Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Wisdom's Kiss is a companion novel to Princess Ben in that it's set in the same world, but it's not a sequel. Ben is present as an ancillary character, but the story centers on three others: Fortitude (Trudy), a young serving girl with the ability to see the future, Tips, the boy  Trudy loves who leaves town to be a soldier, and Wisdom (Dizzy), a princess who has managed to accept the marriage proposal of a man she does not love.

These three characters all manage to meet up, and the ways in which their lives intersect form the story of Wisdom's Kiss. The book includes all three of their perspectives, as well as the perspectives of five others, such as Tips' trainer Felis el Gato and Ben herself.

And therein lies the problem. There are eight points of view in this book, which for most books is seven POVs too many. Very few authors can pull off two POVs, and even fewer can do three. In my experience, George R. R. Martin is the only author who can successfully write as many POVs as he pleases and still produce a stellar novel.

Murdock’s problem with the multiple POVs is two-fold. Firstly, they’re not straight up third person narratives across the board. Instead, the book is an amalgam of first person, third person, diary entries, encyclopedia entries, and so on. Here’s a list in case you’re curious:

1.       3rd person traditional story of a young girl
2.       Memoirs of a man
3.       A play
4.       Memoirs/diary of a duchess
5.       Encyclopedia entries
6.       Letters from a boy to a girl
7.       Letters from a queen to her granddaughter
8.       Diary entries of a princess

Got all that? What’s more, Murdock throws in some cutesy extras to a few of the POVs, such as cross-outs and strange grammar, which adds to the confusion. With the events told in so many different ways, there’s no cohesive narrative thread. The story doesn’t ever feel like it’s going anywhere, which means it moves at a glacial pace. Furthermore, the already-slim novel being split eight ways means no one character really gets a chance to shine, which in turn means characterization is slight or nonexistent.

The second problem with the POVs is redundancy. It can occasionally be interesting to read about the same event from different perspectives, but it’s overdone here. Too often, no new insights are gained by the re-telling and I found myself skimming the pages to get to the next chapter. This exacerbates the pacing problem I mentioned above and makes a lot of the book a real snore.

I can admire what Murdock has tried to do with the POVs, but it doesn’t work like she wanted it to. There are some bright spots: Murdock has a good sense of humor – particularly with Felis el Gato's memoirs – and the way Trudy’s story shakes out is surprising. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to compensate for the slow pace and flat characterizations brought about by the multiple points of view.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Wisdom’s Kiss is on shelves now.

3 comments:

  1. Yes, indeed. This was what I tried to get at in my review - you said it very well.

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  2. Oh my goodness. 8 POVs? I love me some CGM, but that's enough people for a volleyball team.

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  3. UGH, yea this is SO not for me. I'm easily distracted and vollying between that many POVs is not something that would work well for me I suspect.

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