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What We Can Learn from Morgan Rice's 'A Quest of Heroes' - A Book Review


I deliberately didn't call this a spoiler-free book review because the book in question is genuinely bad enough that I would spoil it for anyone just to spare them the pain of reading it. And I can just hear you thinking, Surely you're being a bit harsh, no? No! No, I am not. A Quest of Heroes, or as I prefer to call it, 'A Beginner's Guide to Every YA Fantasy Trope Ever', is extraordinarily awful. So, what could we possibly learn from it? Lots. I might as well have dubbed it, 'How Not to Write a Compelling Story', so let's learn from Morgan Rice's mistakes and glean what lessons we can from this pile of chaff.

1. Avoid overused tropes. Yes, I know I've discussed the value of cliches briefly on this blog in my very first post, 'Originality in Writing is Overrated', but you can take it too far. A Quest of Heroes features a young boy who is disliked by his adopted family (but he doesn't know he's adopted), has special and unexplained powers, is inexplicably the best at everything, has a very vague and important destiny and becomes infatuated with a princess from the first time he lays eyes on her. Other tropes include a wise old magic guy who is unnecessarily cryptic about his incredibly plot-convenient prophecies, a Chosen One, impossibly tame wild animals, a bully who ends up becoming the main character's friend, several different beasts that are described as the most dangerous in the world, a Black Forest AND a Dark Forest, an evil witch who lives in a hovel in one of the said forests, and honestly I could go on for this entire post, but I think you get the idea. You could play fantasy bingo with just the first three chapters of this book. The only glaringly obvious one that's missing is dragons, but never fear, they appear later in the series. Do not do this. If you must use them at all, employ tropes sparingly and to spectacular effect, because too many of them together doesn't help with the story, it distracts from it. In fact, in this case, I am forced to wonder whether there is a story beneath all those tropes at all. I don't particularly feel like checking.

2. Write human characters. The main character of QoH is named Thorgrin, but everyone calls him Thor. (Already too on the nose, if you ask me.) He can do everything. He's a small fourteen-year-old who is better at physical activities than all the other boys, most of whom are older and larger than him. The only times he ever proves subpar are when the plot calls for him to use his yellow force lightning. Oh, didn't I mention that? He has yellow force lightning. That is, his hands tingle and glow yellow, allowing him to do plot magic. Thor is also extremely annoying. The only thing he can think about to begin with, when he's tending his mean father's goats, is how much he wants to be in the Legion so that he can be a knight and get fame and glory one day. He doesn't get chosen to be in the Legion, so he's sulking with the goats when he realises that one of them is missing. He goes into the Black Forest (excuse me while I go throw up) to save this goat, meets the king's druid, who tells him to follow his grand destiny (*gag* here we go again), and then kills a terrifying beast with his yellow force lightning plot magic. Then what does he do? He nicks off! Having gone to all that trouble to save one goat, he leaves all the rest on the mountainside and heads to the capital in a cloud of dust and anticipated glory without even telling his father that he's leaving. And all this directly after all three of his brothers left to be in the Legion! No wonder his father hates him, the entitled little prick! And I would forgive him if there was any indication anywhere in the rest of the book that any of this behaviour was unacceptable, but nope. Never. He continues to be the hero who we are supposed to like. Even though he slingshotted a guard who was just doing his job - twice! ... Okay, so what's my point? Be intentional with your characters. Do not make them perfect, but be aware of their flaws and have a plan to redeem them. In any given situation, I could not predict what Thor would do, because his character isn't consistent. He's bland - a stock good guy whose actions are driven by the plot rather than the plot by his actions. That's bad. I'd rather an interesting evil character than a boring hero. On that note, give your villain a character and a story. You should know him or her as well as you know your MCs.

3. Do your research or leave out things you have no experience with. Oh my goodness, Morgan Rice, read my lips: have...you...ever...seen...a...eucalypt? No? I didn't think so! How do I know that? Because remember the Dark Forest? Yeah, well, according to the narration, it was black as night in the middle of the day because of the tightly interlocking branches of eucalyptus trees.

Dear Ms Rice,
I am Australian. You are obviously not. You also obviously do not know how to use Google Image Search. Allow me to inform you. Go to the url bar at the top of your browser and type in images.google.com. See the search bar in the middle of your screen? Great! Now all you have to do is type 'eucalyptus trees' into it and realise how wrong you were.
You're welcome,
Jo

Back to the readers. Don't do this. Don't just mention something that sounds cool and exotic without actually knowing its properties and origins, because there is someone out there who knows a lot more about it than you. If they read your book and see your ignorance, that's a huge blow to their suspension of disbelief. They'll also feel like you're treating them like an idiot when it's actually you who's the dunce.

4. Do not make fourteen-year-old characters get drunk and then have a prostitute forced on them by their 'friends'. No one wants to read that. Unless these things - or anything like them - immediately precipitate the acknowledgement that your character needs new people to hang out with, they are abhorrent and wrong. And just plain nasty. I can't believe I have to say this.

5. Man, do I mean this one: END YOUR STORY. It cannot possibly be that hard! In QoH, there's no plot to speak of until the last three chapters, in which Thor has a premonition dream thing that tells him that the king is going to be poisoned by wine delivered to him in an ornate golden cup. Okay, fine. His only job is to stop this from happening, but he can't get to the king until the big party that evening. So, after embarking upon an entirely unnecessary excursion for the entire day that makes him late for said party, Thor turns up, desperate to warn the king. (Not quite so desperate that he can't have a little tête-à-tête with the princess he has a crush on, though. *gag*) The king doesn't really believe him, so when Thor sees a servant deliver him the very cup from his dream, he jumps in and dramatically smacks it out of the king's hand. The king is outraged, but before he can do anything, a dog comes over, licks up the spilled wine and dies on the spot. Immediately, Prince Gareth pipes up and says, "Oh no, Father! How could Thor possibly have known that the wine was poisoned unless he did it himself? It's not as if he just gave you a perfectly good reason for which he has verifiable precedent! No, no, I'm your deranged, evil son, believe me - Thor tried to kill you!" (I may be paraphrasing slightly.) And the king agrees! He throws Thor, for whom he had formerly declared fatherly love, into the dungeon. Thor gets punched in the face by a guard, everything goes black and that's the end of the book! ... .... ..... No. No, I refuse! That's not the end of the story! It's not even a cliffhanger, it's just lazy. Never, never do this. Finish the story you are telling. Set up for the next book and tease it all you like, but there must be a natural break in the narrative that warrants an ending to one book and the beginning of the next. Again, I cannot believe this is something I have to say, but apparently it is because an adult woman thought A Quest of Heroes was worth publishing.


So, no, I do not like this book. At all. But, in fairness, it has some things in it that I am genuinely curious about - like Thor's true parentage. Not quite curious enough to make me read the entire 17 book series, but curious nonetheless. I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you know Morgan Rice's work. Did you hate it as much as I did, or were you able to connect to it more than me?


-Jo
Soli Deo Gloria
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