Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

24763621Title: WINTERSONG
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 436
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Let me begin by saying: this is a beautiful book. The writing is lush, lyrical, elegant, sensual. This is the sort of book I would give to anyone who made the sweeping generalization that all YA is badly written. The story itself is also beautiful: it is a coming-of-age story, about a girl who grows into herself, who finds her confidence and self-worth, who changes from girl to woman with the passing of the seasons. Wintersong is almost phantasmagorical in its telling; reading it felt like reading a dream, or singing a half-remembered song. Jae-Jones has brilliantly composed an absolutely atmospheric story reminiscent of an ancient fairy tale. This is the sort of book I can imagine being read as a classic one day.

That said, I am so, so relieved to be done with it.

The story begins when Liesl’s sister Kathe is kidnapped by the Goblin King, and she descends into the Underworld to retrieve her. This book is supposed to be inspired by the film Labyrinth, a film I pretty much despised, and so the first half of the book was, for me, the more difficult part to get through. At the book’s midpoint, Liesl becomes the Goblin Queen, giving up her life to save her sister, but also because she wants to be with the Goblin King. More than that, she wants to be wanted, desired, loved. It is a desire so very flawed and human and understandable and one of the reasons I loved Liesl. After this, the second portion of the book is essentially a love story between Liesl and the Goblin King, as well as a story about Liesl’s growth and development. It is beautiful, yes, in writing and in story, but it’s also boring as hell.

Let me be clear: this is an objectively good book. I can’t really find much to critique about it besides the snail-like pace that drags it down. It’s also a very long book – too long, I would say, for a book in which so little happens. Liesl spends most of her time pondering over her fate and crafting her music. For someone who knows next to nothing about music, this grew tedious after the first few times. Not to mention, with how quiet the plot was, I just couldn’t feel any tension at all, which ultimately meant I struggled to finish it.

This book reminded me a lot of The Star-Touched Queen, which I just read, but the main difference is that The Star-Touched Queen’s second half was all high stakes, whereas Wintersong seemed to grow quieter and quieter as the plot went on. There are also too many unanswered questions about the Goblin King’s origins. Perhaps that is the point, as this is a fairy tale retelling and those are never meant to be crystal clear, but it frustrated me nonetheless, particularly with the disappointing plot structure. I kept wanting more, some big reveal, some cliffhanger, some excitement.

The most engaging scenes, and some of the most beautifully written, were the sex scenes (well, and most scenes between Liesl and the Goblin King, but I digress). Though rather demure and clearly toned down for YA, they conveyed much while giving away very little. I had no idea sex could be written so elegantly, but Jae-Jones managed to do it. Something else she has done very well in this novel is characterization. It was not only Liesl who felt real to me, but Kathe and Josef and the Goblin King and even Liesl’s parents and grandmother. I could see each and every one of them as a real person with their own faults and desires.

Overall I will not deny that this is an absolute jewel of a book, a beautiful creation crafted with love and skill. As a writer myself I have learned so much just from reading Jae-Jones’ words. I wish I had enjoyed reading this more, but ultimately the pacing and lack of plot did not work for me.

Book Review: Skein and Bone by V.H. Leslie

26088379Title: SKEIN AND BONE
Author: V.H. Leslie
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 290
Publisher: Undertow Publications
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

I didn’t like a single story in this collection.

Perhaps it was my mistake going in, thinking I was picking up a horror book, when instead I was actually reading weird fiction. There are few things in the world I hate more than weird fiction. And the stories in this collection were certainly weird.

Many of them feature flat characters who become completely obsessed with bizarre phenomenon or who are approaching the edges of madness in some way. The utter flatness of the characters would have been passable had the plots been intriguing, but most of the stories just seemed to meander from scene to scene, with little to connect them all together. Also, most of the male characters were completely detestable – I understand that this served to establish realism, but it also got quite tiring being in these characters’ heads.

Some stories seemed to have potential, appearing to build up to a satisfying conclusion, but instead culminate in frustrating ambiguity. I kept searching for some kind of conclusive answer but found nothing. This works sometimes, if the perhaps features compelling characters, but given that the characters here almost seemed to be stand-ins, it only served to further detract from the overall narrative. In the end, most of the stories felt choppy, uneven, and incomplete.

The only reason I didn’t give this one star is because the writing is decent, and I actually managed to get through the entire thing, even though it took me over a month. But again, maybe if weird fiction is your thing, you’ll like this collection. I understand the author is pretty prolific and this has been a generally well-received book, so it’s probably not objectively bad or anything, just really, really not my thing.

The Greek Gods Book Tag

My friend Rachel @ Paceamorelibri tagged me in this meme, which was created by Zuky @ The Book Bum! I hardly know anyone on here, so I won’t be tagging anyone myself, but feel free to do this if you see it!

ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS – YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK

7821892The Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan: Choosing a single favorite book is really difficult for me. There’s so many different criteria one could go by! In the end, I decided to choose my comfort series, the one that I go to when I just want to sink into a world and not think. Obviously, that’s Harry Potter, but I didn’t want to go with Harry Poter, because, what a formulaic answer! So, I decided to go with my second favorite series: Sweep.

Sweep is a weirdly obscure YA series of fourteen very short books about a teenage girl coming into her powers and heritage as a Wiccan. This isn’t your every day Wicca, obviously – Tiernan really, really embellishes (our heroine shapeshifts at one point) but somehow maintains realism by including many factual elements of Wicca.

Why do I love this series so much? I’m not sure. It probably helps that I started reading it at twelve years old, at the height of my burgeoning obsession with magic and witches and all things supernatural. I mean, I’m still tangentially obsessed with Wicca to this day – I have two books on it on my bookshelf! So, clearly, the Wicca element was definitely a significant factor.

Otherwise…I’m not sure I can put it into words. The books are…cozy, in a way. Most of them take place in the small upstate New York town of Widow’s Vale and revolve around Morgan as she discovers her powers and heritage. There’s teen drama, instalove, a love triangle (of sorts), but there’s also some cool subversion of those tropes. There’s road trips and theological discussions and battles between good and evil…there’s a lot.  I’m not sure I’m doing a great job selling these books, and I don’t even know if I would love them as much if I read them today and not as a kid.  All I know is they’ve been sitting on my shelves for years, and I reach for them whenever I need to sink into something familiar.

HERA: QUEEN OF THE GODS – A BADASS FEMALE CHARACTER

11388429When the Sea is Rising Red & House of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen: Felicita Pelim comes from wealth and privilege – but when her best friend commits suicide to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita decides to trade privilege for freedom. She takes to the streets, joins up with a gang, and gets caught up in a plot to destroy the city. In the first book, Felicita isn’t badass so much as resilient, but in the second book, after her marriage and move to another city, her prowess grows.  She is every bit a lady, with all the selfishness and pride and willfulness that comes with growing up privileged, but she’s also compassionate, sharp, and snarky as hell.  In a city where her family name means little, Felicita fights fiercely to bring justice to members of an oppressed caste who are being murdered and whose human rights are soon to be stripped.

JANUS: GOD OF BEGINNINGS – YOUR FAVOURITE DEBUT(S)

6437061The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: This was Jemisin’s debut as well as my introduction to her. I remember picking this book up at a time when I was just so, so tired of all the generic white male fantasy being recommended to me. I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Jemisin’s book, but I do remember reading that it was unusual in many ways for a fantasy novel, particularly a debut. I loved it completely – it was a totally original world, and the narrative style – though not everyone’s piece of cake – was fantastic. In this book Jemisin explored Gods and creation myths all though the first-person perspective of a young black woman, and it was mind-blowing.

ATHENA: GODDESS OF WISDOM – YOUR FAVOURITE NON-FICTION BOOK

6792458The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: As a nerd who reads a ton of non-fiction, narrowing this down to one book was tough.  Eventually, though, it came down to The New Jim Crow.  Michelle Alexander’s book is incredible not only because it is written in accessible language and puts forth a resonant thesis, but also because of the sheer amount of eye-opening information it provides. If you think the United States justice system is at all fair to those who aren’t wealthy and white, read The New Jim Crow. This book will completely overturn any false narratives you hold about the United States as a champion of justice.

APHRODITE: GODDESS OF LOVE – A BOOK YOU ADORE AND RECOMMEND EVERYONE READ (OTHER THAN YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK!)

21414439Truthwitch by Susan Dennard: Okay, as a YA high fantasy, I don’t know if this book is necessarily for everyone, but I absolutely love it, so I’m including it on here.  Not only is Truthwitch is an absolute achievement in worldbuilding, it features two fully fleshed out female leads who love each other more than anything else in the world.  Their friendship is the thread that binds the plot together, even as they struggle against coups and political machinations.  The magic system is intricate and incredible, and Dennard can write action scenes like nobody’s business.

 

HADES: GOD OF THE UNDERWORLD – AN EVIL BOOK YOU WISH DIDN’T EXIST

Hmm, I don’t think I have a particular book in mind for this! “Evil” is a strong word, and I tend to shy away from books I think I won’t like. I can’t recall anything I’ve read that had a terribly strong effect on me.  I will, however, give a shout out to The Continent and The Black Witch, both unpublished books, both coming out of HarperTeen, which perpetuate some really horrifically racist narratives.  I haven’t actually read either of them, but I’ve read other folks’ very, very detailed reviews (including a chapter-by-chapter readthrough), and that was definitely enough to convince me that I do not want these books anywhere near me.

POSEIDON: GOD OF THE SEA & EARTHQUAKES – A BEAUTIFUL & GROUND-BREAKING BOOK

23444482The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson: I’ve read some of Dickinson’s short stories, and he seems to be fascinated by the concept of extremely difficult choices.  A Sophie’s Choice, if you will.  This whole novel is one big Sophie’s Choice, but you don’t really find out until the very end, in one of the most shocking, heart-breaking twists I’ve ever come across in literature.  The main character, Baru, is an accountant who has had her home colonized by a brutal empire. She grows up with the goal of dismantling said empire and winning her home back, but the choices she has to make to achieve that goal may just break her.  This book is utterly devastating. It’s a truly horrifying portrait of the brutal effects imperialism and colonialism has on people.

APOLLO: GOD OF THE ARTS – A BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER

11774295The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin: I read a lot of YA, Genre of the Beautiful Covers, so of course I come to you with…a non-YA book cover. It’s another Jemisin book (she’s my favorite author, of course she features twice), from her oft-ignored second series. Most people nowadays praise The Fifth Season (rightly so) or her debut, but her middle series tends to be forgotten, which is such a shame. The Shadowed Sun (and its prequel) feature some truly fantastic and hella creative worldbuilding based on North African myth and culture. As a North African myself, you can bet I loved that. But The Shadowed Sun also includes one of my favorite romances ever, because it is real and raw and unexpected.

HYPNOS: GOD OF SLEEP – A BOOK SO BORING YOU ALMOST FELL ASLEEP

18077769Authority by Jeff VanderMeer: I read the first book in this series and liked it well enough. I thought the second book would begin to answer some of the question posed in the first book. How wrong I was. Basically, Authority is a literary rendering of bureaucratic routine with some occasional weirdness thrown in.  Pretty much nothing happens throughout this book; there’s a lot of meandering and asking questions, but nothing is answered or revealed.  By the last third of the book I was truly struggling, and I began to skip significant chunks just to get to the end.

HERMES: MESSENGER OF THE GODS – A BOOK YOU SPED THROUGH

29276588Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia: I finished this book in a day and a half.  I remember very clearly that I did not sleep until nearly four am the day I started reading this book, and probably would not have slept if I didn’t have to get up for work in the morning.  This book is a murder mystery/thriller, told in alternating perspectives and using flashbacks.  It also features one of my favorite tropes, but I won’t say what that is so I don’t spoil the book!

Book Review: Unspeakable Love by Brian Whitaker

12526170Title: UNSPEAKABLE LOVE: GAY AND LESBIAN LIFE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Author: Brian Whitaker
Release Date: 2006 & 2011
Pages: 259
Publisher: University of California Press & Saqi Books
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

I’m Egyptian, so whenever I begin any book on the topic of homosexuality in the Middle East, I approach it with some measure of caution. When that book is written by a an American white man, that caution increases tenfold.  Brian Whitaker has been a journalist for The Guardian since 1987 and was its Middle East editor from 2000 to 2007.  A robust background to be sure, but not necessarily one that would automatically negate orientalist views, and so I began reading with some trepidation.  But I was pleasantly surprised!

Whitaker’s entire approach is based in nuance; he consistently and purposely shies away from making any sort of sweeping generalization about anything.  He explores homosexuality in the Middle East as impartially as one could expect, balancing interviews with scholarly and popular publications to convey both a personal narrative and an overarching historical and societal one. Whitaker discusses various topics, from media coverage to Islamic legal analyses.  While he never really delves fully into any one subject he succeeds in providing a broad overview, enough to give a decent primer on the issue.

Focusing mainly on Lebanon and Egypt, Whitaker threads between case studies, historical analyses, religious arguments, and personal interviews.  He cites several landmark books, such as Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle’s Homosexuality in Islam, which delves deeply into Islamic legal arguments against homosexuality and their validity – or lack thereof.  Deftly summarizing Kugle’s work, Whitaker elucidates the shaky foundation for religious laws against homosexuality.  Whitaker also brings up Joseph Massad, author of The Gay International, best known for critiquing the universalizing of gay rights and their exportation to the non-Western world. Whitaker counters Massad’s main argument while acknowledging that Massad’s thesis is not without its merits.

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of is a discussion of lesbianism in the Middle East, but this is not necessarily a fault of the book. Whitaker acknowledges that gay women often tend to to fly below the radar.  He terms this “lesbian invisibility” and goes on to say:

“Lesbian invisibility does have some advantages. In the big cities of Egypt, two women living together as ‘flatmates’ would not arouse much curiosity, Laila said – though that would depend to some extent on their choice of district. Neighbours would first of all want to establish whether they were prostitutes and would probably quiz the bawwab, the doorman who watches all comings and goings in Egyptian blocks of flats. If satisfied on that count, they might then imagine other explanations for the girls’ presence – quarrels with parents, etc.

‘They would think of anything else but lesbianism,’ Laila said. She recalled how much one lesbian couple had been adored by their landlady. ‘I wish all my tenants were like you,’ the landlady told them, suspecting nothing.”  

Overall, this is a great introduction to a thorny topic. Whitaker delivers information objectively and manages to avoid wading into the waters of orientalist or condescending discourse (most of the time, anyway). The book, though, is a surface level examination of a dense, complex issue, and it left me wanting more.

Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

25203675Title: THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Pages: 342
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

It’s strange going into a book when most of what you’ve heard about it is negative. Mainly, I’d heard that the writing is too purple, the main character is stupid, the romance is terrible, and overall the book is uninteresting.

None of that is true.

First of all, the writing is beautiful. I mean, I will admit, I’m partial to purple prose, but Roshani Chokshi’s writing is like a dream come to life – she laces words and images together with such skill. I literally had to pause and reread so many paragraphs because I was just awed at how she spun words together to create a gorgeous image.

Second, the main character is not stupid, or any of the other negative things I’ve heard. I liked Maya a lot, actually. She’s kind of bitter, kind of cynical, but it makes sense that she is – it makes sense that she doesn’t trust people easily. But I found her a riveting heroine, particularly given that this book is driven by her decisions. Too often protagonists simply react to events, but here, Maya is the one who instigates, and the plot reacts to her. This book is all about Maya finding herself – the main conflict is really within herself, which is what makes this book a slower read than most. Things happen, sure, but plot comes secondary to Maya’s growth and personal realizations. This is, in a way, a coming of age story, done deftly through a clever Hades and Persephone retelling seeped in Indian myth. It’s really about a girl coming into her power, finding her confidence, and becoming who she is meant to be.

As for the romance, it was actually really well done? Normally romances frustrate me, particularly these types of over-the-moon romances, but I thought it worked well here. It made sense, given the plot, but also – it’s not like Maya falls head over heels and stops using her head. She’s attracted to Amar, but is still incredibly suspicious of him (as she should be). It is her distrust of him that spurs the second half of the book, in fact.

Finally, to the criticism that the book is meandering. I will say, I wouldn’t call this book a page-turner. It’s definitely more of a slow-burn, but it also felt kind of like a fairy tale. The gorgeous prose helps to elevate this to a kind of ethereal, not-really-there kind of story where not everything has to make perfect sense, where you’re expected to suspend your disbelief just a bit because this is magic and myth. Sometimes that can seem like the author is taking the easy way out, but it works really, really well here.

Overall, I think this is a really well-written book, and I use that phrase very specifically. I think this isn’t what you usually find in YA, and it’s a lot more cerebral and introspective. In a way, it kind of reminded me of The Bone Witch, but I liked this a lot better, mainly because Maya was a more fully realized character.

Woman Crush Wednesday: Joan Watson (Elementary)

Those of you familiar with Sherlock Holmes already recognize the name. Joan Watson is not only a gender-bent John Watson, but a race-bent one as well. In Elementary, John Watson is re-imagined as Joan Watson, a Chinese-American surgeon. Instead of a military career, Joan has instead accidentally killed a patient during surgery, which led to her abandoning the profession to become, at first, a sober companion. This is how she meets Sherlock Holmes.

joan5 joan3
joan8 joan1

That Joan gravitated towards the career of sober companion highlights one of her most significant traits: her compassion. When Joan first began working with Sherlock her kindness and empathy for those around her was a striking contrast to Sherlock’s cold logic. Rather than belittle her for this, the show makes it a point of strength, and in the first season’s finale, Joan’s emotional intelligence is a key factor in catching the Big Bad of the season.

Eventually, and after a lot of thought, Joan realizes that her path in life is to become a detective like Sherlock, and so she becomes his apprentice. Soon enough, Joan is competent enough to work on her own, but her partnership with Sherlock is one of the best things about the show. They have a friendship that, at its core, is rooted in deep respect for one another. In very few Sherlock Holmes adaptations does Sherlock venerate Watson like he does on Elementary – more than once Sherlock states that he is good at what he does only with Watson at his side, and that she makes him better. The show emphasizes that Holmes and Watson are two halves of a very effective whole; they are true partners and equals.

joan6 joan4joan2 joan7

The writers have done a spectacular job fleshing Joan out; she becomes a character in her own right, with her own backstory, outside of Sherlock. Her parents are Chinese, and this is not forgotten, but neither is it fetishized; the show finds ways to subtly make nods to Joan’s cultural heritage without pandering to a white gaze. Unlike most incarnations of Watson, Joan is not Sherlock’s sidekick or cheerleader; she does not worship him. She sees him as he is, flaws and all. In another fresh twist, Watson, despite being compassionate and empathetic, finds her romantic relationships mostly unsatisfying, and prefers to focus on her detective work, much to the concern of her friends and family.

Joan shatters stereotypes of East Asian women as demure or docile; though she radiates calm she is possessed with a fierce independence and a will of steel. You can often find her setting Sherlock straight or threatening people who hurt those she cares about (including Sherlock’s ultra-powerful father). With her grace, serenity, and quiet strength, Joan Watson is an absolute tour-de-force of a character.

5 TV Shows I Felt Betrayed By

In the spirit of Goodreads’ Top 5 Wednesday Books You Felt Betrayed By, I figured I should also talk about the television shows that betrayed me.

Beware, this post will be full of spoilers! I always try to keep things vague and spoiler-free, but there is no way I can talk about these shows’ disappointing conclusions without spoiling said conclusions, so proceed at your own risk.

Without further preamble, here are the shows that betrayed and disappointed me.

Lost

I started watching Lost a year after it aired, delivered weekly to me by MBC, a subscription cable channel available in Egypt. I distinctly remember watching the second half of the pilot with my mother (I missed the first half), since we both love disaster shows, and being utterly and completely hooked. The first season continued to intrigue as the mystery of the sinister island intensified.

I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion, but personally I think the show started to unravel as early as season two. Frankly, I really don’t think the writers expected the first season to be such a smashing success. They had written themselves into a corner and had no idea how to escape. It was clear they had no idea what the island was – or rather, what they wanted it to be.

As the show continued, this indecisiveness ran clear throughout every narrative. The writers continued to introduce various mysteries and bizarre storylines, many of which were never properly concluded. The final season went off the rails completely, escalating what I originally interpreted to be a psychological thriller into a grand old conflict between the very essence of good and evil – I think. I was never terribly clear on that.

To be sure, the finale was an emotional roller-coaster: I admit I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when Jack died in the same place he had woken up when he first crashed. The scenes of the afterlife were similarly emotional. The writers surely wanted to establish a kind of full-circle narrative with these poignant moments, but the attempt ultimately fell short as various details were retconned or pushed aside. Rewatching the show for the character arcs only serves to highlight the what a mess so much of it really was.

Lost was always the kind of show that should have been plotted from beginning to end before it even began. At the very least, the writers should have had some sense of what they wanted the island to be, and who the main antagonist was. So, ultimately, while Lost will always be one of my favorite shows (and introduced me to one of my all time favorite characters, Juliet Burke), one that I watch over and over again, it will also forever remain a source of frustration due to its missed potential.

Merlin

Speaking of missed potential. Have you ever seen a show literally center its entire finale on missed potential? It’s like the writers knew they had screwed up and thought that by somehow lampshading the problem it would go away. No such luck.

For those of you who may not know, Merlin was a very popular BBC show that first aired way back in 2008. It was a fresh, clever re-imagining of the wizard Merlin, along with Arthur, Morgan Le Fay, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table. In this version, though Arthur is still royalty, Gwen and Merlin are both servants, and Morgana is Uther’s ward. In this world, magic has been outlawed, and the timeline of the show is fresh of a Purge of the kingdom’s sorcerers.

Merlin started off fantastically, promising to be a show that balanced comedic elements with traditional medieval storytelling, walking a fine line between several thoroughly unconnected genres. Morgana, the main antagonist in the legends, is seen as a righteous defender of justice, and is good friends with the main heroes. Beginning in season three, however, things take a turn, and it begins with Morgana.

The thing about Morgana is that clearly, the writers always intended for her story line to take a dark turn to reflect the reality of the legends. Unfortunately, their execution of this was abysmal. I know not everyone feels this way about Morgana “going evil”, but I feel that it was essentially a personality transplant, and worse, one that happened largely off-screen! It was lazy writing, period. The new Morgana retains only hints of her original character, and her arc continued to stumble along clumsily until it ended in her ultimately anti-climactic death.

The writers missed so many opportunities with Morgana. Her discovery of her magic was messy at best, and Merlin’s insistence on keeping Morgana in the dark made no sense. Morgana’s close friendship with her handmaiden Gwen devolved into nothing, when it should have in fact been the one thing keeping Morgana on the edge of sanity (imagine if Morgana had confided in Gwen!). In the hands of a better writing team, she could have come out of this a brilliant character for the ages. Instead she became a caricature.

But even this failure is nothing compared to the abysmal failure of the series finale. The entire point of Merlin, the one thing they had been harping on about constantly, from the very first episode, was that this was a show about the legacy of Arthur. He would be a king who would transform the world with Merlin by his side. He would bring justice to sorcerers and do great things, and be remembered in history for thousands of years.

Instead he died. Without accomplishing any of that.

Essentially, you have a show that has built up this great, big thing, promising this magnificent, satisfying payoff and then…there’s no payoff. Arthur dies in Merlin’s arms after having finally, after six goddamn seasons of ludicrous secrecy, finding out Merlin has magic. To add insult to injury, the final scene of the show is actually a shot in modern times, showing an elderly, bearded Merlin narrowly avoiding being run over by a truck. This unnecessary, tacky addition took away from any sort of “epicness” the show had hoped to maintain. At the very least, if they were going to kill Arthur, they should have ended on that magnificent shot of his now wife Gwen on the throne, with the court shouting, “Long Live the Queen!”

How I Met Your Mother

Since we’re already on the topic of narratives that swerve in another direction at the very last minute, I’m going to segue into How I Met Your Mother. A long-running comedy show about five white people living in New York City, HIMYM was rife with problems: from the rampant misogyny displayed by its main characters, to its stunning whiteness, to the various inconsistencies in its characters. However, it was a funny enough show, and, as the title conveys, is all about the main character, Ted, telling his kids the story of how he met their mother.

So, in the final season, we finally meet The Mother, a charming woman named Tracy. She and Ted fall in love, have kids, all the hints from the previous seasons make so much sense, it’s a great, fulfilling ending.

If only the writers had left it at that.

Instead, what they decided to do was kill off Tracy, so that Ted can get back together with his ex-girlfriend Robin. Now, the main reason Ted and Robin had broken up in the first place was because they wanted different things. Robin wanted independence and a great career, and Ted wanted children. So, to me, it was incredibly gross for the writers to bring on Tracy, have her pop out Ted’s kids, and then kill her off and leave Ted free to run off the Robin once he’d gotten what he wanted from Tracy.

I know most people absolutely hated this finale, so I won’t talk too much more about it, but suffice it to say I have never before seen a show completely demolish its own narrative so spectacularly.

True Blood

I know I just said HIMYM takes the cake when it comes to demolishing its own narratives, but True Blood is a close second when it comes to completely destroying its characters.

As a vampire fanatic since age eleven who was also fascinated by the rural Deep South, I absolutely loved True Blood. It started off promising, and though there was a noticeable dip in quality as the seasons went on, it was still generally a good show. Things made sense. Characters were true to themselves. The narrative was understandable. That is, until the second half of the season six finale, which features a six-month time jump. That was bad enough, but then season seven came along, and it was literally like I was watching an entirely different show.

There is an explanation for this – True Blood’s final season had a different writing team than the previous six. This isn’t totally unusual for long-running television shows, as far as I know, but what was unusual in this case was that the new team had no understanding of the characters whatsoever. They charged in and made up their own narrative and characters, plastering them onto the faces of the people we already knew. Bizarre new plotlines were introduced, random minor characters highlighted, and our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is subjected to a strange plotline that has her wallowing in self-hatred.

It was, in short, a complete and total clusterfuck, and a terrible legacy to leave behind for a show that will surely go on to become a cult classic.

Battlestar Galactica

My main gripe about the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica is that it turned out to be a creation story. I thought I was watching a space opera, and all the signs pointed to that, but then suddenly it turned into a weirdly spiritual show with hints of God and angels and whatnot being thrown around. I’m going to quote George R.R. Martin here:

“Battlestar Galactica ends with ‘God Did It.’ Looks like somebody skipped Writing 101, when you learn that a deus ex machina is a crappy way to end a story… Yeah, yeah, sometimes the journey is its own reward. I certainly enjoyed much of the journey with BSG… But damn it, doesn’t anybody know how to write an ending any more? Writing 101, kids. Adam and Eve, God Did It, It Was All a Dream? I’ve seen Clarion students left stunned and bleeding for turning in stories with those endings.”

I mean, yeah, pretty much! Battlestar Galactica ends with a lieral deus ex machina! This smacks of writers who had no idea how to explain their shit, so they just wrapped it all up neatly in the easiest way possible, thinking that this also satisfied Kara’s storyline. It did not – you can’t just pull this kind of weird, proto-religious, pseudo-spiritual crap on a show that for three seasons has been grounded in sci-fi realism. It was completely jarring and a total disappointment to an otherwise fantastic show.