As a follow-up to my post titled Fire Sale, I offer my second update regarding those reading assignments I have handed myself. This, as a way of improving my own science fiction writing pursuits by digesting the efforts of others.
Although it is probably among the best of good writing exercises to provide in-depth critique of other writers’ yarns, I’m certain it’s one I’m no good at, and I’m probably not desirous to become so. It’s enough for me to know internally why I did or did not like a certain book. To communicate those reasons with conviction is the realm of the critic. I’m happily a hesitant stranger there.
Yet, it was undeniably me who said that we should compel ourselves as readers to be honest in our assessments of books, even to the extent of providing written justifications as to why our read was a smash hit or a big stink bomb. That said, I feel compelled to give this an honest shot.
INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin is a fast-paced, perpetually unpredictable romp through time and space aboard the book’s namesake with a claptrap crew of young over-achievers trying to “right their ship” as they also attempt to right past wrongs. As they soon discover, however, no bad deed goes unpunished forever, with more trouble never farther away than the next jump’s horizon.
While stealing valuable relics from civilizations long since perished for a greedy and dangerous black markets dealer, the crew quickly learns that their collective future will forever bump into the misdeeds of an ancient past until a surprise visitor-uninvited, and definitely unwelcome-provides the mind-bending clues they’ll need if they’re to escape a most unfortunate fate.
Everything the ship’s captain and his crew thought they knew about themselves, their past, and their mission will be turned on its head.
Graudin is a powerful writing talent. With great plot twists and turns, beautiful command of the written word, teenage emotions dripping off nearly every page, and imaginative settings I could envision in my head, she kept this reader mostly well-invested. She pulled me in strong with her opening scenes and I was off to the races. As I mentioned, the pace was breakneck, and probably a bit too much so for me (this coming from a guy who requires that plot move along briskly to stay interested in the story).
Better put, perhaps it wasn’t the pace so much as the details packed into that pace. And because of that ever-increasing mental burden, I felt the cantering story slowly leaving me further behind with every chapter.
I always try to imagine what a book’s tale might look like on the big screen. I threw this one up on the silver and, in my mind’s eye, it seemed to come off pretty well…until I envisioned the director attempting to translate in footage that stickiest of widgets in fiction-Time Travel. Trust me, this tale gets very involved, very quickly. Many passages required a double back by me, just to be sure I understand the intricacies of the tech.
In the end, and literally toward the very end, where I should have been exhilarated in the turn of each new page, I found myself actually a bit fatigued. Ultimately, I burned out, pulling up lame before concluding the last few pages. I’m not sure why, though I have my suspicions, and I believe the fault may be as much in my court as it is in Graudin’s.
The teenage chitchat became too tedious for this old man. And I didn’t swoon where I was probably expected to (again, I’m not the author’s target audience, so swooning at my age is just hard on the knees). Some of the later scenes-piling up on top of one another like the wardrobe-strewn time machine that served as home-away-from-home for these swashbuckling amateurs-became too bursting with emotion-filled longing for love’s first kiss. And the unknowns that were racking up, as well, began to make my head spin.
In the end, the dizziness induced by this adventurous race against time demanded that I dismount while I could still look back at all that ground I’d covered and not feel too much regret for failing to cross the finish line. The plot line was a lot to take on, and probably more than enough for me. I was disappointed to find that I was not in need of yet more INVICTUS adventure.
So yes, not so memorable characters (Eliot was by far my favorite), some interesting tidbits from history (with a particular focus on the Titanic and ancient Rome), inspired, imaginative, extremely well-thought out plot that I personally was never able to fully understand (again-Time Travel…requires suspension of disbelief through and through, and especially from someone who readily acknowledges he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed).
One problem for me might stem from the fact that I cannot properly decide if INVICTUS is primarily character-driven, or plot-driven, since it seems to possess an even measure of both. Is that a good thing? Possibly. For me, however, the author who can captivate me by hooking me, reeling me in slowly, steadily, revealing ever-deepening recesses of each character’s personality, motivations, and best-kept secrets-she’s the one I’m going to follow.
I think Graudin might have better scratched my reader’s itch had she shown me yet more of Farway, Gram, Priya, and even the bad guy, Lux. Even if this meant sacrificing an action-packed scene or two.
Then again, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not Graudin’s target reader, and perhaps the level of personal backgrounds she afforded her story’s main actors was just about right for a target reader a third my age.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being stellar, I would rate this mostly solid read as a strong 7, and would definitely recommend it to the children’s children of friends and family.