I recently got through Wildcat, by JP Harker, sort of in between all the physical books I’ve been reading lately (I’m still in between books two and three of Lord of the Rings, and have been thinking about picking up a new series by Samantha Shannon). So I picked this one up and resolved to finish it before the end of the year, and I did! I’m pretty proud of myself on that front—while this is no Stormlight Archive, the book is pretty thick.
To my knowledge, this is the author’s debut novel, and I’ll admit it, it kind of reads like one. There’s a lot of choices made in the book that seemed off, and a lot of the plot can be called simple. That’s not to say the book is bad—it does have some awesome scenes that I thoroughly enjoyed—but it doesn’t knock anything out of the park.
I think a big part of the problem is the fact that really, I’m not the target audience for the book. I would have trouble pinning this one done to a genre, since some subplots get a lot of attention and the main conflict doesn’t come into the foreground until more than halfway through the book. There’s lots of action and threat of physical conflict towards the beginning and end, but it slows down a lot in the middle, and there were times where I wasn’t sure if this book was actually a romance in disguise.
The biggest problem is easy to diagnose, though: There’s just too many characters that are named. As in, 70% of the characters that this book considers “important” enough to name shouldn’t have been. It makes things really confusing for the reader when they have too many names to juggle. (I’ve found that the author often doesn’t see this because in their mind, the name is used as a label for a character they’re already familiar with. The reader doesn’t have this luxury.)
Imagine that every character name used in a story is a marble. Every time you introduce a name (even if its an alias of a familiar character), you grab a new marble, and set it on the table. Realistically, your table can see about thirty to fifty marbles (names). But eventually your table doesn’t have enough surface area to be able to lay them all flat across the table, so you have to get a bowl to hold all your marbles. Except, now you can’t see some marbles, so when you come across that name in the book, you don’t have any idea who it belongs to, because now the book assumes you remember.
I’ll use a quote from the book to show you what I mean: “The town was now heaving with people and Rhia saw that her Aunt Eleri and Uncle Aeron had arrived, along with her cousins Pryder and Merrion, and their wives Eluned and Kira. Cerridwen, their sister, was chatting with her own husband, Natan, who was looking as red-faced as Rhia felt after her climb up the hill.” Now, as both a reader and a writer, I know none of these characters are important. They’re just furniture. This paragraph of nine unique character names has eight too many, because the only one that matters is the protagonist’s. (Side note: if these characters had actually turned out to be important, and the author had expected me to memorize who was who, that would have been even worse, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.)
In all honesty, there were times where a character that was in the beginning of the book didn’t get any scenes in the middle, but became important at the end of the book, and I had no idea who they were. The name was so unfamiliar to me that I didn’t even know where their name had come up before, so I couldn’t even use the book as a resource to figure out who this character was. I’m not exaggerating when I say with full confidence that there are probably over 200, maybe 300 unique names in the book. No, I didn’t go back and count, but realistically there shouldn’t even be 100 different names, especially since scenes like the one I described only serve to confuse the audience.
That said, that’s the most glaring issue with the book. If you have a notepad and write down all the character names and a short snippet of who they are as you read the book, it’ll be much more coherent. It’s a shame, because there are some awesome moments in the book.
So, final thoughts? While the book isn’t the best, it shows promise. Having the willpower to see a book through from start to finish is no small feat, and especially with a book this long, it’s commendable. To me, that says “I’m in it for the long haul”, and I can easily see future books really starting to shine.