Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Shifting viewpoint

So, I’m reading THE SHATTERED PILLARS.

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I like it very much. I do. But I don’t love it. And this is why: Shifting point-of-view.

This is not a book where the pov changes with each chapter. It’s a book where the pov changes many times per chapter. Sometimes a pov section is less than a page long. We are seldom with any specific pov for longer than a few pages.

In the first book, which I *loved*, we had two main pov characters: Temur, a prince of the steppes, and Sarmarkar, a wizard of Tsarepheth. We also had two or three minor pov characters, including the bad guy, al-Sepehr, who is indeed pretty Bad; and Edene, Temur’s woman, who was kidnapped by al-Sepehr.

In the second book, we spend A LOT less time with Temur and Sarmarkar because we also get more extensive point-of-view sections not only from al-Sepehr and Edene, but also from al-Sepehr’s servant(s), the twins, who at this point cohabit in Saadet’s body; Empress Yangchen, who has accidentally allowed her own country to be invaded by horrible demon things and is being eaten up by guilt because of that, and no wonder; Hong-la, a wizard who is trying to save people from the horrible demon things; Tsering, who ditto; and Hrahima, who is a woman from a species of tiger people.

This is too many for me. I could care about any of those characters, because they are all interesting, but since I never get to spend more than a few pages with any of them, it’s hard to get emotionally engaged with them. Saadet is an interesting person and she’s in an interesting position; she could easily carry her own story; but she only gets a handful of pages here and there, and in context, her interesting story simply pulls attention away from Temur and Sarmarkar. It’s too few pages for *her* story, but too many pages of her story to let the main pov characters carry me along with *their* journey. The same goes for every single one of the minor characters.

So. I’m still interested in how all this works out, and I’m fine with going on, but. A lot less emotional engagement.

I think I am intrinsically less into epic fantasy, with these cluttered pov casts, and far more into adventure fantasy that focuses more on one or two protagonists and does not insist on presenting the reader with the points of view of every character in the whole entire world.

Or, OR, that’s not quite it, or at least that’s not entirely it.

If there is going to be a cluttered pov cast, then I would prefer to spend PLENTY OF TIME with each character before switching to another. That is the basic difference between Sherwood Smith’s INDA series, for example, and this one. I can think of other examples easily, so this is definitely a thing for me. Miller and Lee’s Carpe Diem, two thumbs up; but their Fledgling, two thumbs down; and primarily for the same exact reason.

Any of you already read the whole Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky series? Did you have the same issue as the pov became more diffuse, or was that fine with you? I wonder if this is a difference between readers who are more focused on character vs more focused on plot.

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7 Comments Shifting viewpoint

  1. Kristen

    Too bad this isn’t working for you as well as the first book. Glad you are enjoying it even if you don’t love it, though!

    I LOVED the first two books. The extra points of view didn’t bother me in the second book at all, and I thought they added a lot of dimension to both the characters and the world. But the third book had at least as many viewpoints (if I remember correctly, a couple MORE viewpoints were added even) and I didn’t think it worked nearly as well. It seemed to just add more words and pages, and I thought it was really drawn out until closer to the end. I even put it down to read other books a couple of times because it just wasn’t holding my interest.

  2. Rachel

    Hi, Kristen — I’m not surprised that points-of-view keep multiplying; once that trend starts in a series, I think it usually keeps on going. It’s interesting, because I think the additional pov do add a greater dimension to the world, and of course this is the only way the reader can possibly see that Saadet (say) is a more interesting and more rounded character than she might seem from the outside. And yet . . . and yet . . . yeah, for me, this scattering of the pov, at least in such small scenes, just does inevitably lead to a lower overall engagement with the story. Also, I’m sort of feeling like even this second book is more drawn out than seems strictly necessary — though that I don’t particularly mind.

    I’m also a little taken aback that the main protagonists have visited The Rock and managed to come and go without ever discovering the chained male ruhk. Wow, if *I’d* been writing this, that male would be on the wing right now and the female freed from servitude. Well, we’ll see how that detail works itself out in the third book.

    Still, as you say, I am enjoying it and I hope I will find the third one at least as gripping as the second.

  3. Hanneke

    I think your analysis is right.
    I read all three, and my engagement with the books was less for 2 than 1, and least for 3, to the point where the denouement of a lot of the subplots hasn’t stuck with me.
    I didn’t analyse why, but I remember being less interested in what was going on with some of the other viewpoints-plots, and wishing she’d stuck closer to telling the primary story started in the first book.

    I did/do read some epic fantasy, but haven’t started on any new ones in years. I often find myself impatient to follow some favorite viewpoints’ stories, and almost* skimming some of the ones with which I don’t connect as much – to the point of making pencil notes in the indexes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, of which characters were in which chapters/pages, so that I could reread just the Perrin & Faile or Lan or whoever bits in the earlier books – and stopped rereading them at all long before the series ended.
    * I can’t quite skim things on the first read-through (except for some of the villainous scenes if those get too bad), because I need to know how the story goes and how my favorite bits fit into the whole, before I can let the less-interesting (to me) bits fade into the background.

  4. Rachel

    Hi, Hanneke — I was trying to think of some other epic fantasies where we get to spend enough time with each character to get more emotionally involved with them. I should come up with a list.

    I do skim a bit, even on a first read, but it’s true I do want to pay enough attention to see how the whole thing fits together. It’s a good idea to make notes, but I probably won’t — I’m not that organized!

  5. Mary Anne

    I have to admit that once I get a hint of multiple POVs, I remove a book from my To Be Read list. Unless it’s an author I know and love. Ever since I read Little Women as a kid, it has driven me crazy. I’d just get enmeshed in one character’s life and world, then Snap! and over to another. It was (and still is) disorienting. And I’m shallow. I don’t want to read about the bad guys and their nefarious plans and schemes. I want to figure it out with my sympathetic protagonist. It may ratchet up the suspense a bit knowing bad things are coming and feeling my favorites walk deeper into a trap – but it still irritates me. And for me, changing POV is almost like stopping to change clothes – I may really like the new outfit, but I was pretty darn happy in the old one and WHY (insert whine) did you make me stop and change? I had just got comfy…and I know damn well you’re gonna make me do it again in the next chapter!

    Anne Bishop does the evil villain POV a lot in her books. And I guess that’s how I know whether the added POV has merit for me. When I reread the book, will I want to reread that part or will I skip over it because it may advance the plot, but I don’t care about the character? And in Anne Bishop’s books, there are a lot of scenes, told from evil villain POV, where I just don’t care! She’s not the only one, but her name sprang to mind. For another example, I never finished the Wheel of Time series (is it over yet?) but as it went on, I found the same problem.

    I admit I gave up on the Game of Thrones series because of too many POVs, many of whom I didn’t care about. And I really liked the first book. So I guess my personal bottom line is if I am going to read multiple POVs, they have to be people that I love and want to spend up close and personal time with. Bujold’s “A Civil Campaign.” The second book in Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s Companion to Wolves series – though I think that didn’t have quite so many POVs – more the change to different POVs that did not include the main character from the first book. Sherwood Smith’s Inda series. Smith and Miller’s Liaden series.

    OK, I’ll stop. Obviously there’s a lot of multiple POVs that I’ve read and liked. But so many more that Ive never picked up because I’ve heard multiple POV, or I’ve read a few chapters and the characters were not compelling enough to be worth the changing viewpoints.

  6. Hanneke

    I agree with Mary Anne: if I have to spend time with multiple viewpoint, I want to be able to enjoy spending time in their heads, and I don’t like evil villains’ viewpoints. For me, that was the trouble with the Bear, as I took a hefty dislike to the mother-in-law-murdering empress, mostly for the callous way she set up her husband to be burned to death for it, and did not want to spend time in her head; and I didn’t like Ummuhan either. If it had been her story from the beginning I might have been able to get into the character and become commited to following her story; but I might just as easily have decided this story would probably be too dark for me, and never have started it.

    But dual viewpoints are common in romance, and fantasy with some romance can be much enriched by that. Look at the different views of the world presented by Dag and Fawn in Bujold’s Sharing Knife; each has their own culture as well as character and literal view of the world (with or without the life-sense), and getting both the inside and the outsider’s view of things really adds depth.
    And I loved what Megan Whalen Turner did with her viewpoints, changing the way events are perceived and then making me do a double-take while staying perfectly true to her viewpoint!
    But all those stories where I enjoy the multiple viewpoints have them not just to add extra storylines, but to add depth or interesting twists to the main story, and those viewpoints are from people who are at least a bit sympathetic, not just interesting in a ‘fascinatingly nasty’ or ‘get the reader invested in a victim before we kill him off so the death has more impact’ sort of way – I really hate those!

  7. Rachel

    [N]ot just interesting in a ‘fascinatingly nasty’ or ‘get the reader invested in a victim before we kill him off so the death has more impact’ sort of way – I really hate those!

    Me, too! GRRM does both, it seems like *all the time*, which is why I’ll probably never read the rest of GoT.

    The Empress improved so much as a person that I was surprisingly willing to make allowances for the burning-her-husband to death thing. I agree that would have been a really hard sell if she’d been the only main character: the part when she was still justifying all that to herself would have turned me off and I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the “But maybe that was wrong” part.

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