Books that wish they were movies

I know I’m not the first to notice that lots of recently-authored books seem more like a verbose screenplay written in prose than a novel. This seems to especially be the case with genre books.

I recently finished the first book in an acclaimed new fantasy series, the Draconis Memoria trilogy. The Waking Fire is a super fun read in its way — engaging characters, easy language, light on the politics and heavy on the quests. Every time I read passages like this, though, I was left with a nagging feeling that I’d be better off just…seeing the show.

When it seemed it might never end, Tekela reached out a hand to Lizanne. She sat with knees drawn up and her back against the Thumper’s base, eyes closed tight and trembling arm extended. Lizanne took her hand, holding it tight, watching the girl’s lips move in an unheard prayer, or was it a song? The suspicion was confirmed when at last the final shell came slamming down and a thick wall of silence descended on the trenches, the sudden, almost shocking stillness broken only by Tekela’s song. Lizanne’s estimation of her musical talents deepened upon hearing her voice. She recognised the tune, “The Leaves of Autumn,” the Eutherian lyrics sung with a captivating sweetness at odds with the landscape that greeted their gaze.

– Chp. 31

Can’t you just see the framing of this shot? Hear the over-compressed, breathy vocals? It reads to me like stage direction. It has the feeling of a scene that might provide some insight into the characters, if only I could see them. Or how about this?

Clay crouched, ready to dodge the flames, then stopped as a crack sounded from above and a large piece of the dome’s ceiling fell, tumbling straight down to deliver a glancing but heavy blow to the White before slamming onto the glass floor. Clay watched an intricate matrix of cracks spread through the glass from the point of impact, staring with an unwarranted detachment as his Green-enhanced eyes tracked the complex array of fractures until it has covered the floor from end to end.


– Chp. 45, emphasis mine

For the love of pete, Anthony Ryan literally describes the camera’s/Clay’s detached viewpoint in the middle of this fast-paced fight scene.

The book even follows the 90s action movie convention of switching between multiple separate stories/main characters that come together at the end. I’d like to say the connections were pleasing and unexpected, but I would need to use scare quotes, and I refuse to do it. I refuse, damnit.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book — I actually kind of did, although I won’t be continuing to the second book in the trilogy at the moment. I mean, the fantasy-steampunk-spy mash-up is kind of worth the price of admission.

At the end of the day, I like dragons and that kind of shit enough that I kept reading, despite feeling weird that I knew that, even with my mild aphantasia (I find it EXTREMELY difficult to see images in my mind), this book managed to express to me exactly what each and every scene looked like. It did this based on movie tropes and conventions that we all love, but are probably a bit tired of at this point. Color me old-fashioned, but I’m just not into that.