Well, this is the one and only Juice Box Award you don’t want to win. Although I suppose it speaks to an author’s or publisher’s cache that I’m putting them on the list, meaning the selection bias is going to be toward novels that have high expectations. There either has to be a copious amount of buzz around a novel, and/or the author has produced high caliber work in the past. My nominations include five novels — three of which are decidedly the latter given that they were written by the three best selling authors in fantasy today. The other two were pushed heavily by their respective publishers, but failed to deliver on the promise in any meaningful way. Without further ado, here are my five most disappointing novels of 2011, with the winner (loser?) at the bottom.
#5: Den of Thieves by David Chandler
There’s two primary reasons why this novel made the list. First, it’s not very good. The characters are shallow, the plot is boring, and the writing, if effective, doesn’t carry it. Second, it’s one of the primary 2011 fantasy titles from Harper Voyager. There have been literally dozens of novels about the thief/assassin archetype since Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora. I’ve read nearly all of them and this is among the poorest of the bunch.
And God, that’s a bad cover. Just a poorly packaged novel from front to back. I expect a lot more from a big-6 house whether they’re committed to genre or not.
#4: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
Unlike the previous one on this list, Alloy of Law isn’t a bad novel. I had a bit of fun reading it. Unfortunately, what makes Sanderson such a compelling, and best selling, author, is his inventiveness. Magic systems, world building, and twisty plots are his strengths, compensating for his characters and prose usually come off archetypal and efficient.
Alloy of Law doesn’t do any of what he’s good at. The magic system is no longer new, the world wasn’t nearly as interesting without Ruin, and the plot is tremendously straightforward. What’s left is a fun little steampunk adventure romp. The end result is me bummed out and wanting more. Bad? No. Disappointing? Absolutely.
#3: Robopocalyse by Daniel H. Wilson
Hype machine! This was a big push novel from the first half of 2011 by Doubleday. Again, not a bad novel, but after about 30 pages in I was pretty sure I’d read it before. And I pretty much had, three years ago, when I read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. Wilson’s debut novel is a near copy of Brooks’s in terms of structure and theme. Replace robot with zombie and we’d be looking at some odd form of fan fiction.
Of the two novels I read this year that had announced film deals prior to publication, I could not be more struck by the difference between them — Night Circus, one of my best novels of 2011 (see list later this week) and Robopocalypse, one of my most disappointing. It goes to show that Hollywood isn’t exactly looking for the same things we are as readers.
#2: Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss’s debut, The Name of the Wind was a tremendous novel that cemented him as one of the most prominent authors in the genre. I suspect that given the massive success of the first installment there was added pressure to get this one right. No doubt that contributed to the extended timetable of its release schedule. I fear it also contributed to an apparent paralysis in the novel’s progression.
Kvothe, the novel’s protagonist, wanders all over the world doing this and that, getting no closer to his ultimate goal. He has sex, kills some baddies, and ends up back at school still pitted against his rival student Ambrose and confused about his relationship to a host of women. Rothfuss continues to be an exceptional story teller and prose stylist, but without a direction, I just don’t know how this all going to come together. I barely made it through Wise Man’s Fear and I’m concerned I won’t want to start the third novel at all.
#1: The Most Disappoint Novel of 2011…
That delay, to hear Martin tell it, was all about the “Mereenese Knot.” This knot was tied when Dany decided to stay in Mereen and rule instead of continuing her march to the Seven Kingdoms. As the rest of Westeros became aware of Dany and her dragons, many different factions began to coalesce around her. How, why, and most importantly when all these factions arrive in Mereen is the knot Martin struggled to untie. Instead of choosing to cut the knot like Gordian and thus impeaching Dany’s character, he actually untied it. Well, tried to untie it.
This untying is why, as a novel, Dance is a failure. The book’s pace is abysmal with over half the chapters existing as travel logs. Tyrion on the ocean, Tyrion on a river barge, Tyrion on a horse! Several POVs are far longer than necessary and some exist for seemingly no reason. The timeline is convoluted with the first half of novel coinciding chronologically with the events in Feast. This leads to scenes being rewritten, word for word in some cases, in an alternate POV. All that aside, the most unfortunate part of the novel is that 1100 pages later Martin still has yet to bring all the disparate pieces together that compose his “Mereenese Knot.” For all the talk about the second half of Dance advancing the story beyond Feast, the plot only advances a few days with none of the promised conflicts among the King’s Landing crew coming to fruition.