Karen Myers’ “The Ways of Winter” is Interesting, But Problematic

Karen Myers‘ second novel in her Hounds of Annwn series is THE WAYS OF WINTER, a clever pun on how the Fae and their friends move around (via “the ways,” which are mysterious for more than one reason).  As this is the second book in Myers’ series — the first being reviewed here at SBR back in June — it quite reasonably takes up more or less where Myers left off at the end of book one, TO CARRY THE HORN.  Her hero, (mostly) human George Talbot Traherne, is now married to Angharad the Fae artist and living in his great-grandfather Prince Gwyn ap Nudd’s Fae domain, wishing that life would stay slow for a while so he and his new wife could continue their honeymoon in peace.

But that is not to be.

Instead, a crisis of a rather unusual sort crops up: A rock-wight, Seething Magma, makes contact with George while he’s out on a mission of mercy.  She comes in search of her child (yes, rock-wights have children), who’s being held captive by a very unscrupulous Fae overlord by the name of Madog.  Because the ways are literally byproducts from how rock-wights move from place to place, Madog has found it convenient to have his own little way-maker.  And even if Madog knew that he was holding a sentient child (regardless of the unusual form), Madog is the type of evil, devious creature who absolutely would not care whatsoever.

The reason we have to worry about Madog and his evilness isn’t all because of Seething Magma’s child, mind you.  Madog also has isolated one of Gwyn’s villages, Edgewood, by the expedient of blocking the way in and out.  As this particular village is recovering from a long stay by Gwyn’s villainous sister Creiddylad, who’s since been exiled, and is now being ruled by Gwyn’s young foster-son Rhys, Gwyn sees the blocking of the way as an act of war.

Which, of course, it is.

Because George has a talent for feeling the ways (knowing whether they’re working properly or blocked, knowing precisely where they are within a fifteen mile radius, etc.), Gwyn sends George to check the situation out.  Unfortunately, George is quickly captured, then tortured, all because Madog isn’t content to hold Seething Magma’s child.

Oh, no.  Madog wants Seething Magma herself, thank you, and will accept no substitutes.

So what’s to do?  Will Madog get his way?  Even if he doesn’t, what will happen to George?  And will Seething Magma ever be reunited with her child?

All of that’s for you to read, but if you enjoy Welsh mythology and/or Arthurian mythos, you should enjoy much of THE WAYS OF WINTER.

Now’s when I normally try to sum up a book’s strengths and weaknesses.  But that’s a real problem with this novel, mostly because the plot itself — while extremely convoluted in spots — is interesting, but some of what happens within it strains credulity.  Furthermore, the editorial issues I mentioned in my first review for TO CARRY THE HORN are still present, and may have even worsened:

  1. There are paragraphs within the first third of the novel where it’s extremely difficult to figure out who’s speaking because of odd, distracting attributions that may or may not go with the dialogue.
  2. Ms. Myers doesn’t seem to like to use italics for normal quoted thought, which in some ways is understandable due to needing to show how Seething Magma communicates (where Ms. Myers quite sensibly uses italics).  This is very challenging to sort out as a reader, but if you stay all within one style in a paragraph — whether it’s first person quoted thought or third person — it’s usually fine.
  3. However, when you see paragraphs upon paragraphs where someone’s thought is in first person (without a “he thought” attribution behind it), then in the same paragraph there’s a bunch of stuff in third person, then again in the same paragraph there’s another thought back in first person without an attribution, that is incredibly distracting.

Look.  I really like Ms. Myers’ style.  I like how she plots.  I like her characterization.  I like that her Fae world has good people and bad with a wide variety of motivations, just like what we see every day in our normal lives.  I enjoy what she’s doing, but there are just too many editorial mistakes for me to give this the grade it would’ve received without them.

Furthermore, I had a really difficult time dealing with the torture part of the plotline.  I’m not saying Ms. Myers shouldn’t have done it, but the way she did it was quite vexing in and of itself because there was actually a bit of distance between George and the torture that I truly didn’t understand.

Yes, all the screaming you’d expect is there.  There’s some thought of what George’s new wife will do without him.  And I do realize George has an uneasy relationship with Cernunnos, who helps George withstand the torture a whole lot better than someone without that relationship.  But there’s something about those scenes that made my Editor Voice scream loudly, “Barb, something’s not right there!”

Also, without giving spoilers, I will say that I’d expected a whole lot more from the ending in the way of an emotional payoff.  But did not get it.

Bottom line?  Ms. Myers is a promising writer, but THE WAYS OF WINTER is too uneven in tone and most particularly in editing to wholeheartedly recommend despite some true invention and some nice, involving writing here and there.

Because my letter grade must reflect the editing problems, the final grade for THE WAYS OF WINTER is a C.

— reviewed by Barb

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  1. #1 by Karen Myers on November 10, 2013 - 10:44 am

    Thanks very much for the review, Barb. I appreciate the time and the thoughtful comments.

    • #2 by Barb Caffrey on November 11, 2013 - 12:41 am

      You’re welcome, Karen.

      I would like to see your third book, and your fourth. I think your plotting is excellent and voice is very good. I’m definitely interested in seeing your career progress.

      • #3 by Karen Myers on November 19, 2013 - 3:38 pm

        Thanks for your interest, Barb. I’ve sent you a copy of King of the May (book 3).

        I did want to point out one thing, regarding internal dialogue conventions. According to The Chicago Manual of Style (13.41), “Thought, imagined dialogue, and other interior discourse may be enclosed in quotation marks or not, according to the context or the writer’s preference.” They do not even mention the use of italics. http://twacg.webs.com/apps/blog/entries/show/26520529-unspoken-discourse . I base my house style on the Chicago Manual of Style.

        While I’m sorry that my conventions did not meet your expectations, I don’t think it’s accurate to call them an editing “mistake.”

        No doubt I need to take more care on reducing confusion by adding more speech tags — thanks for the tip.

      • #4 by Barb Caffrey on November 20, 2013 - 4:05 pm

        It’s editorial confusion, that’s what it is. I called it a “mistake” because I couldn’t figure it out, and I’m a trained editor. It’s very rare when I cannot follow where someone’s going, what their thought process is, or who is speaking in a paragraph. And going back and forth between first and third person in a paragraph without something being indicated is, unfortunately, a mistake because it does confuse people.

        That said, I have seen one person doing what you have in your second novel in _very_ short bursts, and that’s Robin McKinley. She may have a sentence or two in first person without an attribution, but still sets it off by the use of em-dashes. Attributing who’s speaking is still preferable at least 70% of the time, IMO.

        The Chicago Manual of Style is good, but it was originally meant more for nonfiction publications, I thought. Nonfiction rarely runs into this sort of issue, which may be one reason why it’s not discussed. The books you might want to take a gander at to see how they’re presented are books like Mercedes Lackey’s “Valdemar” series (she has thirty books in that series, so just about any of ’em will do) or Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s” series (there are six or seven in that). Both are readily available and both feature top-notch editing by SF&F editors who know their craft and genre conventions.

        There are some oddities that readers will forgive — for example, all-caps instead of italics is coming back into vogue in certain cases, and I have at least one author friend who strongly prefers it and will use it. In general, the reason italics probably came into play in the first place was for ease of readability.

        All I can tell you is what I have here: I’d stay away from using both first and third person in a paragraph without an attribution, and preferably, I’d put it in italics to make it crystal clear. If you don’t care for italics, make sure your attributions are easily identifiable, and try to stay away from multiple people being discussed in such a paragraph as well as it can be very hard to follow.

  1. Just Reviewed “The Ways of Winter” at SBR | Barb Caffrey's Blog

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