Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nette by Barbara Rayne

       Nette by Barbara Rayne is a fantasy novel based on a very interesting premise. Boys are born with brown eyes, and girls are born with blue. This is how the sexes always fall and have always fallen, until the birth of a brown-eyed girl forever alters the course of the world. Aside from having a genetic anomaly, the girl, named Nette, is the subject of a grand prophecy and the wielder of incredible powers. She is destined to overthrow the corrupt king and bring peace to the land of Sentus, as well as to free the captive souls of the once great kingdom Predious. After the despot king murders her parents out of fear and attempt to murder her, Nette is whisked away by lights of an unknown origin, and raised by them for five years. During this time, she learns that she does not need sustenance to survive, nor can she die. For all intents and purposes, Nette is a superhuman. As she grows into her prophecy and avenges her parents murders, Nette has to struggle with the fear of the people and the spite of nobility.
    I think that this book has a really interesting concept. I haven’t come across a similar idea in fantasy writing before, and the genre desperately needs new ideas. While there are some ideas that can be played with in a seemingly unlimited number of ways, sometimes this fantasy nerds feels as though writers get too comfortable with tropes and cliches. The first few chapters are very interesting. Readers are thrown into a confusing situation, just like the heroine, and they’re motivated to keep reading in order to solve the mystery of the lights and the strange, brown-eyed girl. However, while the writing of the first few chapters is very tight, the narrative unfortunately begins to unravel, worsening as the story progresses. Let’s start with the actual structure of the writing. While not horrible, the overall story lacks substance. What’s frustrating about this is that fact that substance is there—covered up like some forgotten relic or lost puzzle piece. I kept expecting Rayne to develop something more, but almost every time I was met with a brief and abrupt time skip. I also found that the number of typographical errors increased as the story progressed, which was midly annoying and distracting. I understand that Rayne was eager to progress the story, but I believe that by doing it so abruptly and without the use of transitionary devices, she instead created a crowded narrative that left no room for character development. That brings me to another point: the characters never change. The never grow—aside from physically—and they never learn; specifically the main heroine. Nette is a girl who attracts suspicion by simply being. She is almost godlike in nature, able to survive even the most brutal of deaths. Naturally, people fear this strange gift and tend to turn on her like a cliched angry mob with fire and pitchforks. And this angry mob trope happens a lot in Nette. What’s even worse, is that Nette recognizes how unjust the treatment is, and decides to resolve it by becoming exactly what they fear: a superpowerful terror. Now, if this story was meant to chronicle the life of this sort of character I wouldn’t be so opposed to it. However, Rayne makes it quite clear that Nette is supposed to be the hero of the work, and yet she’s entirely unheroic. She kills all how oppose her, throws temper tantrums like the Greek gods of yesteryears, and has absolutely no moral struggle with the fact that she kills left and right. She justifies everything she does, and what’s worse is that everyone else does—that is, the select few characters who aren’t apart of the angry mob. Not only do the main characters never grow, but the rest of the cast are complete stock characters. They’re all designed to fill the stupid, ignorant, and prejudiced antagonist roles. They all turn magically against her at the same moment, and no one actually sees the good she’s doing. These characters are so overplayed that they aren’t human or relatable—they’re just voices in a massive blob designed for the soul purpose of adding conflict to the story. And, once again, the only people who aren’t apart of the angry, stupid mass, blindly worship Nette and accept all of her actions as completely justifiable. It’s okay for her to murder large groups of people who oppose her. It’s okay for her to abuse the power of the blue orb—and object which is never fully explained. It’s okay for her to "cull" those who oppose her, because how dare they oppose their "benevolent" Queen?
      Simply put, Nette is a book full of missed opportunities. The heroine is not relatable, nor is she even likable. She never changes, nor do any of the other characters around her. I would have loved to see her begin as very bitter and filled with self-entitlement, perhaps even believing herself to be a god over the weak masses. She could struggle with her humanity and the inhumanity of the world around her, and the desire to repay unkindness with godly force. And then, over the course of the book, she could learn to see herself through the eyes of the people, and discover that their content was born out of fear—a fear that she was reinforcing through her behavior. Ideally, side characters would have helped her to learn this lesson by showing her that not every single person in the world was afraid of her. Unfortunately, these things never happened. She never changed, for better or for worse. Instead of using her inhuman characteristics to explore the notion of humanity, Rayne instead chooses to make Nette a god-like character with no growth arc and no care for the consequences of her actions. Sadly, this in turn made the entire story un-compelling for me as a reader. Why would I want to read a story whose plot is driven a character I can't bring myself to like? I reiterate, the core idea of this book was very good. If Rayne ever writes a sequel, I might be interested in checking it out to see if she's grown as a writer and learned how to do her ideas justice. Until then though, I have to dubb this one a miss.

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