Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Crafting the Perfect Middle Book: Red Glove, by Holly Black

Oh, HI. It's 4:30 AM. This night has been like Christmas, waking up every hour on the hour. Only instead of presents, I have nausea, pain, and swelling! So pretty much the Wisdom Tooth Removal Santa Claus sucks. I really recommend the Christmas one, instead.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Holly Black's Curse Workers series. I'm going to keep this brief because I'm all woozy and dizzy. It boils down to this: If you want to see how to write a compelling series that builds on itself while still keeping all of the books self-contained, complete stories, study this series.

I loved White Cat; the idea of magic noir blew me away with its simple genius. The characterizations were amazing--one of those books that didn't depend on the concept alone to be intriguing. The magic system was simple enough to avoid complicated explanations and world setup, but broad enough in scope to include everything from incredible moral dilemmas, far-reaching and thought-provoking political issues, family and loyalty and love and crime, and just what, in the end, it means to be a good person.

And, even though it was the first book in a trilogy, it had its own distinct and separate storyline, ending in such a way to draw it to a conclusion while still building to the next book.

So, I was very excited and curious to read Red Glove, and it absolutely didn't disappoint. Holly took everything that worked so well in White Cat and bumped it up a notch. All of the good versus bad, trying to make moral choices in a ridiculously morally bankrupt world, trying to do right by the one girl you've ever loved in the most impossible situation imaginable. Plus a murder mystery. Plus a boarding school. Plus an intense political climate. Plus the feds. Plus mobsters. Plus a deliciously screwed up family dynamic.

HOW DOES SHE FIT IT ALL IN ONE BOOK? I don't know. But she does, and it's seamless, and I'm so glad. And the best thing about Red Glove is that it was its own story, completely and totally. A lot of middle books feel inessential, like placeholders until book three just spinning their wheels and killing time, or that their only  function is to build for the next book. But Red Glove is as complete a story as White Cat, while still setting up the framework that I have no doubt the last book will take full advantage of.

Anyway. If you want to figure out how to write a trilogy where all of the books function just as well on their own as they do together, read this one. Holly Black is a genius.

(As always when I recommend books, please research or read them before giving them to younger readers. I talk about books that I love on here. I'm not a twelve-year-old; far from it! And though I write books that I have no problem with recommending to young readers, I read many, many books that they might not be ready for yet. And what one young teen is mature enough to read is very different than what another might be.)

(Speaking of trilogies, have you entered to win an advance copy of Supernaturally? Tomorrow is the last day to get your entry in!)

17 comments:

Loren Chase said...

Because of your blog yesterday my dreams were filled with teeth being pulled out! Specifically mine! It frightened me... I love Holly Black and I loved loved loved White Cat. I definitely need to check out Red Glove, not to mention the gorgeous covers!

Tara said...

I totally know what you mean. I loved White Cat and waiting to get my hands on Red Glove. (haha)

Rick Daley said...

I had my 12-year molars removed when I was 11 to make room for years of torturous orthodontic devices. As a result my wisdom teeth grew in fine, given the extra room. Not a path I'd recommend, but it did spare me the evils of the wisdom teeth removal.

Hope you feel better soon!

Becky Wallace said...

Sorry about the misery. I had mine removed on Dec. 23rd...it was not a good holiday.

Thanks for the heads up on Red Glove...perfect timing as I'm starting my seuqel today!

M.J. Fifield said...

I've just started reading White Cat and already I know it's going to be amazing. Holly Black is a fantastic writer.

Tabitha said...

I have been putting off the wisdom teeth removal thing for years...so instead of one day of insanity, I've had years of it. Not sure where the logic is, but there you go. :)

I loved Red Glove! I actually liked it better than White Cat, and I don't usually feel that way about middle books. I totally agree that Holly Black did an awesome job jumping into another story, introducing new conflict, and keeping me interested enough to pine for the final book. :) A rarity indeed. :)

Jo Schaffer said...

I will have to check out Holly Black's series! (=

Lisa Dunick said...

I really need to pick up this series. I love the idea of books that are self-contained. I'm a terribly impatient reader, so I'm not one for cliff-hangers. I always feel like books that end w/ clearly unsettled business that leaves the reader feeling like they're missing something are an easy way out for the writer to compel people to buy the next book. Because, honestly, if you write great characters that I fall in love with, I'm going to buy the next book.

Laini Taylor said...

Agh! Haven't read these yet, and Steph was just raving too. *moving up the stack* I happen to be writing a middle book right NOW!

:-)

Kiersten White said...

Laini, you have my sympathy. Middle books are soooooo hard. Oh, also ending books. Oh, also first books.

Wait a second. Books are just hard. WHO KNEW? WHY DID NO ONE TELL US THIS??

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'll have to read this series. Thanks. And can't wait to see how you do it seamlessly too.

nekogirl said...

I just got done reading Red Glove last week. I couldn't put it down! Holly's Curse Workers series is a MUST READ!

Lynn said...

What a great review. I absolutely loved White Cat and am waiting to read Red Glove. I can hardly wait. I think Holly Black is an amazing author - I loved her fey series. And, speaking of fey - I do really like Reth. Sorry, but there it is!!! Did you intend for so many people to like him or are you staggered by Team Reth??

Kiersten White said...

Lynn, while I have never viewed Reth as a love interest, I personally love him! He's a blast to write. I don't mind when people like him : )

Anita Saxena said...

Thank youi for the recommendation! I hope you have a speedy recovery.

Sage said...

Yay, I've been intrigued by Red Glove, which I can find everywhere, but I can't find the first book right now. I've been wanting to pick it up, but scared that it won't work well on it's own, and now you've promised me it will :)

LinWash said...

Hope you feel better. And yes, Holly Black is great! I'm happy to have a signed copy of White Cat that I never let anyone borrow.