106 – Prophecy by Ellen Oh

Prophecy by Ellen Oh The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms… is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.
Prophecy is kind of a bundle of problems, but almost all of those problems can be directly attributed to the ultra-simplified writing style. Holy crap this writing is bad. It’s a rough sketch without shading or detail, a skeleton without innards or flesh. The bare bones of a story are here, with all the basic things that you need to get a plot from start to finish – this event happens, this character does x, this character feels y, this event takes x amount of time – but without any of the meat that gives a story depth, and makes it feel lifelike. It’s a wordy outline.

And it doesn’t work. Like at all.

The key factor here is telling: this book TELLS us everything. Directly, simply, and in no uncertain terms, we’re told who characters are, what they feel, what they want. There’s no room for subtle or showing anything, shit just HAPPENS and you need to know about it so that we can MOVE ON to the next THING.

People feared Kira.

They called her the Demon Slayer to her face and much worse behind her back. It didn’t matter that she was a first cousin to the crown prince or that she’d saved his life from a demon attack. Ten years was long enough for most to forget what really happened and instead to believe the rumors that began soon after.
BAM, Kira’s backstory and social status, DONE. FIRST LINES IN THE BOOK.

Kira beamed at the gentle monk from Kaya. He was one of Kira’s favorite temple companions. Whatever she needed, Brother Insu always tried to provide.
Good to know, because we’ve literally never seen or heard of this character before. Thanks for not wasting time showing them interact or speak even once before this!

Kira liked her uncle, sensing his sharp intelligence and his aura of power. He was a mix of her aunt’s assertiveness coupled with her mother’s kindness. But once in a while, she sensed a cold ruthlessness in him. She didn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing. After all, he was ruler of the largest kingdom in the peninsula. And it was clear that Taejo already idolized their uncle.

If she were to be completely honest, some of her uneasiness stemmed from jealousy. She felt supplanted by Eojin in Taejo’s affections and she didn’t like it.
BAM, all the stuff you might have learned about Kira’s uncle and her feelings about him through interaction, explained to you in two paragraphs. NEXT.

“King Eojin is a good man, but he is set in his ways and immovable once his decision is made. When I arrived, I explained to the king the mission you and your friends must embark upon. But he refused to let me speak with any of you, for it is a long and treacherous route back into enemy territory for such youngsters, and not a one among you has yet to see twenty years.”

“That wasn’t his decision to make,” Kira said.

“I agree,” he said. He bowed in thanks as Seung set out a fur rug for the monk to sit on. “But remember the king’s tragic history. He doesn’t want to lose any more of his family.”
But remember the king’s tragic history.

But remember the king’s tragic history.

BUT REMEMBER THE KING’S TRAGIC BACKSTORY.

It’s like reading a book made of note to selves. NOTE TO SELF: REMEMBER THE KING’S TRAGIC BACKSTORY. EDIT IN DEMONSTRATIVE CHARACTERIZATION LATER.

NOTE TO SELF: KIRA IS JEALOUS OF EOJIN, FEELS SUPPLANTED IN TAEJO’S AFFECTIONS. SHOW THIS!!

NOTE TO SELF: INSU IS KIRA’S FAVORITE MONK. ADD SCENE OF THEM TALKING.

The strange, kind of disjointedly direct writing undermines the story on every axis. Like, okay, the characterization isn’t great, but I could still theoretically get by if the book had a really interesting, detailed plot, or an engaging world. But those facets are just as thinly developed. The plot is a totally boilerplate fantasy Chosen One MacGuffin plot, and without any atmosphere or developed mythology or mystery to dress it up, the rote, naked utility of a MacGuffin plot is even more apparent. Like, why are there three items that have to be collected by the Dragon Musado? Well, because there are three books. These things aren’t imbued with any particular significance or meaning, it’s just like “The prophecy says three. NEXT.”

And while it’s always nice to see even a stock fantasy story set somewhere that isn’t pseudo-medival-Europe, the world-building details are just as sparse as everything else here.

So, swing and a miss on the characters, plot, relationships, and world, but the nail in the coffin is the unexpected girlhate. I was really disappointed to find so few women in this book, and almost no meaningful relationships. Instead we get yet another Strong Female Protagonist(TM) surrounded by men, who loudly derides girly things and the women who like them.

Inside, Kira faltered as she caught the mocking glances and sneers of the queen’s court ladies. It was as if she’d stumbled into a beautiful flower garden filled with poisonous snakes. Kira was good at ignoring them, but still their contempt burned her. At her approach, one by one they flicked open their fans before their faces—a wall as fragile as butterfly wings and yet completely insurmountable.

How she hated them.
Kira let out a frustrated groan. She didn’t want to think this way. She was a soldier, not a simpering court lady.
I thought at first that maybe Kira’s opinions about the court ladies would be challenged, but nope, they all literally throw themselves off a cliff later in the book, so there’s never any opportunity. Actually, come to think of it, almost every single significant female character throws herself off a cliff eventually.

The queen, Kira’s mother, and the exposition goddesses are arguably positive influences, but they get no development, and less screen time than any one of Kira’s six named male traveling companions. They’re more plot devices than actual characters, even by Prophecy‘s lax standards.

So basically we’ve got Kira, a textbook Exceptional Woman, complete with a hefty handbag of internalized misogyny. Tres disappointing. .

There are other things that bothered me, that didn’t make sense, but if I were to examine them each individually, I suspect it would all come back to the sparseness of the writing. My confusion over the origins of Kira’s tiger spirit, the awkward tracking of time, Kira’s emotional whiplash re: her douchey fiancee, all come back to a general absence of development of anything.

I was really hoping to enjoy this one, but like every single aspect was a complete miss for me. I hate to say it, but I probably won’t be following up with the rest of the series.

ONE AND A HALF STARS

Two Stars

BONUS QUOTESPAM

Okay I wasn’t going to do this, but there are so many weird-ass lines in this book, and you can’t really get a good grasp of how weird this writing is without just reading some of them yourself.

“We are slaves to our family obligations,” he said. “Duty binds us. But I think this duty will not be so onerous. And [our marriage] will be far less dangerous than chasing demons.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, surprised at his words. Kira pushed him away. “I disagree. I think it will be far more dangerous.” She paused. “For you.”
“I’m so glad you have something to keep you occupied,” she replied in a low, biting voice. “But don’t let it overburden you.”

His eyes flickered with a flash of humor. “She speaks.”

“She also kills,” she said.
badass

Shin Bo Hyun is an Asshole

“See, that’s why I like you,” he said. “You’ve never been a fawning toady like all the other court ladies with their pretty words and empty heads. All they do is simper and giggle and say ‘yes, my lord,’ ‘of course, my lord,’ ‘whatever you say, my lord.’ The thought of being wed to one of them makes me want to cut my ears off. At least you I can tolerate.”
Kira fought to keep her composure. “Your hypocrisy disgusts me. And frankly, I don’t understand why in the world you would want to marry a woman who plans on killing you.”

“Ah, but it is so much more exciting that way!”
He smiled. “Your eyes glow like the brightest gold when you are angry. I can’t wait to see how they will look in our marriage bed.”
The guy who politically manipulated Kira into being his fiancee against his will and then sided with his evil King-killing uncle is a total douchebag. WHO’D HAVE THUNK?

Which makes this line –

She couldn’t help but compare [Jaewon] to Shin Bo Hyun. They were the same age but vast worlds apart. Yet they both claimed to find her attractive. Kira let out a frustrated groan. She didn’t want to think this way. She was a soldier, not a simpering court lady.
even MORE fucking baffling than it already is, because there’s no reason for Shin Bo Hyun to be a viable love interest, AT ALL. This is Kira making him one, for god knows what reason. Also,

She couldn’t help but compare him to Shin Bo Hyun.

So, context for this paragraph: Kira is lying out one night, just after a fight with Shin Bo Douche, staring across the campfire watching Jaewon sleep – Jaewon being a male companion who has flirted and expressed a vague kind of romantic interest in her.

The premise, one would assume based on that initial line and the preceding paragraph, is that she’s about to compare and contrast her two romantic interests, perhaps based on their attitudes, physical appearances, actions, and approaches to wooing her, and then maybe reflect on her respective feelings for them.

Instead, we get:

They were the same age but vast worlds apart.

That’s not a comparison. That’s a conclusion to a comparison. There should have been at least a paragraph of actual comparison between this line and the previous.

Yet they both claimed to find her attractive.

Yeah, we know this already, that’s supposedly why you’re comparing them! Also it’s like their entire role in the story. Why are you wasting time telling us things we already know?

Kira let out a frustrated groan. She didn’t want to think this way.

WAIT NO COME BACK WE HAVEN’T FINISHED TALKING ABOUT THE THING THE PARAGRAPH WAS INITIALLY ABOUT! And why are you groaning in frustration? You’ve thought about this for like TWO SECONDS.

She was a soldier, not a simpering court lady.

And cap it off with girlhate. Nice.

This paragraph you guys. This paragraph almost made my brain burst when I read it. I just stared at it dumbfounded for like half a minute, wonder where the hell the rest of it went. NOTE TO SELF: ADD IN DETAILED COMPARISON OF JAEWON AND SHIN BO HYUN.
heath-wha
Kira could hear her father’s voice in her head: Why, I would be less surprised if you were the Dragon Musado instead of the prince. She wondered what her father would say if he were there. She felt a sharp pang of loss.
This is weirder in-context, I guess, because it’s this odd, three-sentence-long chain of thoughts that tell us to be sad right in the middle of the prophecy exposition. But then it rolls right along to the next prophecy-related topic, like “Okay, we’re done with sad, move it along, let’s go.”

“Y-y-you. Y-y-you’re. You,” he stuttered, then cleared his voice. “You’re the Demon Slayer of Hansong!”
ghost
With a harsh yell, she attacked, slashing and thrusting as hard as she could, frantic to save Taejo. She stumbled over a muddy rock, and the creature sliced at her neck, knocking her sword away.

“Foolish girl, did you think you could defeat me? You’re nothing but a pathetic mortal, while I’m the best of both worlds! I exist in yours and yet I’m stronger than any of you. Stronger than any demon!”
FOOLISH FUCKIN’ MORTALS. These are literal cartoon characters.

 

13 Responses

  1. becomethemoon

    June 18, 2015 9:27 am, Reply

    I’m really surprised that you didn’t give it one star or something, given how bad the book is. I know it’s a Diversity Read, but still…

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 18, 2015 9:51 pm, Reply

      Ah, but I didn’t have the visceral loathing of this book the way I do almost all of my other one-stars. I try to reserve that one-star for true dog vomit.

  2. Azure

    June 19, 2015 6:38 pm, Reply

    I think if the female lead needs to constantly tell the audience that she’s a bad ass and that other women are weak kittens worthy of scorn, then someone needs to go back to the drawing board. Because that’s been done many, many, many times in various mediums. Show us that she’s a bad ass, don’t have her growl ‘threatening’ lines at people.

    And I really hope there’s no love triangle between Kira, the douche, and the other guy.

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 28, 2015 11:27 pm, Reply

      Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Like 1/3rd of Prophecy’s problems in a nutshell.

      Also yes god but I’ll never know because I’m jumping the fuck off this ship.

  3. Fangs for the Fantasy

    June 27, 2015 11:50 pm, Reply

    No matter how great the story, how original the concept, how amazing the characters if the writing is bad it will all fall apart – it’s the foundation of a book and no matter how wonderfully constructed your artful wall art is, if it’s sinking into quicksand it doesn’t matter

    And I almost ADMIRE how abrupt and curt the info-dumping is – how to top your info-dumps being long? Just cram ALL THE INFO in a paragraph! Who needs exposition or subtlty or, y’know, character interaction?

    I’m glad you bit the bullet on this one as more than a few people have heartily recommended this to me. Clearly they are not my friends and I have terribly offended them somehow. Though I have to say the minute I read “the only woman in the king’s army” I was put off – why am not surprised by girlhate in a book with an Exceptional Woman?

    From the quotes it also seems she throws in random threats to show how badass she is. Can anyone have a civil conversation with this woman without her mentioning her penchant for killing “why yes, the weather is nice today, not at all lethal like me. When I kill things. Like you. Because BADASSS”

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 28, 2015 11:43 pm, Reply

      Yep. I really, really wanted to like this one, because the author seems wonderful and says such wonderful things elsewhere on the internet, but it just did not work for me. And yeah! I got the same sorts of recommendations, the same general praise of this series, so it was SUPER surprising to find so many issues, not just in the style of writing, but in the heroine as well! Like, uh, hey, guys, why didn’t anyone mention THAT part? Although, yeah, that line is a bit of a giveaway xDDDDDDD

      From the quotes it also seems she throws in random threats to show how badass she is. Can anyone have a civil conversation with this woman without her mentioning her penchant for killing “why yes, the weather is nice today, not at all lethal like me. When I kill things. Like you. Because BADASSS”

      YESSS SHE WAS TOTALLY DOING THE UF HEROINE THING. You can tell I’m badass because I make violent threats at the slightest provocation, and follow up all of my kills with casually cold one-liners! She also does the “conveniently lose my badass-ness so that the love interest can save me and see me vulnerable” thing, too. She’s basically Baby’s First UF Heroine.

      Anywho, glad to be of service! Just sorry to return with such a downer report u.u

  4. Arti

    June 28, 2015 12:56 am, Reply

    Wait…the other women LITERALLY throw themselves off a cliff? That’s a thing that happens? To multiple characters?

    I cannot imagine the contortions the plot must go through to put multiple characters in a situation where they throw themselves off a cliff.

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 28, 2015 11:23 pm, Reply

      Well, to be fair, I think that was a Thing back in the general era the book was set, like when a castle was sacked, the noble women would throw themselves off a cliff or otherwise kill themselves to avoid being raped or used by the enemy in other ways. Also might have been an honor thing? I did a little Googling and it didn’t return any results, but I vaguely remember the practice being mentioned before. So I mean it wasn’t completely bizarre, but it was a sobering moment, realizing that the majority of the women in the book die in a mass suicide in the beginning, and then the sole remaining one other than the heroine goes the same way towards the end.

      It’s like, well, I guess that’s one way to write a lady-less book.

    • Halcyon Daze

      July 3, 2015 3:32 am, Reply

      I’m pretty sure that this is based on the legend of Nakhwaaam. Basically, an ancient Korean kingdom (really ancient, like 1000+ years at the very least) called Baekje was overthrown by another kingdom called Silla (who would eventually go on to unify the rest of the Korean peninsula, lol).

      When it was obvious that Baekje was going to fall, the royal court ladies committed mass suicide by jumping off a cliff. The site where it supposedly took place was called Nakhwaam or “falling flowers” because the court ladies’ colorful dresses looked like flowers falling down. You can google the place.

      I remember this because of another book I read a long time ago “A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park (Newberry Medal winner) described this scene.

  5. Halcyon Daze

    July 3, 2015 3:19 am, Reply

    Great review. Honestly, I wanted so badly to like this because it’s a book about Korean culture actually written by a Korean-American writer (who really advocates for diversity), but I just couldn’t. It wasn’t culturally offensive like other “Asian” books, but it was just technically bad. The writing just felt really flat, and I gave up about three or four chapters in. I honestly think that this would be better as a middle-grade book instead of young adult.

    • Cyna Cyna

      July 3, 2015 9:43 pm, Reply

      Yes, exactly the same here. I love the things she’s done and said within the YA community, it’s just a shame that this book is so…meh. It definitely has a MG feel, but even in that context, it might be too sparse and flat to fly. IDK, just sadface. :((

  6. Eliza

    November 7, 2015 5:42 am, Reply

    As for asian fantasy I’d recomend Eon: Dragoneye reborn (but not the sequel.). Its pretty good and the heroine doesn’t spend any time making violent threats to prove her badassery. Although she does pose as a boy to bypass the sexist restrictions the book explores gender norms and has decent worldbuilding.

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