a lot about why the book I just set aside, Beneath the Citadel, didn't work for me, and about what to say about it.
Self-conscious aside: writing a negative post about a book that I didn't actively dislike but that just didn't work for me feels mean. I often just skip those--I'll write a pan of something that was amusingly bad (foreshadowing; watch this space), but a book that I have some respect for but that didn't work for me--taking the time to pick it apart feels kind of petty.
But the question of why I felt that way is interesting, and it's what's been on my mind. So my apologies to the author, and all of my respect for the good work that went into this book that ended up being not for me.
First, let's say that the cover is glorious. I stared at the cover for a long time before I got a chance to start reading (when it was on my desk at work), and it brought me a lot of joy. The first chapter was also truly excellent; four young rebels appear before a tribunal and are sentenced to death for breaking into the citadel. We learn their characters, get some great moments, and spend some interesting time inside the head of the Chancellor, who is surprisingly sympathetic for the head of the government against which we're going to be rooting.
This is just what I ask for--start me in the middle of some action. Not the climax, but I have so little patience for a first page that is mostly descriptive. Don't start me with the weather or the landscape; start with our characters doing something, so I can learn about them by watching them interact with the world. Perfect here.
Then they're taken into the dungeons, to be executed tomorrow. They execute an unlikely escape, which is pretty cool and impressive, and they flee into the catacombs that are, appropriately enough, beneath the citadel.
Now, I read the first quarter of this book, over 100 pages. The entirety of this section was our four main characters on the run. Aside from one very important plot driving incident, not much happens in this run. They are finding their way through the catacombs; there are soldiers chasing them, sometimes closer sometimes further away.
What's really happening in this section is backstory. And there's a lot of it--you've got four characters to meet, to learn how they ended up here and how their relationships with each other work. We also have a huge amount of world-building--who are the rebels, and against what are they rebelling? We have to learn about how the visions of the seers have governed this world, how the rebellion arose and was put down, where these characters fall in the hundreds of years of political backstory this represents.
There are a lot of gaps to fill in, and there's a lot of explaining to get us caught up to date. There are scenes from the past, but there's no tension to them, because the outcomes are all foregone conclusions--here is how Cassa and Kestrel met. We already know they'll become best friends; watching it happen doesn't have the tension, the chance of the unexpected that keeps me reading.
I think what I'm seeing is that, while the book so far has a decent amount of things happening, there is not nearly enough surprise. There is almost no change at all, not even small moments of surprise, at this point in the book. On a different day, the writing and the characters might have kept me going; I suspect it's going to change shape soon.
But today, I'm antsy and impatient, and I'm lost. I still want very much to go back and read this author's previous book, Iron Case, which I've heard is excellent. But here and now, I'm just going to have to shift gears.