Tuesday, 10 August 2010

REVIEW: Beautiful Creatures By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

beautifulcreatures A boy falls in love with a girl at 17, marries her at 21, and at 28 he comes home to find her and his son lying in a vast, slippery pool of their own blood. He stares at their mutilated bodies for minutes, maybe hours. Time has no dominion over him, as does everything else that comes with it. He knows who is responsible for this sickening act – the face of the man is a permanent scar in his mind. And as gradual as the sun raises its head to peek from dawn till day, life becomes meaningless. Nothing else matters now.

So, he does the honourable thing. He picks up his shotgun, ambles to his car, drives to the house of the one whose face taunts him, and murders everyone he encounters – men, women, children, even the pet dog. When he’s done, when he has the man spread-eagled beneath him, broken and torn in every way possible and not quite possible, he allows the vengeance prickling his eyes and mangling his heart to ease off. Febrile convulsions follow.

His hands are numb, so he drops his gun. His arms are heavy, so he lowers them to his sides. His legs are drained, so he sits by the door. The holes in his stomach and chest burn and weep crimson tears. His head sags right. There is a place better than this world, a place where he must go now. Living is inconsequential. Fighting the overpowering exhaustion is futile. He welcomes death like an old friend.

Just as I have now accepted that YA Paranormal is what it is and will never be what it is not. Inevitability has always been the number one rule, and I have fought this war of attrition for too long. It’s time to accept and move on.

That said, how beautiful is Beautiful Creatures?


Beautiful Creatures parades a good many characters, but first let’s focus on the stars of the show.

Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes.

Ethan is a sixteen-year-old boy. He loves his iPod. He has an absentee father, just like virtually every YA lead character today. He’s in the basket ball team, but that doesn’t mean much to him. He loves books, the complex, tome-like kind. He has the uncanny ability to describe what a girl is wearing. I don’t mean her underwear. Oh no, Ethan doesn’t think about girls’ underwear. I mean her clothes, the design, the folds, the patterns.

Video games and music that don’t include the lyrics, “Sixteen moons, sixteen years,” are for oddballs, like Link, not our dear Ethan. After all, he has better things to do. And what could be better than sixteen-year-old boy hanging out with his grand aunts. Ethan loves those old women. He enjoys every second with them.

Enter Lena Duchannes.

Misunderstood Lena Duchannes.

Lena is a caster, kind of like a witch. She’s super powerful. She can do super amazing things. She’s very pretty too, but everyone at school hates her because she’s an outsider and, yeah, she’s pretty. Ethan doesn’t care though. He’s willing to allow the basket ball team and the entire school ostracise him for this girl. He’s seen her in his dreams, like really, he has. She’s special. Plus she’s not blonde and she doesn’t have big boobs like Savannah and Emily and the other hot girls at school. Who needs hot, blonde girls? When you’re a sixteen-year-old boy, and you’re in the basket ball team and you could have a hot, blonde girl as a girlfriend, it makes more sense to turn the other way and go for the other ordinary girl.

Throughout the book, Ethan spends time with no other teenager except Lena. No need hanging with his dudes when he’s got her and Sixteen Moons thumping in his iPod. During the times they are together, they hold hands, they kiss. They whisper sweet nothings to each other. They do this mind instant messaging thing: Ethan thinks and Lena hears; Lena thinks back and Ethan hears.

They do a lot of cuddling too, even when they’re in bed. They hold hands in bed. They kiss in bed. Nothing else happens.

You’re thinking it. I’m thinking it too. So, I’ll just say it: Ethan is not queer.

No sir.

I have a theory about Ethan’s real identity. At the end of the series, Ethan’s true self will serve as a huge reveal, like Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker: I am your father. Ethan will tell Lena: Lena, I’m a drag king. I don’t have a penis. That’s why I can’t have an erection around you.

You might think I’m making fun of Beautiful Creatures, but I’m not. I think this would be an awesome twist. YA needs more diverse characters, not just black people, Chinese people, little people, or Eskimos. YA needs gay people too, but not just the politically correct ones – you know, the nice boy who discovers he’s gay and hides his identity, and then falls in love with the boy next door, then realises the only way he can truly be happy is to come out of the closet, and in the end he’s voted as his school’s prom queen. YA also needs the other gays, the ones that dress up too. The ones that change their sex, like that man who got pregnant – he’s a guy but he’s a woman too. Like Ethan.

But that’s just my Ethan theory.

As much as I like twists and mind-blowing reveals, the fact of the matter is Ethan is presented as a guy in Beautiful Creatures, and he makes one hell of a lousy guy. It’s like casting Angelina Jolie as a male stripper, and she successfully fakes the baritone voice, and the walk, but there’s still something feminine about her character ... like the swell on her chest ... or how she doesn’t have an erection.

Lena is a much better character, from afar. I enjoyed seeing her through Ethan’s eyes. You have no idea how glad I was that I didn’t have to spend 500+ pages inside her head. Lena might be strong willed and brave, but she’s not emotionally invincible. The jibes and accusations lobed at her by her classmates burn, and though she stands her ground, there’s a raw vulnerability about her defensive approach. She uses poetry to soothe her anger, writing all over her hands, her bed posts, her walls, and her ceiling. If Beautiful Creatures were written from Lena’s POV it would’ve been 900 pages of super teen angst.

Her invulnerability is only tied to her human side, though. As a caster, Lena is one gigantic Mary Sue. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

There are other memorable characters in Beautiful Creatures, like Amma, who loves spelling out words whenever she wants to drive a point across. She more than makes up for Ethan’s lame dad who spends all his time in his study instead of manning up and being a father. Your wife died. So? You’ve got a kid. Shut the hell up, stop crying like a bitch, and take some goddamn responsibility over your son. Damn absentee parents. Amma’s verve is refreshing. She’s the matriarch you don’t want to mess with.

Marian sounds like she could’ve offered more, especially being Ethan’s late mother’s best friend, but like Ethan’s dad she doesn’t appear often enough in the book to manipulate my emotions.

Uncle Macon is the Dumbledore of Beautiful Creatures. Always around, but never really around, if you know what I mean; cryptic in his daily dealings. But unlike Dumbledore, Macon’s secrets suck, and he gets rather irritating before the book’s end.

Link, Ethan’s supposed best friend – I say supposed, because in 563 pages Ethan hangs out with him for like 6 times – is sort of stuck between being nobody and somebody. The only time he matters is when he tangles himself with the enigmatic, lollypop-sucking Ridley.

I loved Ethan’s grand aunts. I wouldn’t have spent as much time with them as Ethan did, but they did offer a fun read, especially when they argued, or the comments they made after they found stuff they had lost a long time ago.

If I had to pick one character as my favourite it would be Ridley. Cool, smoking hot, badass, sex appeal oozing Ridley. She wasn’t a pretend teenager like Ethan, and she served as the book’s somewhat tortured character, torn between following her evil instincts and helping her cousin, Lena.

Score: 7/10 (you can thank Ethan for knocking a point off)


Forget about Ethan and his bizarre sexual asceticism. The real character in Beautiful Creatures is the old southern town, Gatlin. A town filled with bizarre, crippled personalities.

The people of Gatlin are ignorant, annoying, old-fashioned, lame, probably racist, and quite twisted sons of bitches. Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve read southern American depiction of this kind. Either there are lots of people out there who don’t like the south or the south really is this way.

There is a scene where Lena gets really upset and her powers activate and shatters the window near her. Normally, you would expect a reaction like: who broke the window? But in Gatlin, it's: she broke the window. I saw her do it when she walked by.

Someone questions this logic: but she hasn't got blood on her hands.

A sharp, irritated reply: what are you, CSI? She tried to kill us!

From there, the whole town wages a personal vendetta on Lean - parents, teachers, students - everyone. It's ridiculous, but - hey - it's Gatlin.

In the world of Beautiful Creatures there are casters, witches as I explained, and Lena is one of them. Unfortunately, Lena is also, like I explained, a very, super awesome powerful caster, with little to no limits on her powers, which makes me believe Beautiful Creatures has no rigid magic system. Or maybe it does, but I honestly couldn't make heads or tails of it. One minute, Lena is breaking a small window, the next she’s walking through fire, making snow fall, and freezing time.

Then there’s The Book of Moons, an excuse for Admiral Deus Ex Machina to make an impromptu appearance whenever things get too tough for our heroes. Apparently, it is the most powerful caster book in the universe, and now it belongs to the most powerful caster in the universe. Gee. Why do we need a sequel?

But it’s not all bad. The authors were able to take some popular supernatural creatures and tweak them for the better. I was absolutely impressed when I discovered Uncle Macon’s true identity and his fascination with dreams.

The whole claiming-on-your-sixteenth birthday was a nice touch, particularly with the way the book ended.

Score: 8/10


The authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, make a remarkable writing team. I know they know this. In fact, I know they’re so in love with each other’s writing that neither of them could tell the other to stop rambling and get on with it.

Too much rambling in this book, I tell you. There’s just no way to justify Beautiful Creatures’ length – 563 pages, significantly less than 300 of which make up the main plot, and the others, just rambling upon rambling. Ethan rambles. Christ. Jibber-jabber, jibber-jabber, Jibber-bloody-jabber.

On the bright side, the authors were capable of representing Gatlin in all its glory. Forget all that negative stuff I said about the town; it might be a weird place, but it’s still a well-written weird place. I’m not sure calling Gatlin weird is even a criticism. I think Gatlin was always meant to be weird.

Kami and Margaret might score a B in descriptive writing, but their efforts only garner a D in dialogue. The dialogue writing in Beautiful Creatures is inconsistent at best. Sometimes it’s good. Other times – most times – it’s just laugh out loud.

Though I’ve never been a fan of written accents, I thought the authors conveyed an authentic southern drawl when Amma and Ethan’s grand aunts spoke.

(Do note I am not an American. The closest I’ve ever come to a hearing a southern talk is on TV. I might be wrong about the accuracy of Beautiful Creatures’ southern lingo).

Unfortunately, the authors go on commit the heinous crime we writers call “monologuing”. The villains talk and talk and talk and explain. The heroes listen and listen and listen and reply back.

Beautiful Creatures’ dialogue problem is further exacerbated by most of its characters’ inability to shut up and move on, always repeating themselves, over and over, like a bunch of three-year-olds pestering mummy and daddy for ice cream until mummy and daddy are fed up and lock them up in the basement. To illustrate, here’s how a typical conversation between Ethan and Uncle Macon enfolds:

Ethan: Tell me the truth. Tell me everything I need to know to save Lena.

Uncle Macon: You don’t understand. You wouldn’t understand. Telling you the truth will destroy everything. I’m trying to protect you.

Ethan: We need to save Lena! The only way to do that is if you tell me the truth.

Uncle Macon: I love Lena, but I’m trying to protect her.

Ethan: You just don’t care about Lena.

Uncle Macon: I care more than you know. I’m trying to protect her.

By this time you think the conversation has ended, cos as we can see Uncle Macon has made it quite clear he’s not telling Ethan anything.

But –

Ethan: Still, dude, just tell me the truth. Come on!

Uncle Macon: The truth will set us all free, but I won’t do it. It’s for Lena’s protection.

Dear lord.

The funny thing is the so-called truth Uncle Macon keeps evading isn’t as earth-shattering or life-threatening to Lena as is implied. Certainly not something he couldn’t have told her before the big battle. Hell, if he had told her the truth she would have been more prepared to face her enemy.

I don’t know why too many YA authors employ this plotting technique. The problem with it is it could blow up in your face. When a character goes to great lengths in explaining that he’s keeping a secret to protect another character, that secret better be bigger than the universe when it’s revealed, or it’s going to one anti-climatic mess.

Score: 8/10


Ethan dreams about a girl. He meets her at school. Her name is Lena. He finds out she’s a caster. They fall in love, deeply in love. But it turns out their love story might be fleeting, because on Lena’s sixteenth birthday, which is fast approaching, she will be claimed. Getting claimed is a nifty way of saying she will turn good or evil against her will. She’s certain she’s going to turn evil. So she and Ethan search for a way to ensure she remains good.

There’s nothing wrong with this plot. What’s wrong is its execution.

Score: 8/10


When I started Beautiful Creatures I loved it. Halfway through, I kept it aside (not out of boredom) and got my hands on Justin Cronin’s The Passage. I think that’s part of what ruined Beautiful Creatures for me. I went on to read Cronin’s masterpiece and came back to Beautiful Creatures, sort of like watching Casino Royale halfway, watching the whole of Inception, and expecting to enjoy the rest of Casino Royale afterwards.

You see, Beautiful Creatures should have been more than this. It had that spark that should’ve lit up the sky, but only flared a bit. Too many pointless scenes got in the way. The plot would flow smoothly for a while then Ethan and Lena would go off at a tangent, doing stuff that had no connection with the main plot. Nothing wrong with that, except the authors wasted too much time deviating from the main plot, to the extent that I didn’t remember some of the earlier major plot clues when I got to the end of the book. So, rather than the reveals and twists exploding before my eyes, they deflated like punctured bicycle tires.

Characters like Ridley, Larkin, and even the big, bad villain, were ruined by the very people who created them. These characters started off great, promised excitement, and delivered less than expected of them, certainly less than they were capable of delivering. Pity. Reminds me of The Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (Video Game); there’s a scene where the prince, having realised the gravity of his error, says “I am the architect of my own destruction.”

I liken Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl to amazing painters, who after producing a masterpiece pick up knives and puncture holes in their art, and then put it out for an exhibition.

Beautiful Creatures, The Forrest of Hands and Teeth and The Demon’s Lexicon all have one thing in common: they feature excellent premises and are written by excellent writers, but in the end they all crumble like shattered, eleven-foot high Lego bricks, in their quest for greatness. (Wait. That's three things.)

Why? How? I have no idea.

I’m done with Forest, but I haven’t given up on Lexicon and Beautiful Creatures.

For those of you looking for a YA book with a real male lead character, look elsewhere. If you’re a girl (or a rather strange boy) looking for Twilight Romance, you know, all the touch, touch, touch, kiss, kiss, kiss, no sex, then Beautiful Creatures is perfect for you.

Final Score: 8/10

Sunday, 8 August 2010

REVIEW: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The passage I am Babcock.

It must be hard being a vampire these days, the top target of a well orchestrated character assassination, reduced to something only half as scary as a floppy-eared beagle. Today’s literature depicts you as a sparkling chandelier, or an overemotional pansy who falls madly in love with a human girl and relinquishes his burning thirst for warm, succulent human blood. You know ... the type that tastes really good.

You used to put the fear of God in people. Now ... now you’re just a whinny, emo bitch. Well, you’re not, but that’s how we humans see you.

If vampires did exist, and they read books and watched movies, I imagine therapists worldwide would see a drastic increase in their vampire clientele, and the number one question they would get from these depressed hunters of the night would be: how can I be myself again?

Those vamps lucky to have Justin Cronin as their therapist would surely thank him after a day’s session. And eat him afterwards.

I am Babcock.

My heartfelt apologies to anyone named Babcock. Discrimination in any form – race, sex, age, height, etc – should not be tolerated or encouraged. However, I’m not so sure I like the name “Babcock” anymore. It frightens me. You can thank Justin Cronin for that.

The Passage is a riveting epic. Justin Cronin has finally put the “V” back in Vampire. You would expect this sort of impressive storytelling from a YA author, considering YA is a genre customarily representative of excellent imagination, but just as England invented the beautiful game of football and Spain perfected it, YA made vampires immensely popular in this generation and now Justin Cronin has schooled the genre and its authors on how to write a real vampire novel.

To be honest, I’m not sure YA authors care that much. The genre has moved on to pastures new: angel paranormal romance. Or is it fairies? I forget.


Literary authors understand one concept: character-driven plots. It’s their lifeblood. It’s what they eat, breathe and sleep. Since Justin Cronin is technically one of them (The Passage is his first genre book) he utilises this particular expertise in developing an assemblage of diverse, interesting and invigorating characters that walk right out the pages of The Passage. They’re not classed into simple, cardboard-cutout groups of good and evil, but complex, human clusters of flaws and convictions.

Each character has a story to tell, from Amy, the mysterious and shrewd six-year-old, abandoned by her mother and distrustful of people in general, to Brad Wolgast, an FBI agent, haunted by his failed marriage to the love of his life and scarred by a missed opportunity on fatherhood, an opportunity that resurfaces when he meets Amy.

There’s Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto, from Sierra-Leone, who believes she can hear God, but her life is one big twist, and Anthony Carter, a soft spoken, homeless black man who somehow ends up on death row for a crime he did not commit, but willing to take the ultimate punishment – death – all in the name of love.

Clearly, Justin Cronin understands that America is not made up of only white people.

Cronin knows how to withhold information about characters and throw them at readers in tantalising bits. My heart twisted for Anthony Carter when I read the conclusion of his story.

If there is one criticism I have it’s that the characters introduced in Part IV (All Eyes), while well drawn out, are not as appealing as those in the previous parts.

Score: 10/10


The Passage stretches from somewhere around or before 2008 (Amy’s mother’s story) to more than a hundred years, right into the heart of a dystopian America, shattered, defeated and teeming with ferocious creatures of the night: virals, or vampires.

Justin shows us America we know it today, a Super Power embroiled in a seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East. A country left paranoid by terrorism (in the book Walmart sells Kevlar suits for babies). And then he shows us a new world born out of a devastating vampire apocalypse. A world where children are segregated from the outside, because reality – there are blood thirsty beasts, quick as light, roaming about, seeking to get you – is too traumatising for them.

It’s a dark, dark world. A world nearly bereft of hope.

The science behind the existence of vampires and how the vampire virus works in The Passage is well thought out, plausible and imaginative. It has to do with the thymus, a specialised organ in the immune system, located in the anterior superior mediastinum.

I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing everything.

Score: 10/10


Justin Cronin is a remarkable writer, I kid you not. His prose is engaging, touching, and brutal, all at the same time. Descriptions of places can sometimes be a bit too much, dragging on for quite a while, but it doesn’t hurt. And his dialogue writing is wow!

Score: 10/10


The United States of America loves policing the world, or at least that’s what a lot of people, other than Americans, say. In 2003, for whatever reason you might think – oil, justice, delusions of grandeur – America attacks a certain country in the Middle East. In 2014, the war is still going strong, and America is losing soldiers by the bucket load.

Desperation sets in. How do we avoid heavy infantry losses? How do we create soldiers who can easily despatch enemies?

Beyond that, how do we permanently defeat ailments like cancer?

A scientist, Dr Lear, thinks the answer is in Bolivia. Thus, Project Noah is born.

The expedition to Bolivia does not end well. Many die. Few return. One of the returnees is classed as Zero, a scientist named Fanning, who was infected by the vampire virus in Bolivia.

For Lear to complete his research and create a solution to America’s military and health problems he needs twelve candidates. The military decides that the twelve will be people who wouldn’t be missed, death row inmates. FBI agent, Brad Wolgast, a man who can pretty much sell water to a well, is tasked with the responsibility of convincing twelve inmates to sign away their lives to the United States government. These twelve inmates are: Babcock, Carter, Morrison, Chavez, Baffes, Turrell, Winston, Sosa, Echols, Lambright, Martinez, and Reinhardt (not listed in the correct order).

Lear then decides he needs a thirteenth candidate, a child. The Army orders Wolgast to apprehend and deliver a six-year-old girl, Amy Harper Bellanfonte.

Wolgast cannot do it.

Long story short, the virals, the Twelve plus Zero, break out of the facility, and in less than a few months, they overpower America.

One hundred years later, the last surviving Americans living in a small, high-walled colony, resolve to embark on a mission to save themselves and their families, because, you see, the batteries powering the lights outside their colony, the lights preventing the vampires from breaching their walls at night, is fading fast, and if they don’t find an alternative means of survival, they’ll all be dead.

Need I say more?

Score: 10/10


If you’re an aspiring writer, read this book. Trust me, there’s much to learn from Justin Cronin’s tome. If you’re just a reader looking for something thrilling to chew on, The Passage will satiate your appetite and leave you wanting more.

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Morality of Characters and Plots

Sisters Red A couple of days ago I read The Booksmugglers’ review for Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red, and it got me thinking about character behaviours, their motivations, flaws and likeable quotient; book plots, their implications – whether subtle or palpable; and the role authors play in the lives of their readers.

The Booksmugglers’ denouncement of Sisters Red and their subsequent refusal to score it stems from the impression (theirs) that Sisters Red (a) belittles beautiful, self-confident girls who love looking pretty and love wearing revealing clothes, and (b) promotes the popular (and misguided) message: blame the rape victim, not the rapist.

Scarlett, a main character in the book, and the review’s major culprit, is scarred, bitter and an unrelenting werewolf hunter. She’s not particularly appreciative of her life as a hunter, but she reckons someone has to do the messy deed of ridding the world of the Fenris (Old Norse word for werewolf). She also resents beautiful girls who wear skimpy clothes at night because she believes they make themselves easy prey for the Fenris. Her resentment borders on jealousy though; she’s not as beautiful as these girls, she doesn’t have the luxury of “enjoying” herself like these girls, and she doesn’t get a gold medal or a presidential award for saving these girls from the big bad wolves.

These quotes are from Scarlett’s POV, and they’re the ones the Booksmugglers take offence to:

[1] They’re adorned in glittery green rhinestones, shimmery turquoise and aquamarine powders streaked across their eyelids. Dragonfly girls. Their hair is all the same, long and streaked, spiralling down their backs to where the tiny strings holding their tops on are knotted tightly. Their skin glows under the neon lights – amber, ebony, cream – like shined metal, flawless and smooth. I press harder against the crumbly brick wall behind me, tugging my crimson cloak closer to my body. The scars on my shoulders show through fabric when I pull the cloak tight. Bumpy red hills in perfectly spaced lines.

The Dragonflies laugh, sweet, and bubbly, and I groan in exasperation. They toss their hair, stretch their legs, sway their hips, bat their eyes at the club’s bouncer, everything about them luring the Fenris. Inviting danger like some baby animal bleating its fool head off. Look at me, see how I dance, did you notice my hair, look again, desire me, I am perfect. Stupid, stupid Dragonflies. Here I am, saving your lives, bitten and scarred and wounded for you, and you don’t even know it. I should let the Fenris have one of you.

No, I didn’t mean that. I sigh and walk to the other side of the brick wall, letting my fingers tangle in the thick ivy. It’s dark on this side, shadowed from the neon lights of the street. I breathe slowly, watching the tree limbs sway, backlit by the lights of skyscrapers. Of course I didn’t mean it. Ignorance is no reason to die. They can’t help what they are, still happily unaware inside a cave of fake shadows. They exist in a world that’s beautiful normal, where people have jobs and dreams that don’t involve a hatcher. My world is parallel universe to their – the same sights, same people, same city, yet the Fenris lurk, the evil creeps, the knowledge undeniably exists. If I hadn’t been thrown into this world, I could just as easily have been a Dragonfly.

[2] His eyes narrow in something between disgust and intrigue, as though he’s not certain if he likes looking at them or not. I want to comment, but I stay quiet. Somehow it feels important to wait for his reaction. Silas finally turns to look at me in the shadows.

“It’s like they’re trying to be eaten, isn’t it?” he asks pointedly.

“Can I tell you how glad I am that and Rosie aren’t like them?”

“No kidding.” I grin, relieved. “Rosie could be if she wanted, though. She’s beautiful like they are.”

“Beauty has nothing to do with it. Rosie could never be one of them. Do you really think they’d dress and act like that if they knew it was drawing wolves toward them?”

Had a character come up to Scarlett and said, “Hey, you shouldn’t be pissed off at beautiful girls just cos they’re beautiful and like looking hot,” or something of that sort, the review might have sung a different tune.

The status quo in commercial literature today is characters that think or do bad things must get their comeuppance: death, or a terrible event, which eventually transforms them into better, likeable people. A racist main character cannot remain a racist at the end of a book. He has to go through some eye-opening journey and change, or suffer and die. A sexist main character has to learn to appreciate women at some point before a book’s conclusion.

Scarlett doesn’t alter her attitude. She saves the world, but she still retains her “unpopular” belief.

Books are open to all kinds of interpretations and opinions. When I read the Sisters Red quotes I didn’t see any allegories of blaming rape victims or demeaning beautiful girls. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and I “don’t get it”. (But then again the author is a woman. Perhaps we both don’t get it.)

I read the quotes and saw someone who was pissed off at the world, pissed off because she couldn’t have some fun like everyone else, pissed off because no one knew the true nature of the dangers that lay in the shadows like she did, and pissed off because she had to save the day without so much as a “gee, thanks, Scarlett. I owe you one”.

I just saw a pissed off heroine, that’s all.

Does Scarlett have a right to be pissed off? That’s debateable.

Is she right in judging prettier girls the way she did? Probably not.

Is this her major character flaw? Yes.

Does this flaw make her less likeable as a character? Depends on you as a reader.

Does her attitude make Sisters Red a bad book? No. Not in my opinion.

This whole kerfuffle has got me wondering, do characters have to be likeable for a book to be good? What does likeable even mean: less irritating, more forgiving, eager to save the world?

Do authors have a responsibility as morale beacons to their readers? Must they portray their characters as examples of what happens if you make good and bad choices? Must they write plots that ultimately send messages like: stealing is bad; killing is bad; sexism is bad; racism is bad; having sex before marriage is not bad but you can catch nasty diseases ... or, you know what, maybe it’s bad; everyone should love gay people; etc.

What do you think?

Maybe some authors should. I would hate to read a children’s book to my five-year-old daughter (if I had one) about a girl who kills, steals and gets away with it. But as for the YA and Adult genres, I’m not so sure, but that’s just me.

During the early stages of the Iraqi war, a British man travelled to Iraq, despite government warnings, for humanitarian reasons and also to protest the war. He was captured by insurgents and used as a negotiating tool. The insurgents threatened to kill him unless Britain withdrew its troops from Iraq. The British government does not negotiate with terrorists. They declined.

The man was beheaded.

A friend of mine who was in the Territorial Army at the time said that he hated people like the man, and thought that humanitarians enjoy overdoing things, and they should just shut up and stay at home and not involve themselves in situations they don’t understand.

If he was the main character of a book and the thing with the British man happened and MC said those things and in the end he doesn’t change his mind about humanitarians or apologise for maligning them, but saves the world from the big bad evil, would that book automatically qualify as a bad book, to you?

It’s my belief that characters are to some extent representations of real life people. That’s what authors strive for when they write: to create characters who breathe as if they were standing right next to you.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t characters, like people, possess certain flaws that remain unchanged even after a book’s end?

Must a main character be absolutely moral or ethical before a book is considered a good book?

A book’s hero saves the world from the apocalypse, but while he’s tolerant of gay people, he’s not open to the idea of ever being gay. In fact, the thought of it – grabbing another guy’s ass, French-kissing him, going under the sheets – almost makes his skin crawl. Does that book become a bad book?

What do you think?