What I've read lately

Kathryn Andersen kat_lists at katspace.com
Mon Jan 27 08:26:00 EST 2003

On Mon, Jan 27, 2003 at 11:07:12PM +1100, Abe Gross wrote:
> The prize for the most Disappointing Book goes to Sharon Shinn's _Jenna
> Starborn_. I love nearly everything Shinn has written, particularly her
> Archangel books, though I was somewhat disappointed in the ending to the
> last one. The resolution was weak and a real anti-climax. I especially love
> her _Wrapt in Crystal_, and her next-to-last one, _Summers at Castle Auburn_
> (though it isn't flawless by any means). So I was really looking forward to
> _Jenna Starborn_. What a disappointment. It's basically the story of Jane
> Eyre, set in a futuristic society. It does have a few cute quirks, but it
> just doesn't work. Putting Jane in the society Shinn posits here makes a
> nonsense of the story; the characters (almost the same as the original
> novel) feel like cardboard, including the main character, whose main dilemma
> and decision (exactly as in the original) makes no sense whatsoever. So
> Shinn has taken the Jane Eyre story and used it almost exactly as it stands
> in a different context in which it just doesn't convince. OK. Rant over.
I agree that "Jenna Starborn" was a let-down, and I think part of the
problem is that it *did* start off well, and some things worked well --
I do think Jenna's origins made sense of her childhood treatment, and
the origin of the Mad Wife was also a good twist.  But I do agree, there
are too many things which don't make sense in the new context.   Some of
it is the consequence of earlier parts of the story -- for example
Jenna's origins in themself, render some later parts of the story almost
nonsensical. (Kathryn restrains herself from spoilers)  Another thing
that didn't sit well, I think, was the religions in the story.  In the
original, it was set in an old-fashioned Christian society.  In this
futuristic society, the made-up religions felt to me like the author was
desperately trying to avoid alluding to any existing religions,
especially Christianity.  All that ended up doing was, well, removing
some potential richness from the background, I think, because I found
the religions felt terribly contrived too.

Now, it isn't that I dislike retellings in different contexts --
otherwise I wouldn't even have started reading the book, since I knew it
was supposed to be a retelling of Jane Eyre, and I like Jane Eyre.
Retellings can work wonderfully -- as has been demonstrated by Tanith
Lee's "Red As Blood" or Robin McKinley's "Door In The Hedge" or
"Deerskin", and don't forget Joan Vinge's "The Snow Queen".
And you can't say that only fairytales work for sources of
retellings, because Alfred Bester did "The Count of Monte Cristo" in his
"The Stars My Destination" (aka "Tiger! Tiger!") and that worked

So why did they work, and this one didn't?  I think maybe for a
retelling to work, one has to focus on the emotional core of the plot,
rather than its details.  In "The Stars My Destination", the emotional
core is a man betrayed -- the form the betrayal takes is different, but
the emotional resonance is the same.  Concentrating on the characters is
always a good thing.

So, could Jenna Starborn have been salvaged if it had been written in a
different way?  I don't know.

Kathryn Andersen
  Gan:  What's that expression of yours?
Cally:  Companions for our death?		(Blake's 7: Bounty [A11])
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