Premises, Premises

Browsing in the used bookstore, I picked up a copy of a fat hardback — Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Acheron. For a buck, how can you go wrong?

It was a dollar well wasted. I’m sure Sherrilyn is a very nice person. She has a long list of published novels and a contract with St. Martin’s Press, so who am I to disagree?

The characters in the opening chapter are referred to as gods. One gathers that their abode is Atlantis. The chief god, whose name is Archon, has gotten his wife (consort, whatever) pregnant, and she’s just about to pop. Finally, after centuries of trying, he’s going to have a son. His wife (consort, whatever) Apollymi is delighted. But thanks to a prophecy, Archon wants to kill the baby. The prophecy is that the baby will grow up to kill his father and become the chief of all the gods. Shades of Oedipus! (Without the nasty bits, I hasten to add.)

Apollymi is determined to keep her baby alive, and a surreptitious glance forward at the next chapter suggests that she’s going to be successful. When the boy comes to manhood, we can guess, complications will ensue. Possibly even some of that slayin’ stuff.

The thing that steered me away from continuing to read, however, was this paragraph on page 8:

By Chthonian law, one god was forbidden from ever killing another. To do so would bring their wrath down on the foolish god who’d angered them. The punishment for such actions was swift, brutal and irreversible.

Several problems leap up from this passage. First, the word “Chthonian” hasn’t been used earlier in the chapter. If the characters on the page are gods, whose laws are they compelled to follow? Who is more powerful than the gods? Second, the pronoun “their” has no antecedent. The Chthonians themselves (whoever they are) have not been mentioned at all. Third, as a copy-editor, I would strenuously object to the contraction of “who had” as “who’d” in a sentence about creatures more powerful than the gods. It’s only a minor stylistic infelicity, but these things do matter. Fourth, “forbidden” is better mated with an infinitive than with a participle. The sentence would read better as “forbidden ever to kill another.” Fifth, if you’re going to mention brutal punishments, you really ought to be specific rather than leave the reader guessing.

But those are mere quibbles, bits of fluff lost in the glare of the big problem. The big problem is, Archon has been intent on killing his son. Being the offspring of two gods, the son would presumably be a full-blooded god himself. To kill his son would therefore subject Archon to the dire punishments meted out by the Chthonians.

Oh, and during the course of the scene Apollymi has instructed one of her demons as follows: “Guard this room from everyone. I don’t care if Archon himself demands entry, you kill him.” So let me get this straight: The chief god is planning to kill his son. His wife (consort, whatever) has instructed one of her minions to kill him if need be. And neither of them seems remotely to be concerned about what the Chthonians will think of this.

If the premise of your story is that the gods can freely kill one another, you really ought not to suggest that they dare not do so. Conversely, if they can’t do it without incurring brutal punishment, your characters really ought to have second thoughts about their murderous impulses.

The icing on the cake is the sloppy writing. I could list several examples, which popped out in the course of only a few pages. And here’s one now. Apollymi has asked her niece, Basi, to help save the baby. Basi is the goddess of excess, and is on that basis usually drunk. On page 5, “…Basi asked as she spun around the bedpost while eyeing the demons.” On page 6, Basi “was still swinging around the bedpost.” This is very odd. A bedpost is usually attached to one of the outer corners of a bed. How would one swing around it (the word “around” meaning, by default, “in complete circles”) without running into the mattress? Kenyon does not tell us. This bit of action/characterization is free-floating. If Basi herself is as weightless as Tinkerbell and is literally swinging around the bedpost in complete circles, Kenyon has not bothered to mention the fact. And if she is swinging around in complete circles, how is she managing to do it while eyeing the demons? That would cause severe neck strain, or so one would imagine.

Adding a few careful details would help the reader visualize the scene. Writers are usually advised to help readers visualize the scene.

On page 9, Apollymi has returned to her husband and sarcastically presented him with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. (She has previously given herself a Caesarean using a dagger, although it’s not called a Caesarean because Caesar won’t be born for another 9,000 years; Kenyon got that much right.) After a sentence about how his three bastard daughters, the Fates, have “accidentally cursed her son,” we get this sentence, in a paragraph by itself:

That alone was enough to make her want to kill her husband who stared at her with a confused frown.

A comma is absolutely required after the word “husband.” The subordinate clause is non-restrictive. Every professional copy-editor knows this rule. What, then, are we to think of St. Martin’s Press, when they bring out a beautiful 700-page hardback with an embossed dust jacket after failing to send the manuscript to a copy-editor?

Maybe the Chthonians should have a word with them.

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