While I liked most of what I read last year there were a few duds, as there always are, that sipped through the cracks. So as a companion piece to my top 5 reads of 2012 here are 5 of the worst books I had the misfortune to encounter. This was actually a much harder list to put together than my favourites list. Three books immediately jumped out at me as some of the worst books I could recall reading ever, but it took a very long time and lots of scrolling through the blog to even remember reading the last two on my list.
The debut novel of a teenage author, this book is the literary equivalent of the p00-brown scribbles a toddler might bring home from playgroup. It’s shit, but bless them, they’re only just learning how to hold a pencil and as long as nobody is putting it up in an art gallery saying it’s a masterpiece then where’s the harm? Unfortunately since a major publishing company decided to do just that by putting this book out and proudly proclaiming it ‘the sexiest romance I’ll read this year’ it has to be judged by the same standards of other published books. I gave my first ever (and so far only) 0 stars to this novel – for poor writing, crappy world building, plotholes you could drive a bus through, dreadful pacing, inconsistent and unsympathetic characters, the use of rape as cheap drama, slut-shaming, hypocrisy, and romanticising a relationship with the character who sexually harasses the heroine throughout most of the book, hits her, threatens to rape her, tries to rape her, and then talks about how he would rape other women during their post-coital afterglow. A truly vile bit of writing, but even that is overshadowed by just how terribly written the book is.
The book I actively disliked most of 2012. It’s not the steaming pile of poor writing and offensive rape tropes that The Dark Heroine is, not by a long way (though it does have its own rape as drama moment too!). But this book being written by an adult and having a pretty cool premise made it all that much more frustrating when it turned out to be terrible. Hand the plot idea over to a competent writer and this could be a good, maybe even a brilliant book – but Niffenegger is not a good writer. All the wonderful plot possibilities of Henry’s time travel are completely ignored to focus almost exclusively on the romance. Fair enough (she says with gritted teeth) but that romance better be good to make up for wasted potential. It’s not. The two narrators have completely interchangeable voices and (despite being 500+ pages) the romance is never shown, only told. As far as you can tell from the narration Henry loves Claire because she’s fit and likes sex, while Claire loves Henry because he’s been grooming her from the age of five. Except that the book barely acknowledges this reason. Instead of going into the interesting places such a plot should naturally take you, it skirts right across the moral debates over consent and agency and just shouts IT’S SUPER ROMANTIC AND THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL PERFECT PEOPLE WHO ARE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. Sorry, but no. It’s not super romantic, The characters are Mary Sues and neither of them actually behaves like a sympathetic person at any point in this really long and mind-numbingly tedious book.
Probably best summed up by this conversation with my sister:
“I didn’t know Mary Stewart wrote children’s books.”
“She doesn’t, she just writes really boring books on Arthurian mythology that read exactly like really boring books written for about seven to nine year olds where none of the characters do anything up until the midway point – when the narrator suddenly goes from being boring to being an outright misogynistic dick, starts calling all the female characters he encounters ‘sluts’ and then properly gropes a nun’s breasts. Then I realised that it was actually written for adults and was really confused as to why anyone liked it, cause the rest of it’s definitely written like a bad children’s book.”
“… Sounds shit.”
“And by a woman as well, that’s disappointing.”
“Yeah…it is. Oh and he didn’t take it any further with the nun because it’s implied that vaginas are evil and would depower him and steal his magic if he had sex with one.
“That sounds shit.”
I talked quite a lot about my problems with Horowitz’s reliance on overused stereotypes (particularly when those stereotypes were racist, sexist or ableist) when I reviewed both this and the first book in the series, so I won’t retread old ground there. The real crime that puts it onto this list is being a boring spy mystery. I’d actually forgotten all about this series until I started scouring my blog for books to go on this list. For a fast paced, action filled book it ain’t half dull! Sure there’s snowboard chases, and climbing up chimneys, and outrunning trains on horseback and all sorts of ridiculous action-movie scenes, but the narration is all so matter of fact, the protagonist so utterly lacking in personality, that, like the reliance on stereotypes, it just comes off as the author copying tropes from better books or films in the genre and not quite getting why it was that they actually worked the first time. In fact the Alex Rider books might make quite good films, better films than they are books at any rate. All the ingredients are there; over the top villains, ridiculous plots, and big chase scenes – but a decent director and a good cast of actors could fill in what’s ultimately lacking from the novels; a bit of character and a sense of fun.
Another book (comic this time) I had forgotten about until I looked back and, yet again, it’s spy-fiction – maybe I’m just not cut out for the genre… This book’s on the list for similar reasons (boring stereotypes being enforced primarily because ‘that’s what spy movies do’ rather than ‘because it makes sense’) but also because of its attempt to ruin a character who I used to really love. Cinderella is one of the best characters to come out of the Fables comic series and it’s actually quite sad to see her in this, being forced into a bikini (and fur hat?!) during the Russian winter because ‘women wear sexy clothing in spy films and the only way for a female spy to infiltrate enemy headquarters is by stripping off’. Fuck off. Cinderella isn’t the sexy sidekick Bond girl – she’s Bond. Sure, I don’t think she’s against stripping off for the job (she’s done that and more before) but she’s got a bit more than that going for her to make her the top spy in the business and it would be nice to showcase that, rather than her breasts. Not that you would know she’s anything special from this book. She seems incapable of doing anything for herself and spends most of the story reacting to things happening around her by flashbacking to the same few boring scenes again and again with overdramatic and repetitive overdramatic narration. It’s annoying even before you get into just how little the plot holds up within the already established Fables universe… A really disappointing spin-off (though thankfully a very forgettable one) to a series that I normally really enjoy.