The Girl Who Could See is a 324 page long novella written by Kara Swanson, co-author of Pearls of Merlydia.
I was very excited to read The Girl Who Could See. I had an idea very similar to the premise of this novella, and wanted to see how another writer would handle it.
It was a very entertaining read that I think we can learn a lot from, structure wise.
But first, my overall review.
5 STARS (cause it was fun, duh.)
All right. Now to the juicy bits. (Remember, the emphasis here is to learn as much from the pros and cons of this story as possible.)
What I Liked:
THE MAIN CHARACTERS:
TGWCS was genuinely fun to read. I found myself hoping Fern would quickly accept her destiny to help save the world and that Tristan would find a way over to be with her. And frustrated with her (in a good way) when she wouldn’t. If you’re looking to write a great character who has to come to terms with a shifting reality, Fern is a great character to study.
Basically, the two main characters were awesomely written. I was 100% on board with them getting what they wanted by the end of the book. They were fun separately and together they were phenomenal. Their friendship was believable and engaging, as well as heartbreaking because Fern couldn’t accept his existence and Tristan had to come to terms with that and live with that knowledge.
The design behind the monster was great too. Spooky, but also devastating. Thrilling, but also chilling. An A+ antagonistic force.
The overall pacing of the story was spot on, save for a few instances where I was forced out of the plot. (but we’ll get to that)
Kara starts the story off after the beginning, something that can help keep readers engaged, but also has the potential to leave them feeling cheated. In my opinion, Kara used it perfectly in her story so if you’re thinking about writing a similar beginning, this is a great book to read to study up on the technique.
What Could Have Been Better:
Fern and Tristan aside, the rest of the cast in this novella lacked energy.
Fern’s neice, whose name I can’t even remember off the top of my head, seemed to only exist as an emotional tool to get readers feeling bad for Fern and to root for her.
That is, until later when she (the niece) became the catalyst for the climax. That’s when I realized she probably only existed for that climax. (At least, that’s how it felt. Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure what Kara was thinking when she wrote the character.) In other words, I was annoyed with this character. When she existed. And sadly when she didn’t exist, she was easily forgotten.
The detective sent to investigate the world exploding around Fern had some issues too. He waffled between being really smart, and then really dumb. Then he’d waffle back, but only when the plot needed him too.
This is a good example of plot ruling character when it should be the other way around.
Characters should be making choices and then the plot is dragged along by those choices, for good or bad.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with these side characters.
The overall plot of The Girl Who Could See could have also used some work.
There were several holes that I noticed as I read it that took me out of the story several times which ruined the otherwise beautiful pacing.
Firstly, it wasn’t clear how Fern got her powers. Were they given to her by experimentation? Did she have them and scientists spotted/amplified them? And if it’s the latter, how did they find out she had the power in the first place? It wouldn’t have been so weird if it hadn’t been a major element of the story. But it was the driving force behind the whole adventure.
Let me see if I can break it down further.
As a child, Fern (raised by absentee/abusive parents) gets in an accident. Once at the hospital scientists abduct and experiment on her. But, why? Why did they choose her? Was she just one of many? But then, why were they experimenting on kids in the first place? Did they expect to find her power? How? Later it is said that she opened the door to the other world, meaning they weren’t looking for the other world. Right? Why were the scientists even there?
Another hole I noticed was the scientists sudden decision to try and use Fern’s niece to close the rift. Did they not know she (the niece) existed before that point? Why wouldn’t they abduct her sooner if they thought she might share Fern’s power? They followed Fern her whole life, using their influence to hide their evil deeds (and try to regain control of her for more experimentation), so why wouldn’t they have known about her niece/other family members?
Anyway, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense when you strip it back. Not that it didn’t have interesting elements and phenomenal potential as a plot, it just felt like it needed a few more revisions before being published.
(Something I think my own novella could have used as well, so self-publishing might have a draw back there. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about the indie route.)
Lastly, I have to put the ending in this column. I didn’t want to because I love a happy ending. But the logic behind this one fell short for me.
At the end of TGWCS Tristan sacrifices himself to close the doorway to our world. It was supposedly his plan all along and him/Fern share a tearful kiss goodbye. According to him, there is no way to close the door and get him to the other side. Being left behind means death but leaving the door open means death for everyone. This part was perfectly written. I was heartbroken that they couldn’t be together. My eyes even misted.
The rift closed. Tristan was gone. Fern trudged along toward the resolution of the story all alone. This story was all set up to have a bittersweet, heartbreaking ending.
Then we get a few hints that Tristan might have lived and poof, he’s there. Yay! Right?
It wasn’t that I didn’t like that Tristan survived the closing of the doorway, I was really happy they got to be together at the end. So much so that I was torn about which column to put the ending in. But in the end my critical mind couldn’t let it go that easily.
It just didn’t make sense based on what Kara had already established. And the reasoning behind the last minute save was kind of forced. (Actually, I don’t think we even got a real reason for it.)
Maybe if there had been some question about whether or not closing the rift would kill Tristan, a hint that he wasn’t really sure what would happen to him or if he’d be able to fit through a smaller hole somewhere else (just something that let us know there might be a way out), instead of stating outright that it definitely would kill him/trap him, I might have been crossing my fingers waiting for him to come back. Instead I was stuck rolling my eyes when the hints started coming in that he had lived. Because, of course he had. But not because of a well thought out loop hole. Instead it was a “yeah, he’s the main character so of course” kind of come back.
Killing off characters can be difficult, and bringing them back afterward comes with its own set of unique challenges.
So, keep you reader’s reactions in mind when bringing back characters from the dead.
The Girl Who Could See is a really fun story that I’d recommend to anyone who likes speculative fiction.
It also has a lot to teach those who want to write Spec fiction so be sure to check it out if you’re in either of those two categories.
And once you do, pop back here and let me know what you thought of it. Do you agree with my thoughts? Disagree? Why? Let’s geek out over writing. I love me some book chats!