Art vs basic competence

I know I said I was cutting back on fiction. And I am! But I had this major craving for chocolate last night, and anyway I’d easily made my daily minimum plus a little, so I did in fact start THE CHOCOLATE KISS by Florand. Oh, it is so smooth and delightful, reading it is almost as sensual an experience as letting great chocolate dissolve on your tongue.


It was a good day for princesses. The rain drove them inside, an amused little rain with long, cool fingers that heralded the winter to come and made people fear the drafts in their castles.

These are not literal princesses, I should add; that’s just how the aunts who own this chocolate shop refer to some of their female customers. Despite the non-literal princesses, this is a fantasy — barely; it’s a magical-realism story, which I love, since I personally find that a touch of magic really enhances a romance. Like this:

If a few more princesses had spines, it would do them a world of good, Magalie thought with a huff of irritation, and back in the kitchen she shook her head at the chocolate as she stirred it: May you love your life and seize it with both hands.

And also this bit:

Aunt Aja took the tray out, and just as she left the kitchen, the silver bell over the front door rang with a chime so sharp and true that it pierced Magalie straight through the heart. She clapped her hands over her ears to try and stop the sound, . . . but the tone kept vibrating inside her body, until she stamped her boots twice and slapped the counter to force it to stop.

The bell over the door rings with a different tone depending on who opens the door, see. Naturally that is Magalie’s ideal guy opening the door in that scene, and naturally neither of them has any idea.

Anyway, I’m finding that these books are not the kind you swallow in a gulp; they’re best savored slowly, a bit at a time. Ideal for nibbling your way through a stash of chocolate over several days, and also ideal for not interfering with your own work.

Now, contrast this with A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP by David Weber, which I’m listening to as I rip the knee-high (and sometimes hip-high, I’m embarrassed to admit) grass out of the vegetable garden and give the melons and okra a fighting chance.

“I mean it, Stephanie!” Richard Harrington said. “I don’t want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?”

“Oh, Daaaddy –!” Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping lightly, and her heart sank.

Okay, while basically competent, is anything about this beginning the least bit interesting or special? Does any of it catch the ear like music or poetry? No. No amused little rain here. Plus, wow, folding the arms! Tapping the feet! It makes me laugh because I can’t help thinking of the Nac Mac Feegals in Terry Pratchett’s WEE FREE MEN, and the way they moan in terror if Jeanie shows the folding of the arms, much less the tapping of the feet.

I find Weber’s prose gets the job done, inasmuch as it communicates what’s going on — but I often do find his dialogue stiff and flat-sounding, his metaphors cliched, and his prose in general just uninteresting.

Having produced something of an indictment there, though, let me just add that I am enjoying listening to A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP anyway. I do think Weber can build a story that carries you along. But I also think that if Florand had written this particular space opera, it would be a more beautiful friendship because the prose itself would be beautiful.

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8 thoughts on “Art vs basic competence”

  1. YAY you’re reading The Chocolate Kiss! Isn’t it lovely? Would love to know what you think of it when you’re done. And better have a macaron on hand while you’re reading it.

  2. I’m halfway through the ebook of A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP, and I’m having much the same reaction you are: fun concept, serviceable writing. (For whatever reason, the sections from the treecat’s perspective seem to work better for me than those with a human POV.) I’m reading it mainly to get to the rest of the series, which appears to be co-authored by Jane Lindskold. I was a faithful reader of her Firekeeper Saga, so I know she can write memorable animal characters.

  3. I love what you had to say, Rachel, and also think it’s fascinating that The Chocolate Kiss is in a genre (contemporary romance) which is often seen as less worthy/interesting/well written. (Which is not to say that there aren’t badly written romances or well written SFF, because that’s manifestly untrue. It’s just…interesting.) But Laura Florand’s writing is great, and I think just keeps getting better.

  4. contemporary romance is often seen as less worthy/interesting/well written.

    Ain’t that the truth!

    It annoys me no end when some Literary Snob makes some comment contrasting badly written genre fiction with beautifully written literary novels, but romance definitely suffers more than any other genre from that kind of dismissal.

    Honestly, anything like that is really a clear sign that the snob isn’t as well-read as he thinks he is! But it can definitely be hard to sort out the books you might love from the greater mass you probably won’t.

    I still don’t read many romances, but now that I am tracking Chachic’s reviews, I’m probably going to read more, because I expect any romance she particularly loves is probably going to be really well written. She just reviewed a book called Big Boy by Ruthie Knox on Goodreads, and the way the author is playing with historical role-playing makes that sound almost as appealing as the chocolate mysteries! And since it’s only $2 on Kindle, well . . .

  5. I didn’t know Lindskold was co-author for the other books in the series! I was a huge fan of Brother To Dragons Companion to Owls, that’s just a wonderful story, I really think she is definitely a better writer than Weber. And I bet, with both of them listed as authors, she’s sure to be doing most of the nuts-and-bolts writing. I think you just guaranteed that I’ll be picking up the other books in this series.

  6. I just finished FIRE SEASON, the follow-up to A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP, and I’m pleased to report that I found it a satisfying read. I could definitely see Lindskold’s hand in it. The plot was more sophisticated, the dialogue more realistic, and the characterization more complex (no one-note villain this time). Even the names of people and places were better chosen, I thought (Weber pretty much lost me when he named a planet “Barstool”). I skimmed some of the chapters in the first book (I’ll bet you can guess which ones) but I didn’t skip a page of this one. I’ll be watching for the third book in the series. (Although I’m not sure how much to trust the description of its plot on the Baen website – there are some significant differences between what they say is in the second book and what I actually read).

  7. Thanks for the report, Kristina! It sounds like it’ll be worth picking up from Audible — and it was just a straight Weber story, I think I’d just skip it.

    And yes, I bet I can guess exactly what sections you just skimmed in the first book!

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