I’m a strong believer that artists should be judged on merit – on product, not personality. We’re all human, though, and information seeps in despite what we might like. I ‘met’ a well-known SFF writer on a bulletin board, for example, and found him to be a thorough-going jerk. It’s taken all the joy out of reading his generally light-hearted books.
My experience with Beth Cato has gone in the other direction. I first noticed her name when we shared a table of contents, and after that, I felt she came across as a really nice person. When her book Clockwork Dagger came out, I wanted to pick it up , but it didn’t sound like my kind of thing. When I saw Wings of Sorrow and Bone available for free, I snapped that up instead.
I’m sorry to say I was right; it’s not my kind of thing. The plot is nice (animal friendly), and Cato includes a plug for pet adoption at the end – things that are dear to my heart, and a reinforcement of the whole niceness idea. I wanted to like the book. But I didn’t. It’s not bad, but it’s not novel or exciting, either. The prose is workable, but the plot feels very ‘by the numbers’. Even from a young adult book, which this clearly is, I expect a little more subtlety and depth. Here, almost every move, every decision, felt programmed and formulaic. A pinch of element A, a dash of element b, add situation C, stir thoroughly.
It doesn’t help that the story is so clearly told in the shadow of a larger story, which does in fact turn out to be Clockwork Dagger. Maybe they’re better read in the other order. Maybe not; the story has other flaws, even if you know all the characters it so frequently mentions. More than anything, this reads like an awkward tie-in, interesting only to devoted fans of the main work. In places, there’s no more than a quick, summary stab at motivations. The protagonist, teenaged Rivka, sees evil, and immediately assumes it’s her personal responsibility to fix it. That’s definitely how the formula works, but it works best when there’s at least a fig leaf for why.
While the setup is interesting, the prose is clumsy in places. Secondary characters are thin, verging on caricature. In short, it’s just not convincing. I still think Cato seems like a very nice person, but I’m afraid her writing isn’t to my taste.
This is a pleasant, animal-welfare oriented story, undermined by a reliance on formula. If you’re already a Clockwork Dagger fan, you’ll undoubtedly like this closely related story. If you’re not, I recommend you start there, not here.