It was too slow-paced. I was bored. I kept flipping pages to get to the end. These phrases are just some of the common criticisms we hear often regarding books that are either slow-paced or have a stretched out plot. Sometimes, those criticisms are valid. After all, I’ve done my fair share of flipping through books that I felt were taking for-fucking-ever to get to the point
like Wicked Saints.
However, I’d like to present my hot take for the day: a slow pace can be fit a book better than a fast one, and it totally depends on the author’s ultimate goals for their audience’s reading experience.
A perfect example is the book I recently finished, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. At first, I was pretty reluctant to pick up the book because I’d been seeing mixed reviews of it online, but I decided to one day (the day me, JM, Inah, and Miel went to Pride, incidentally!) because a) that cover is gorgeous, and b) it was on sale!
After an interminably loooong time (I mean, clearly – I bought it in June and just finished reading it in November, lol) I finally picked up this book, went very quickly through it, and realized that I actually disagreed with most people’s assessment that the book was boring!
Your mileage may vary, of course. Not everyone’s going to have the same opinion about a book. But I do think that, in general, we’ve been spoiled by fast-paced, action-packed YA books where everything moves along really quickly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Some of my favorite books play out like a movie on the page. But because we’re so used to things being set in motion quickly, we’ve come to expect that same treatment for almost every book we read.
I believe that the slow pace worked just fine for Sorcery of Thorns and added an aspect to the book that would not have been there had the plot gone faster.
If you’ve never read Sorcery of Thorns, allow me to give you a quick summary. In this universe, magic can be channeled by humans if they interact with demonic familiars. Some sorcerers write grimoires into which they imbue their magic, and so grimoires become sentient. The flip-side of that is grimoires, if messed with, can turn into Maleficts, evil, destructive creatures that can decimate entire villages. Because of this, all grimoires are stored in the Great Libraries, where armed wardens make sure that the grimoires don’t turn into Maleficts, or that any Maleficts are quickly destroyed.
Elisabeth Scrivener, an orphan, grows up in the Great Library of Summerhall, wanting to be a warden just like her patron the Director. When Director is murdered by a Malefict, Elisabeth charges into battle and somehow manages to defeat it, but is then deemed the only suspect. She’s sent to the capital to stand trial, and discovers herself in the midst of a plot involving the Great Libraries, demons, and magic. Helping her along the way is the handsome and enigmatic sorcerer Nathaniel, and his demon familiar Silas.
Read on to find out how a slow pace made Sorcery of Thorns a good read.
The book was atmospheric.
One of the scenarios where a slow pace would work if the book was one that could be described as atmospheric. We all know those books – the type that really develop the setting and take the reader there. Although what usually comes to mind when you say ‘atmospheric’ is spooky reads, this is applicable to other kinds of atmospheres as well.
Sorcery of Thorns is very much an atmospheric read, and I appreciate all the time that Margaret Rogerson took to make us really feel what it was like in a magical library. As someone who’s literally never been in a library outside of school
because the Philippine public library system is shit and our government doesn’t do anything to make that better I’ve always been utterly fascinated by libraries and their depiction in fiction.
I feel that slow pace worked because it spoke to the care Margaret Rogerson took when crafting her world of magical libraries, sorcerers, and demonic familiars. And I personally feel it worked because a world of magical libraries and sentient books needs time and effort to really get across the message to the reader that this is world where knowledge is valuable, but also very dangerous. If the book had gone much faster, I think that that message might have gone completely over the reader’s head, or else not been telegraphed as effectively.
The author needed time to develop characters.
Fantasy can be character-driven. I find that the emphasis on plot being the driving force behind a book’s movement is a very western-centric concept, and does a great disservice to a lot of books that are propelled by characters and their growth rather than events. In the case where a speculative fiction book is indeed character-driven, it really is in the author’s best interests to utilize a slow pace rather than a fast one. Otherwise, how will we become invested in the characters’ development?
I think Sorcery of Thorns is a character-driven story, which is why the slow pace worked for it. None of the events in the book would have happened if Elisabeth Scrivener, the main character, hadn’t been brave, plucky, and determined to do right by the Director who raised her and the library she grew up in. I immensely liked her, and was rooting for her all the way. In order to establish that likability, that need for the reader to be behind the character all the way, an author sometimes needs to take the time to establish who that character is.
Another character who benefited from this approach is Silas, Nathaniel’s demonic familiar from whom his powers come from. Silas is very much a complicated character. As a demon, he naturally doesn’t think of humans as more than weak bags of meat. But he also deeply cares about Nathaniel, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. And he comes to care for Elisabeth as well. Silas is very much a JARVIS-like figure in this story with a hellish back-story that’s only ever alluded to, and I just adore characters of that trope. You know what I mean? Those characters that are calm and placid and serene right now, but with a past right out of your worst nightmares and the corresponding combat abilities; those characters that are devoted and dedicated to one or two people and only ever whip out the scary powers if those people are threatened? I fucking live for the characters, and I think taking the time to build them and establish who they are and basically just show rather than tell needs time. Sorcery of Thorns achieved that marvelously.
Clues needed to be strategically placed to drive up the stakes.
One of the things that I adored about Sorcery of Thorns is that there’s a bit of a murder mystery element to it. In the process of trying to solve the Director’s murder, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas stumble upon a plot to summon the darkest of demonic magic using the Great Libraries. Not only do they have to investigate their suspects, they also have to navigate politics and public opinion while doing so.
Margaret Rogerson left the right amount of foreshadowing and clues littered throughout the book that the conclusion was immensely satisfying. Although not all authors need a slow pace in order to establish foreshadowing, some books use it to great effect. It drives up the stakes, keeps you wondering what’s next, and leaves you with this great ‘aha!‘ moment when all the loose ends are tied up neatly and you finally get to see what the villain’s great plot was.
The author needed time to establish relationships.
This last reason for why slow-paced books may work is related to establishing character, and I think this is also one of the reasons why Sorcery of Thorns really just worked for me.
Character interaction doesn’t work or feel as impactful if there’s no emotion behind them. This is illustrated very well in the relationship between Nathaniel and Silas, Nathaniel and Elisabeth, and even in between all three of them. Like I said, this goes hand in hand with establishing character. If the author hadn’t done that, I really wouldn’t have cared what they meant to each other. But now that I know who they are and I can see it clear as day, how they relate to and care for one another is affected as well.
The relationship between Nathaniel and Silas is one of the best platonic relationships in YA that I’ve ever seen. You have this ageless, almost all-powerful being, with a reputation for being ruthless and cruel, and he cares for only one thing in the world: a young boy he’d been protecting since he was twelve years old. Their relationship flies in the face of everything that the universe of the book had previously established about demons and their relationships with their human masters, and watching it in action – as well as getting to know what had happened between the two of them that made Silas so loyal to Nathaniel – was a beautiful journey. And it certainly is a journey that wouldn’t have worked if this book was more fast-paced or plot-driven.
Let’s hear from you!
☕ Have you read Sorcery of Thorns? What did you think?
☕ What do you think of books with a slow pace?
☕ If you like slow-paced books, rec your faves!