Recent Reading: The Invisible ring

I don’t think I completed even one new-to-me book during February. Pretty sure that is a new low in books read per month for my entire life. I mean, since I learned to read, anyway. I did read parts of four new-to-me books. all of which I actually do like and I trust I will complete at least some of them in March. But wow, is this a low-reading year.

But mentioning the Black Jewels trilogy kind of put me in the mood to read another book in this series that I’d never gotten to.

This is a prequel novel — it takes place well before the Black Jewels trilogy and is referenced by later books in the overall series. I don’t know why I skipped it initially. Reviews are not bad. It’s at 4.7 stars. I assume some of Anne Bishop’s fans just rate everything of hers five stars no matter what, but I’m surprised it’s that high. I sort of liked it and read the whole thing, but I’d rate it, oh, maybe a three. Maybe two and a half. Let me look at some of the three-star reviews … ah, yes, here’s one citing one of the failings I also noted: the characters are painfully slow on the uptake and the events are highly predictable.

The main protagonist is Jared. He’s just not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I realize he’s had a tough nine years, but here are the things that are painfully obvious that he either misses completely or takes multiple chapters to realize: the invisible ring is solely metaphorical; the Gray Lady is not elderly; the Gray Lady is not trading that girl to bandits for safe passage; the [situation] is a trap; Daimon Sadi should be trusted completely; the “pet” is [redacted].

Just conceivably someone might not realize that [the situation] is a trap or who the “pet” is, so fine, I’m not spoiling those details even though IT WAS OBVIOUS.

The main secondary characters also tended to do stupid things, especially Lia. If Jared had ruined everything at the last minute, I would have blamed Lia for not explaining the plan and therefore practically guaranteeing that Jared would not play his assigned part smoothly. The stupid excuse for not explaining everything to Jared was stupid. It was far, far riskier to withhold that explanation than it would have been to explain the whole thing up front.

This, this right here, is why every author needs a first reader who is not going to let it pass when characters do stupid things. I realize Anne Bishop is popular and probably her editor did not feel the need to help her improve her book, but that is a shame because it is always possible to come up with a smarter plan for your characters to execute if you just put your mind to it. If you have to make a character be slow on the uptake, then you need to justify that slowness. You can always come up with a reason better than “Well, he’s eye-rollingly stupid” if you decide it’s important enough to bother.

Second problem with the novel: a whopping huge proportion, maybe as much as a third of the entire story, is told from the villain’s point of view. I skimmed those chapters lightly and you know what? Those scenes are not in any way necessary to follow the story. As far as I could tell, no crucial information is delivered to the reader via those villain pov chapters. The good guys figure out everything important (eventually). The villain chapters add nothing to the book except for the opportunity to follow along as a weak-willed character becomes totally evil. Wow, was I not interested in that.

Third problem with the novel: everything was predictable. Jared might not have known what was going on, but the reader isn’t likely to be so slow. I would guess almost any reader will be at least three chapters ahead of the good guys even if the reader is skipping the villain chapters. I think I was mildly surprised by one minor plot twist.

Now, actually, I don’t always mind predictability. A story that follows a predictable path is lower tension than one that doesn’t, and low tension is fine with me these days. Part of why I’m re-reading a lot more than reading new-to-me books is because knowing what events are coming up is fine. So I’m actually not particularly bothered that The Invisible Ring was predictable. I’m just saying: it definitely was predictable.

I’m going to go re-read the Black Jewels trilogy now. It’s got its share of problems, but I like it much better. I’m going to do a good parts re-read, skipping all villain points of view and everything transitional and some of the bits where a main character is in especially dire circumstances. I’ll focus on the scenes I like best, including the wonderful scenes with the young Jaenelle interacting with Daimon and Saimon, and the scenes where Daimon and Lucivar get their lives in order.

Meanwhile, what can I say? This was much less a book review than a suggestion for anyone writing a novel: Don’t let your characters do stupid things unless you have an actual reason they ought to be stupid at that moment.

Bad guy points of view are a matter of taste, but no one likes blindingly stupid protagonists.

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7 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The Invisible ring”

  1. I almost always skip or skim the villain POV chapters in everything and 95% of the time I don’t miss anything. I think it’s an easy way for the author to think they are putting in conflict and tension (and often failing) and it’s right up there with stupid protagonists as something authors could avoid if they just put a little more thought into it.

  2. R Morgan, with every year that passes, I agree with this more.

    Not only does including villain pov often fail to increase tension, it often decreases tension because the reader knows what the bad guy is up to. That was the case in this story. Might there be a serious attack? Why yes, considering that we heard about the plans for it in detail in the previous chapter, that does seem likely.

  3. I’m also just not generally that interested in the bad guys – same reason why I don’t get the appeal of villain origin story prequels. (Not a prequel fan in general, but that kind’s my least favorite.)

  4. Also: has anyone else seen majorly diminishing returns in Bishop’s more recent books? Her books used to be some of my favorites, but I’m not sure I’m going to even keep reading her new releases, because the latest have been so disappointing. Or maybe she was always really uneven but I got to cherry pick when I went through back catalog, so that’s why these seem worse in comparison.

  5. I have never been a fan of Bishop. And yeah, most villain POVs get in the way of the story. Except the wicked sorceror in Steles in the Sky. (I could do without the twin POVs.)

  6. SarahZ, I agree with this observation about diminishing returns in at least some series. I liked The Others series at first — despite some highly questionable worldbuilding — but thought the books became much weaker later and haven’t read the last couple. I haven’t read the more recent Black Jewels books, so I can’t comment there.

    Pete, I think Bishop has some obvious problems with building believable worlds, with repetition of certain plot elements, and some questionable relationship tropes, etc. And yet I like many of her books quite a bit. I’m not at all surprised you, and no doubt lots of other readers, don’t.

    It’s always interesting to (a) like a book more that is objectively not that great; and also (b) dislike a book that is objectively very good. Both are common enough experiences that I always have to distinguish between objective quality and personal appeal.

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