The other day, my partner and I were talking about books, and he excitedly told me that Susanna Clarke is working on a sequel to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. He isn’t as given to nerdy enthusiasm as I am, but he loves the book, and he hopes that the sequel will focus on Arabella and Lady Pole.
I liked that idea a lot, and offered my own suggestion.
“They could team up and track down rogue faeries.”
And this is why I shouldn’t ever be allowed to write fiction. Pretty much all of my favorite ideas involve taking secondary female characters from existing stories and having them team up and fight crime.
When there was word of a Defenders re-launch at Marvel a few years ago, I immediately decided that it should feature Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Moondragon forming a psychic/supernatural detective agency and fighting crime.
While watching re-runs of CSI, I declared that their next spin-off should feature Lady Heather, the woman from the little people convention, and the no-nonsense clerk from the porn distributor abandoning their careers to team up and form a detective agency and fight crime.
If J.K. Rowling ever writes additional books with the Harry Potter cast, all I ask is that it features Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood as aurors. Mismatched magical buddy cops! Come on!
While I could probably carve out a decent enough niche with this, I know fan fiction when I smell it, and I’ve made various people promise to kill me if I ever go down that road. And besides, there are enough people writing awful novels without me jumping into the mix.
Take The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. I got this as a Christmas gift, and it makes sense that someone would give it to me. It’s a revisionist take on a juicy bit of lore – Dracula, in this case – and I like those kinds of stories. But it’s also another in the line of faux-scholarly, faux-deep thrillers of The Da Vinci Code‘s ilk.
I can’t quite bring myself to abandon it, partly because it was a gift, and partly because it’s unintentionally hilarious at points. (Kostova seems to have a singular hatred for librarians and archivists. I’m barely a fifth of the way into the book, and it seems like a dozen of the poor souls have met horrible fates already, just because they know how many copies of Bram Stoker are on the shelves.)
But the characters in the book are brilliant scholars in the same way that the characters in Mary Higgins Clark novels are talented, successful, and independent. They are because the author says they are, even though their every word and deed convinces you otherwise. And that can be very, very funny.
Very often it isn’t, though. Sometimes it’s just grandiose and dull, and I wonder why I’m lugging this thing around. Then, some kind, tweedy soul will show up in the rare books archive or at the documents office of the Smithsonian, and I know I have to keep reading to learn his grisly fate.