Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Shades of Earth - Beth Revis

Because I am still waiting on my glasses to come in, I have been avoiding "screen time" outside of work at all costs.  In some ways, it has been refreshing to break from the Internet in my leisure time.  In others, it has been intensely frustrating to be isolated from one of my favorite activities: blogging.  I have felt a gain in momentum both her and on my personal blog the past few weeks and this eye strain ordeal is killing that.  Finally, I could not take it anymore.  I decided to write this post by hand.  I do so while listening to Pavoratti on vinyl and sitting next to a lit candle.  The whole thing felt very retro and also a bit like my middle school journaling days (minus the opera).  All I needed was a typewriter.  I dropped a hint to Kevin about how cool it would be to have one of those and went to work.  Turns out, not even tired eyes or my illegible handwriting can keep me from talking about books!

When I read Beth Revis's Across the Universe two years ago, she impressed me with her imaginative, unique creation.  As I read book two several months ago, I saw the same creativity clouded by one-dimensional characters and a gimmicky plot.  Still, the book remained intriguing enough to hold my attention.  Book three, Shades of Earth, completed the inverted metamorphosis for me.  In it, I saw little of the ingenuity which originally captivated my attention.

Our protagonists, Elder and Amy, finally achieve their goals in Shades.  Amy reunites with her parents and Elder shares the secrets of Godspeed with his people, leading them to their new home on Centauri-Earth.  They have been working toward these goals throughout the first two books.  Despite her growing investment in the shipborns, Amy's driving desire remained the reanimation of her parents.  Simultaneously, Elder is driven by his search for answers and quest to open the eyes of his people.  He releases them from the mental confines of the Phydus drug and works toward freeing them from the physical confines of Godspeed.  Without doubt, these goals drive our main characters throughout the first two books.  You would think that to see them achieve these goals would be a natural fruition of the story.  And it would be...at the end of the trilogy.

Not so, says Beth Revis.

Instead, the authoress grants Amy and Elder's wishes within the first few chapters of Shades of Earth.  The frozens are reanimated and the shuttle reaches Centauri-Earth, only slightly worse for wear.  

From here, our characters must find new goals, new problems to solve.  I recognize that, for those of us journeying through real life, this would be a natural progression.  Yet, for characters in a story, it makes less sense.  The Bennett girls seek husbands, Romeo and Juliet seek eternal togetherness, Luke Skywalker seeks to overturn the Empire.  Their stories each end when they achieve their goals around which their literary existence has centered.  Some writers to allow their characters to realize goals and move on to new ones, but those characters must be well written and developed to begin with.  Revis has not set up her characters well enough to justify changing the culmination of their story.

To me, this change in direction altered the feel of the trilogy, an issue already in play thanks to the drastic change of setting.  Unlike her peer in young adult literature, Beth Revis does not face this change with the grace of Suzanne Collins.  I know that many readers dislike the final book of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, because of its tone.  I would argue that, in that case, Collins is making an artistic decision by stripping Katniss of all those who love her, therefore leaving her unlovable to even the reader.  Revis just does not seem to be thinking that deeply about her writing choices.

Instead of working together within the walls of Godspeed, Amy and Elder are largely separate as they face new challenges on Centauri-Earth.  They do experience new physical intimacies, but they no longer feel like the team they were aboard ship.  There, if felt like they were working together.  Here, even when they are hunting down answers about the monsters they face, they feel isolated from one another.  Not even their tearful reunion at the end of the book felt as satisfying as it should have.  Instead, it felt like a teenage boyfriend and girlfriend coming back together after they were apart on vacation for a week.  It should have felt like a romantic culmination of two lovers overcoming all odds to be together.  The plot to support such a moment was there (sort of), but the emotion and character development simply was not.

Ultimately, my complaints for Revis are the same ones I had for her with A Million Suns, only now they are beyond repair by flashy plot twists.  Her characters simply do not have the depth required of them to uphold her story.  The plot relies on clichés of both science fiction and adventure stories, rather than engaging that originality I saw in Across the Universe.  The whole thing feels like it has been taken a few steps too far.  No one actually wants to know if Cinderella and her Prince live happily ever after; hearing about their marital squabbles would ruin the magic.  And despite complaints from many fans, I think Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse made the right call by leaving questions unanswered in the finale of LOST.  Star Wars fans face future movies with trepidation.  Despite what Paul Harvey says, we do not always want to know the rest of the story.

I was sad to see this series end this way; it started out so well.  Or, maybe I was a less astute reader back then, before I started this blog.  Either way, Shades of Earth left me wanting on so many levels.  It shocked me to see that it has a 4.22/5 overall rating on Goodreads.  I guess most readers Revis is attracting are not looking for anything deep.  They only want a quick adventure.  But can't we have adventure and a well-written book?  Case in point: Wool.  It handily delivers both.  Go read that instead.

Do you think changing a protagonists motivations mid-story is a good idea or a bad one?  Have you ever seen that tactic end well?  Have you ever been disappointed in how a series ended?  Which series are not worth finishing?  Warn the rest of us!  

Pages: 369
Date Completed: June 16, 2013

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