Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anatomy Of A DNF

It's the rare author that writes nothing but winners.  For one thing, authors are human and for another, readers are nut-jobs (and I mean that in the best possible way).  For every one of my favorite authors, I can think of at least one book that didn't work for me, personally.

I requested Thunder On The Plains by Rosanne Bittner from Netgalley.  This book was originally published in 1992, and Sourcebooks reissued it last month.  I read, reviewed, and really enjoyed another Bittner that Sourcebooks reissued earlier this year so naturally I was game to try this one.  After 130 pages, I finally decided to throw in the towel.

This book tells the story of Sunny Landers, a young, vibrant, gorgeous, young woman who is the apple of her Daddy's eye.  Bo Landers is All Rich And Powerful, and is currently gunning to get a railroad built linking the eastern and western half of the United States.

Maybe you've heard of it?  That little thing called the Transcontinental Railroad?

Anyhoodle, Daddy brings Sunny and one of his sons out west to see if the railroad is a feasible idea.  They need a scout, so hire Colt Travis, who is half-Cherokee and half-white.

A couple of things I tend to really like about Bittner's westerns is that she paints the landscape very well.  She doesn't sugarcoat the reality that living in the west would be a dangerous proposition.  She also does well with "outsider heroes."  Guys like Colt.  Also a good chunk of her backlist was written during an era when historical romance was pretty much the same thing as historical saga.  This particular book clocks in at over 500 pages, making it a unicorn in today's romance marketplace.

So why did I DNF it?  Well, contrary to popular opinion by those who are ignorant about the genre, romance has evolved over the years.  What was "in vogue" 20 years ago has either gone out of fashion or is totally repugnant to today's readers.  In the case of Thunder On The Plains, it's more of a matter of out of fashion.  Originally published in 1992, the story suffers from one of the more Mary Sue-ish heroines I've come across in sometime.  Sunny is the sort of character that sets my teeth on edge.  She's literally perfect.  She's charming, beautiful, graceful, yada yada yada.  Also, even though she's like 15 at the start of the story, she's also "smart" and has a head for business.  Her brothers think Daddy is insane, but Sunny is so devoted to him that she just KNOWS the railroad idea is super gee-whiz fantastic.  In turn Daddy dotes on Sunny to the point of creepiness.  He brings her out west, which is honestly a pretty dang dangerous place to bring a 15-year-old genteel girl, because he can't bare to leave her in Chicago while he's scoping out the feasibility of this railroad idea.  It's because he loved her mother, who died in childbirth, soooooo much....

Whatever dude, it just comes off as creepy.

Naturally Colt and Sunny get tingly around each other, but this being a Rosanne Bittner book, readers should know the path to happy ever after isn't cut and dry.  Sunny goes back to Chicago with Daddy, Colt stays out west and eventually marries.  What boggled my mind was that Colt literally meets his wife, marries her, has a kidlet and then that marriage is dissolved, in like one chapter!  Then there's this big war scene with Colt riding against the Pawnee (revenge dontcha know) that takes place entirely off-page!

It was like the author wanted to include more information about all of this extra stuff, but even in 1992 maybe her publisher was gun shy about a 700 page romance novel (pure speculation on my part).

Ultimately, that's the rub.  It felt like the author wanted to do more, and didn't (for whatever reason).  This leads to quite a bit of "telling" instead of "showing."  That, coupled with a heroine who is such a paragon of virtue that I wanted to bean her upside the head?  Who knows, maybe if I had stuck with it Sunny would have grown more three-dimensional and actually grown some faults - but I just....couldn't take it anymore.

Bittner is a good, solid writer and I'm happy to hear that Sourcebooks is releasing something new from her in 2013 (yippee!).  But yeah, this one just didn't do it for me.  I'll still go on recommending books like Wildest Dreams and Outlaw Hearts to readers, but this one?  Probably not so much....

Final Grade = DNF

Side note: I know I probably have a smattering of western fans that read this blog.  Anyone read this book back in the day (or recently)?  I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments!


nath said...

Awwww, too bad you DNF this book. However, I really like your attitude towards it and you're right, authors are humans and there is bound to be books that we don't enjoy as much. Still sad when it happens though.

Wendy said...

Nath: Yeah, I was bummed to DNF this one. Bittner writes gritty westerns, and she tends to cram a lot of soapy elements into her plots. I just got to the point where there was literally nothing about this story that was working for me....