The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups
I think it’s time to admit a sad truth: me and Robin Wasserman are simply not meant for one another. It’s tragic to have to acknowledge this when most of my GR friends seem to be in the middle of some epic love affair with her books. But I had my problems with The Book of Blood and Shadow – I tried my best to love it but felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall – and even this latest venture into the world of creepy horror and general mindfuckery couldn’t convince me to join the fan club. I don’t think it’ll be easy to explain why, because I do believe Wasserman is a strong writer on many levels… but I’ll do what I can.
Things always start good between us. I open the book and find myself immediately transported into the time and place where the story finds its setting. The author is a master of atmosphere – whether it be the dark, secretive streets of Prague or a creepy little American town that is evidently plagued by something more monstrous than we can even imagine. Her writing is solid and beautifully descriptive. Her characters are complex, driven by emotions that simultaneously scare us and earn our understanding. If you’re like me, then you begin a Wasserman novel believing it’s going to wind up on your all time favourites list. And then something starts to happen. I begin to notice it about a quarter of the way in and become sure of it by the time I’ve read a third of the book.
The descriptive style that was oh-so-lovely at the beginning becomes tiring. The in-depth exploration of the characters which you thought was really clever before starts to hurt your brain. “Plot!” I feel myself screaming “Where are you?” The writing style weighs down each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter and makes the story drag. The author spends SO MUCH time creating a setting and an atmosphere before the story starts to progress. She spends so much time building a complex portrait of the characters before any answers start to be given. And some of you will love this. I know some of you already do and, believe me, I can see why. But I like my stories as much as I like my characters and writing. There’s really only so long I can go without one. I personally prefer novels that integrate character development and atmosphere building with the main plotline, not those that set it all up at the beginning and only then proceed to tell a story.
I want to stress that my feelings towards books like this portrays my own personal dislike for novels that are told in a certain way. It’s affected my enjoyment of almost universally liked books such as The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. For that reason, you should probably disregard this review if you’re a fan of really creepy, small town horror stories. Wasserman owns the creepy in this story. I truly admire her for not easing up on the grit, gore and adult themes just because she’s writing for young adults – she’s not afraid to go there and, for me, that’s a big compliment to give to any author.