Beta reading my wife's first book!

This should be kind of an exciting post. My wife, Jenni, is in the finishing stages of preparing her first book for publication, Lies of the Haven. The book follows the adventures of one Mina, a girl who discovers she is a faerie. She falls right into the middle of an extended conflict between rival faerie factions (that’s fun to say) filled with intrigue– and a little romance too, of course. I have to admit upfront, I had a little difficulty getting myself to read it at first. It had nothing to do with the quality of the book at all, and all to do with my own failure complex (it seems built in, right?) How could someone I know, let alone my wife, publish a book? I’ve done it to myself, I’ve done it to my brothers growing up. You just get uncomfortable with the idea of someone close to you, well, being successful. It’s a weird mixture of low self-esteem, some mixed-up sense of propriety, and out-right jealousy. Let’s get some C. S. Lewis out in the open, as he always says some things just perfectly, this taken from Screwtape Proposes a Toast.

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose… You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course you can connect it to the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result, you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practice, not only without shame, but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

My wife is extremely talented. And being married to an extremely talented person can lead to unneeded heartache, if you are going to do nothing but compare yourself to them. Even when we are in very different fields with very different interests, I still manage to feel jealous. The funny thing is, I know it’s wrong. So I try to couch my jealousy in the most upstanding way possible. I don’t use the word democracy, like Screwtape here does. Instead, I have at various times said to my wife about her book, I’m not that interested in young adult fiction. It’s just not my taste or It needs to have more symbolism, more meaning. Like Brandon Sanderson or All young adult fiction is all kind of the same, anyways. Honestly, that bottom-looking up pride is the worst, and I hope I can write it out a little here by ‘fessing up.

As I have read the book before it is published, I don’t want to give any kind of spoilers here. In fact, I’ve been strictly instructed by Jenni not to do that. And that makes it hard for me to give the kind of reviews I usually do. Non-fiction books are maybe a little easier to review, because you can give quotes and your favorite ideas and maybe get away with a little summary. Not so here. I’ll do my best at telling exactly what I liked about Jenni’s book without giving anything away.

Jenni does a very good job at developing believable characters. I poked fun at her a little while reading that I didn’t like Mina. But the thing that Jenni adheres to in developing her characters is that all characters should be flawed. There is no room for knights in shining armor that are just too perfect. No Edwards and no Peetas (we had a laugh at that, because I happen to like both Edward and Peeta haha). But flaws are good, because really that is what makes a book worth reading, right? Any character development in real life is coming to terms that you aren’t perfect, and not even eventually necessarily overcoming your flaws, but owning them.

One thing I was grateful for that Jenni didn’t give into when writing her book is some kind of classification system. OK, we all liked Harry Potter’s houses. But it really started to seem like a substitute for a plot after we got factions in Divergent and districts in Hunger Games. It seems to dovetail with an obsession with personality quizzes and the like? Lies of the Haven does have a system of magic, and she explains how it works, but that’s different. Any fantasy book needs something of the kind, and exploring the implications and limitations of such systems gives room for a lot of creative development, even maybe a little bit of philosophy. Jenni’s book does move beyond the system of magic itself and explores some deeper questions, giving readers a good wrestle.

I was surprised at how well Jenni was able to build suspense throughout the book. When I tried my hand at writing, it was always difficult to get out of a very linear plot. Even if you don’t write and then such and such happened, if your plot is too linear, you won’t capture your audience. Another mantra Jenni lives by is show, don’t tell, and she’s done a really great job here in her book. I really think readers will like it. I was trying to compliment my wife that this book is as good as any you may find on the shelves of a bookstore, but it came out your book is interchangeable with any book by Brandon Mull, implying it was too derivative. Not what I meant! It’s very original and well-developed. Glad to give it a good review here. I hope you consider giving it a read when it comes out! I’ll post a link when it’s available in the next couple of months. She’s getting a handful of beta readers first before proceeding any further. In the meantime, you can check out her blog here.

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