Amanda Hocking – Switched
Length: 293 pages
Genre: YA Fantasy
Started: 12 December 2011
Finished: 13 December 2011
Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I’d heard the buzz – Hocking’s the Cinderella story of the self-publishing world – so I wanted to see if her books lived up to the hype.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 21 November 2011.
Not every troll
lives under a bridge; some live
with human families.
Summary: Wendy Everly’s never really felt like she belonged. But this isn’t just ordinary teenage angst; she’s got a very good reason: when she was six, her mother attacked her with a knife, claiming that Wendy wasn’t her real child, that she was a monster. She’s been raised by her aunt and older brother, but there’s always been a niggling doubt in the back of her mind: what if her mother was right? What if it turns out that she really isn’t human, but actually a changeling, a troll… and what if she doesn’t fit in with her real family any better than she did with her adoptive one?
Review: If I had read this book back when it was a $0.99 self-published bestselling e-book, I’d probably have thought “That was pretty silly, but hey, at least it was fun,” and written it off as a decent way to spend a few hours. Now that it is no longer self-published, however, but is being offered by a major publisher, I’m much less tolerant of its weak spots. I have it in my brain that one of the benefits of traditional publishing is that a book will have passed through the hands of people whose job it is to say things like “there, that part doesn’t make any sense, and this part directly contradicts what you said a few pages earlier, can you fix that?” and thereby produce a stronger, more cohesive book. But I suppose that when a self-published book is doing as well as Hocking’s have, a publisher might feel there’s no need to mess with something that’s already working. (See also: Eragon.) I understand the logic behind this, but it’s a shame, since there were a lot of points on which I felt like Switched could have really benefited from another pass of an editor’s eye.
For example, I found a lot of the worldbuilding details to be just plain silly. And not the fun, zany type of silly, but the eye-rolling, “really?” type of silly. In any changeling story, the reason why human children are being taken, and creature children put in their place is a driving force of the worldbuilding, the pivot upon which the whole system turns. And in this case, that reason is so that Trylle children can bilk their unknowing (and wealthy) human parents out of their money, so that the Trylle community can continue to live lives of indolence. And: really? I watch a number of police procedurals, so I know money’s always a motive, but in a fantasy novel, I’d like something a little bit more dramatic and compelling than trust fund fraud as a central point of the worldbuilding. Similarly, when Wendy is first having the Trylle explained to her, she’s told “We are beings closely related to humans, but more in tune with ourselves.” Innocuous enough, but from a worldbuilding perspective, what on earth does “being in tune with oneself” actually mean? (From what I was able to tell, it mostly meant that the Trylle don’t like wearing shoes.) Those are just a few examples, but there are a number of similar elements throughout, things that sound fine on a first pass, but don’t hold up against close scrutiny, and the net result is that the story doesn’t really hang together in a logical, consistent, and compelling way.
I had similar issues with the writing. Often times, it seemed as though sentences and ideas were included because they sounded good, without considering whether they actually made sense in the context of the story or were consistent with previous characterizations. In the early pages, before Wendy becomes aware of her dual identity, she spends a lot of time on the fact that she’s spent her entire life trying to be good, to disprove what her mother said about her being a monster, but there’s no real evidence that she’s actually trying at all, especially when she says things about how she’s knowingly manipulating and using her aunt and brother without really returning their love. You can’t have it both ways! Also, Hocking’s main technique for maintaining mystery and building suspense is to have every single one of her characters be pathologically unable to answer even the most direct questions. Wendy takes this in stride, with her temper flaring up at every evasion and change of subject, but then quickly settling down again to trying to adapt to her new life, but I found it (and Wendy’s tacit acceptance of it) intensely frustrating. I never got swept up in the romance angle of the story, probably because I was too frustrated with both of the characters to care.
On the plus side, the story moves along pretty quickly, there was enough action to keep me interested, and it was a nice, fluffy diversion at a time when I needed a bit of a mental break from more serious reading. Overall, I did have fun reading it, and it’s not a terrible book – it’s just not as strong as it could (and should) have been. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If you picked up the self-published ebook copy of this but haven’t read it yet, it’s an entertaining enough read, but I don’t know that the value added by being picked up by a publisher is worth the price hike to buy it in paper form. Probably only for dedicated YA paranormal readers.
Other Reviews: Plenty of ’em, over at the Book Blog Search Engine.
First Line: A couple things made that day stand out more than any other: it was my sixth birthday, and my mother was wielding a knife.
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