Published February 17th 2015.
I’ve always been intrigued why we read YA fiction. Is it because it deals with first time experiences? Or because it’s all about experimentation? Or is it because we no longer want to be adults? Maybe we yearn for those childhood years without a care in the world… I think some read YA because it helps (some) adults to re-live adolescence. Our adult life is full of constraints/responsibilities: mortgage, job, and family. We read it from the safer distance of adulthood. Reading YA can be something that allow us to believe many things are (still) possible. It allow us to reconnect with the adolescent experience even we are talking about SF.
This YA instantiation is riddled with (some) clichés as was to be expected. This is YA fiction after all. From the get-go I could see where the story was going. On top of that I “knew” how the fates of the two main characters (Thorn and Brand) were connected and the culmination of that particular plotline was so predictable as to be disheartening when everything occurred just the way I thought it would. Unfortunately being this a YA the characters also had less moral shades than those in Abercrombie’s earlier novels.
Why did Abercrombie go down the road of YA? I’m not sure, at least I’ve never read anything by him justifying that decision. Nowadays publishers only want to publish the cardboard cut-out books of what worked before, and not anything original, i.e., we are living in a literary world where publishers want dumb-down books, in order for them to be published, and have them appeal to a wider audience. If I want to wear my cynical hat, this is my definition of YA fiction. A combination of dumbed down language and approaches, smartass-marketing, and over-glossiness of the texts. YA is riddled with this. Fortunately Abercrombie is one of the good guys, i.e., he always trying to subvert the “rules”: “The suitors were queued up outside my house all the way to the bloody docks. There’s only so much of men weeping over my beauty I can stand. And she pressed a fingertip to one side of her nose and blew snot into the mud out of the other.” Not exactly run-of-the-mill YA fiction…
Even when writing in YA-constraint-mode, Abercrombie is always able to surprise me with something not quite with the verve akin to YA fiction:
“I stood and pissed myself.”
“You won’t be the only one.”
“The hero never pisses himself in the songs.”
“Aye, well.” Rulf gave his shoulder a parting squeeze, and stood. “That’s why those are songs, and this is life.”
We’re not exactly in Harry Potter milieu… What Abercrombie did in the YA fiction straightjacket was trying to destroy some (not all) of its core approaches. It’s still messy fiction (a term I much prefer. “Grimdark” seems just something the guys from the Marketing department came up with).
The messiness that characterizes his books is still present, but it’s much more romanticized.
One more book (the 3rd) to go. And then we’ll have our “old” Abercrombie back…
YA = Young Adult
SF = Speculative Fiction