Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Writer's View: Angelfall by Susan Ee


From Goodreads: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.


The Writer's View

Holy crap-o-la. This was one kick-ass book. I'm still reeling from the amazingness. (Yes, I said amazingness.) Thanks to Lan at The Write Obession for recommending it!

My only complaint is that there are no other books in the series published yet! I can hardle deal with the agony of waiting for the next one. Gah! This wait is proving to be more agonizing than the gap between Season 5 and Season 6 of Buffy. Not cool. Seriously not cool.

I actually started re-reading Angelfall the day after I finished it. I haven't done that since I got my hands on The Hunger Games. Susan Ee is an incredible writer (and an indie writer to boot!) and I could not get enough of her craft.


Creating characters with negative space

Ee's characterization is incredible. Her technique is subtle and powerful. As I re-read the novel, I am continually blown away by it.

Are you guys familiar with the concept of negative space? Here is the Wikkipedia definition: "Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image."

Ee weaves the character of Penryn (the MC) with a subtless that I equate to negative space. That is, she shows us the exterior details surrounding Penryn: her clinically insane mother, her absent father, and her crippled 7-year-old sister.

Ee doesn't tell us that Penryn has had to grow up fast; she doesn't tell us that Penryn has been made tough by her familial circumstances; and she doesn't tell us that, despite her toughness and surly exterior, she craves to have someone she can depend on. Rather, Ee fills the negative space around Penryn with all the other amazing exterior details, which in turn reveals all the inner details about Penryn. (The way negative space reveals the actual image in art.)

This is the pinnacle of show-not-tell, in my opinion. I just could not stop marveling at Ee's technique. I am trying to grind it into my brain and learn from it.

Structuring chapters with commercial breaks

You know how in a 1-hour tv drama, the writers always insert the commercials at all the mini-cliffhanger points in the story? This is how Ee structures her chapters. They are super-short, with almost all of them ending at a mini-cliffhanger. In re-reading chapters 1 - 5 of the book, I saw that Ee could have combined all of these into one chapter; combined, they would have created a single, more cenventional chapter with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, she chose to cut them up into bite-sized pieces. I think this is really cool. The over-all effect was to make the story very fast-paced.

Seriously, if you guys have not read this book, it should be on your TBR lists. The story is awesome, the characters are amazing. The love interest, Raffe the angel, is complex, complicated, but pure gold on the inside. On the outside he's cocky, arrogant, and even a bit of an a-hole at times, but we also learn that he's a lot like Penryn; lonely and craving someone to lean on. Their relationship is swoon-worthy for sure. His cockiness meets its match with Penryn's tough surliness, and you can see how she wins his respect and eventual affection with her toughness. Sigh. I want them to get married. :) I know, this is lame. But I just love weddings!

11 comments:

  1. Yay! Angelfall is so awesome! One of the best books I read all year, and I read it back in January. I never thought of it as creating negative space and telling the story that way, but I think you hit the nail on the head. That must have been what I picked up on when I read it. There was just something about it, peripherally, that made it different from everything else out there.

    Susan Ee is actually publishing with Amazon Children's now, although that might be only in paperback. She might be retaining the ebook version for herself. And, she said book 2 would be ready this summer, but I wonder if it's been pushed back now. Can't wait to read it, though!

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    1. @ Cathy -- I agree, one of the best books I've read all year, hands down! It's the sort of book that makes me remember why I love books and stories so much. I really hope her next book comes out soon. I am seriously pining.

      I must have missed your review! I'll have to go back through your blog and find it. :)

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  2. I adore this book. Sometimes I'll pull out my copy and just open it up to a random page and start reading. Although, I then get into a bit of a downer about my own writing! I really love the way Ee uses that negative space and her very skillful interspersing of background info with the action. I don't think I've come across one person who doesn't like this book!

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    1. @ Lan - I know what you mean! I look at Ee's writing and I think, I will never be that good. But hey, we can always keep working to improve our craft, right?

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    2. I know right? I just have to keep reminding myself that Angelfall couldn't have been perfect right away and to keep going until my MS is just as polished. Whenever that will be!

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    3. @ Lan -- totally! I've heard of some writers who crank out one draft then ship it off to get printed, but I don't think that's the norm. All my writer buddies go through multiple drafts.

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  3. Yep, Lan recommended this one to me too. I downloaded it to my phone but haven't read it yet. Looks like I should sooner rather than later, huh?

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    1. @ Jenny - This book is definitely a must read!

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  4. Oh I loved this book too it was such a great novel and I didn't even know it was self pubbed when I read it. I can't believe it hasn't been picked up (or has it?) anyways, wonderful review, Camille we see eye to eye on this one! :)

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    1. @ Giselle - I checked Ee's blog and she has signed with Amazon. I hope they hurry up and publish the next one!

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  5. Wow, sounds fantastic. Of course, I've seen it around, but with you I know that angel books really can be hit or miss. Think I'll really enjoy this one. Great review!

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