The Thousand Names: The Problem with Pacing

Earlier this July, right in the beginning of the month, the fantasy community erupted over a new debut author, Django Wexler. His debut which caused such a stir is The Thousand Names, a novel under the new umbrella term of “flintlock fantasy.”

I had the honor (or luck) of receiving a copy before the release date from a Goodreads Giveaway, my first win to be exact. I was excited. This novel had received rave reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find someone bashing the thing.  Not a single person.

And yet, I find it striking that I found it to be boring.

It was strange. This novel has more epic battle scenes in it than any other novel I’ve read. They were brilliantly executed, in fact. They were amazing. So what’s the problem? Well, the pacing was nonexistent.

Goodreads cites that pacing problems are the number one reason for putting down a book. After wading through three hundred pages out of the four hundred and eighty or so of this book, I decided to put it down. What makes pacing so slow, though? For this book, I can think of one thing.

The font size was so, so small.

But, you say, that’s nit-picking. It may very well be, but I have the ability to nit-pick when it comes to reading a book. Do I have to analyze it and moan and whine because the book is a hardcover size book that has the tiniest font imaginable on it? No, I don’t have to, but I can. I can show the world, which I doubt will listen, to the fact that small print is bad. It’s not just me, I hope.

See, how many of you can read a large print novel fairly quickly, faster than your usual tomes? I would guess a fair amount. Now, I fit firmly in the camp that the font size shouldn’t dictate the pacing of a novel. For The Thousand Names, that’s partly true. But I will continue to groan whenever I pick up a tall book, five hundred pages or so, and glare at the chicken scratch that dots the landscape. Publishers, I believe it’s foolish to want to print a book with that small a size of font just so you can keep a few extra dollars. But, I doubt my reaction has hurt your sales that bad.

Minor rant aside, the main problem with the pacing is inherent in the written word, not the marketing source.

Wexler’s problem begins with writing a story about war without cause, reason, or emotional investment. We the readers are thrust head first into a war that, to be honest, has no reason to exist.  The war is about some pact with the king, stating that there is an alliance between the two houses. Because of this and the religious revolution that ousted the other king that the protagonists are trying to help put back on the throne, this war starts.

This isn’t about the people’s plight, this is just a plain jane war that nobody wants to fight. If Wexler had said a few times, (and correct me if I’m wrong, I will apologize for missing it.) that there is a dehumanization to war, that war was unnecessary, then I might’ve understood the battles, the plot, the reasoning a little better. Even if subtle, I didn’t see it, which made me have nothing to grab onto. There was no emotional substance to latch onto.

War is probably the hardest idea to attach emotions to in fiction, especially in a secondary world that we care nothing about. Yes, you can make the war interesting. Yes, you can make the war fun or bitter. You can have great characters in this war of yours, but I believe that you must have at least one of the three things to allow the reader to feel emotionally invested.

War is most times supported because of patriotism. This is by and far the hardest to express in a secondary world novel. Not so hard that it shouldn’t be done, because when it is, it’s great.

War, when not centered around cultural ideas such as patriotism and revolution, are often the results of bad actions. If another nation lands a sprawling attack on another country, like say the attacks on Pearl Harbor or 9/11, then it’s understandable that they would go to war. We could grasp as to why the people want a fight. They faced a tragedy and want revenge.

The biggest reason for war is in the difference of ideas. Revolutions are sparked because of this. Civil wars are caused from this. Nearly every major war was started because of opposing ideals.

Now, I’m not here to say that The Thousand Names didn’t have one or all of these. I believe it had all three. But the real problem is when you don’t latch onto these thoughts, you start swinging wildly, you only show the action when there needs to be tension. If people don’t die in the battles, then why should we care about the war? We should care because of the other side’s wrong nature. Shoving us straight into a war does a disservice to caring. Is that to say the reasoning can’t be developed over time? No, but it should develop.

I don’t fight wars because of promises that have no impact on me. I fight for ideas. I fight for self-defense. I fight because my country wants me to, for strong reasons that coincide with my own thoughts, not because of a promise. And I feel bad for saying that that was the main idea that was pushed in The Thousand Names, not the other three. They were there, they just weren’t said often enough.

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