I like a little sugar in my tea, a smidgen of cheese on that cracker, some garnish on a salad (but not too much) and ... (running out of food metaphors)... something novel in a novel.
I feel a bit sheepish for the vitriol I am about to rain down on 'Rebel Heart', the second title of Moira Young's Dustlands Trilogy, after all, I did thoroughly enjoy the first half of the book but... it has a pretty serious case of 'Middle Book Syndrome'.
This seems to be a growing epidemic within the Young Adult genre and, honestly, it is starting to grate on me. All books should be capable of standing alone, without being propped up by their much stronger prequels and sequels.
Once upon a time, in a land faraway, the middle book had an important job to do. It served to bring a sense of definitive direction and clarity to a story. It was climactic, it tantalised and it prepared the reader for what was to come. Middle books were dynamic and progressive and alive and, most importantly, essential to the overall plot.
Back to the present day and trilogies have become the fashionable format within Young Adult literature, the purpose of which seems long-forgotten and the poor, middle book is collateral damage. It doesn’t seem to matter if an author only has enough story to drive two books at a good pace, they stick the middle book in there regardless.
A recipe for Leftover-Hotpot The Middle Book in a Young Adult Trilogy:
Take plenty of filler and stodge (nobody will ever notice), add a juicy bone, or two, left-over from book one and, if rations are still looking a bit meagre, add a little bit of something tasty which you had intended to put in book three. Garnish with plenty of angst, a sprinkle of plot holes and serve whilst hot.
'Rebel Heart' is far from the worst offender, just the latest in a long line and the sting is particularly painful because I really did love Blood Red Road (Book 1). The first half really was very enjoyable, despite Jack's conspicuous absence from all but the first chapter (he was a firm favourite of mine in the first book). There was a lively, new character in a pink dress who went some way to make up for this and the chapter that follows Saba's solitary journey along the Wraithway was particularly gripping. Then, about half way through, came the chapter, aptly titled 'The Lost Cause', where it began to stumble and, for me, it never recovered.
This may sound like bias on my part but I really do think the book would have been better if it continued how it started; from Jack's perspective. Perhaps, this would have been impossible in the overall telling of the story (I am yet to read book 3), but I think it would have given this book more purpose, a fresh perspective and it would have been a more rounded and compelling stand-alone story without falling foul of the dreaded MBS.
The silver-lining is this – I am no longer faced with an excruciating wait for 'Raging Star' (Book 3). I will definitely read it on the strength of 'Blood Red Road' but I am not nearly as excited about it now as I thought (and hoped) I would be.