Half a King and predictability

Published on: Author: The Bookseller's Daughter 1 Comment

I recently picked up Half a King by Joe Abercrombie because I was really interested in a fantasy book with a disabled main character and I thought it would make a good holiday read. In many ways it did, it was fast paced, fun but dark with some great characters. It is a young adult fantasy, but I thought it had enough grit to make it a good adult read and I really liked the straight forward style of writing. Every chapter had some kind of adventure, or rather misadventure which moved the plot along at such a pace I had to stop myself from finishing it in one sitting.

But, while not taking anything away from all the above, I literally guessed every single plot twist including the big reveal at the end. In fact I suspected that outcome from the first time we came across a certain character (really want to be spoiler free here so forgive the vagueness). As I said above, this is a YA book so I am not the target audience, having dropped the Y a rather long time ago. It has been a while since I read any YA so perhaps that’s just the way it is now. I still really enjoyed this book but it did get me thinking about the idea of predictability, and what it means when you start to see all the twists coming.

After reading this, I read a book that my husband had just put down having really enjoyed. I won’t say what it was, because the following would be a huge spolier even if I just said the title, but as part of the storyline there is a revelation regarding a child’s paternity. I think from about chapter 2 I had worked out it wasn’t the main characters child, but my husband didn’t realise until an actual DNA test was conducted in the story. Not only did he not see it coming, it totally rocked his world!

This led us to have an interesting discussion about this idea of predicting or guessing the storylines of books and how it affects the reading experience. We both really enjoyed this novel but had totally different reading experiences. I enjoyed the feeling of being ‘in on it’ and watching how the characters interacted and grew around this big secret, whereas he enjoyed the moment of ‘OMG is it really’. So this begs the question, if you guess a twist or plot device early on, does it ruin your enjoyment of a book?

I’m torn on this one. I think it definitely changes the reading experience, but I think it also depends on the book. For example, I found it a little frustrating in Abercrombie’s book, but didn’t mind it in the book I’m not naming above. I wonder if, if you read a lot it becomes a little bit inevitable – you start seeing the little hints authors drop in, the little asides or comments that could mean nothing but actually piece together the clues, or the plot devices used to put you off the track become so glaring you see right through them. You could argue that is a richer reading experience as you un-peel the way an author has written. But it can also be a bit disappointing when you actually do want to be shocked.

But then, how important are shocks and twists in a story? I know that when I was reading A Song of Ice and Fire or the Harry Potter series, I did everything in my power not to get any spoilers because I really wanted to experience every turn of the tale for the first time. I also think that there is something special about reading a book and really being taken along for the ride.

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Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of books which have many a turn of events I didn’t see coming – 1984 is a great example, recently the Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb has been a thrilling read. I wonder if it is about how much you are wrapped up in the world? If you are really into it like I was with these books do you stop looking for the hints and just go with it.

I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has experienced a similar thing and how you feel it affects the reading experience.

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