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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Burning Water

**** Burning Water by Mercedes Lackey. Contemporary fantasy.

Okay, now I'm confused. Barnes & Noble is telling me that this is the first book in the Diana Tregarde series, but I'd been under the impression that it was the second. (Ah. I checked it out--this takes place earlier, but was written later. Got it.)

Diana Tregarde is a witch, and she's consulted by a friend in Texas to come help with a peculiar series of murders that have occult overtones. It's an exciting, engrossing story that fits right in with the contemporary fantasy genre that's very popular now--unfortunately, it appears that Lackey was ahead of her time, and in the late 80s, early 90s, the series just didn't sell very well. I'd suspect it would sell now, but maybe not--it ends up feeling a little... unsophisticated, when compared with current offerings in the same niche.

And maybe that was always the problem. Burning Water is a straightforward paranormal mystery/adventure story, with no romance muddying the waters, and very little change in the characters. Not much emotional turmoil, either. It's Agatha Christie in a J. D. Robb world.

I'm quite fond of that analogy, as it describes my feelings about the book very well. It's urban fantasy's version of the cozy mystery. In fact, my complaints about the book have very little to do with the plot, and mostly to do with the writing.

My one plot-related complaint is that, while Diana's missing the Aztec connection was very well explained (and a plot point that I enjoyed very much), it doesn't explain why nobody else caught it. Perhaps that's due to the times, too, though I have trouble believing that. I'm pretty sure that in 1989 the Aztecs would have been familiar to most people.

So the plot was mostly fine, but the writing tics kept throwing me out of the book time after time. Italics were overused to the point where it made the book physically hard to read. Some internal thoughts were italicized, some weren't, adding to the confusion. Then there was the use of dialect. Rule of thumb for writing accents: write it out phonetically for one or two sentences, then trust the reader to remember that the character speaks with an accent. Don't put it in every line of dialogue and all the character's thoughts as well. It's hard to read. You'll lose your readers.

And then there was the itty-bitty thing that made me lose my patience, and ended up overshadowing the entire story--the one thing I didn't have to refresh my memory about even though it's been 3 weeks since I read this: "ack-emma." Every single character in the entire book refers to morning as "ack-emma." It drove me up the freaking wall, to the point where I had to look it up. Thank-you, Wikipedia, for explaining that it's... get this... WWI (that's ONE) British Army phonetic-alphabet slang. Bashing my head on the desk here. I can understand one character using this slang, as part of their personality. I can even stretch that to including someone who's a close friend or coworker who's picked it up. But people they've never met before? ARRRRGGGHHH.

I swear, without the damn "ack-emma," it would have been 4.5 stars, it irritated me that badly. I know, I know. Let it go. I'm trying.

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