Sunday, September 9, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

We already know, from the Demon's Lexicon books, that Sarah Rees Brennan can write a fantasy. Here she comes with something a little more contemporary, with some downright poetic paranormal tilting.

Kami Glass understands her destiny. She's going to be a highly successful investigative reporter, starting in her British nowheresville hometown. As long as she can keep her own secret, her imaginary telepathic American boyfriend.

This story twists every adolescent girl's wish fulfillment fantasy - well, I think most of us keep an imaginary ideal boy in our heads for lonely days - into a relationship that vacillates between intimate hope and intimate hate.

Don't let the "Gothic" label frighten you - Sure, the story has scary moments, but more often, it's hilarious. Kami is an anime-character brand of enthusiastic with a disorientingly blunt brand of wit.

What I learned: How to write something unforgettable.

3. Humor always helps, especially in the form of understated snark.

"Show me to my napping sofa."

"My current verdict would be: Crazy eyes. Nice ass."
"I think I want that on my tombstone," Kami said.

"Are you going out on a date?" Dad asked tragically. "Wearing that? Wouldn't you fancy a shapeless cardigan instead? You rock a shapeless cardigan, honey."

Several times, I was giggling so hard I couldn't read, and I had to put the book down until I stopped. I don't forget books like that. They're often the ones I want to share with friends the most.

2. Stunning cross-cultural magical imagery. An electric blue heron standing flamingo-style against the night. Fragmented glass hanging in the air, getting caught in the enemy's hair. Brennan draws Japanese legends into Western lore. I love combinations like this, and I'm not alone in it. (Tangent time: Charles de Lint is the master of this technique, I think, with his combos of Celtic lore and Native American legend.)

1. Magical realism that builds up slowly, through contemporary scenes. The first undeniably real bit of magic occurs around page 50. It builds to a crescendo across the next 190 pages. That's almost 250 pages of chipping away at rocks that look like pieces of ruby, maybe, a little, if they're not just quartz. Then we hit the vein. Bedazzlement tends to be pretty unforgettable, too.

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