“Show don’t tell.”
It’s one of the first things fiction authors learn. It essentially means to set every scene with emotion, details and physical action rather than bluntly telling the reader what happened. For example, if a major battle happens, it’s always more satisfying to revel in all of the gory details than to simply say, “Both sides fought an epic war and side A became the victor.” Readers hunger to be part of the action, as if they are standing right alongside each of the characters. They can’t live every moment if they feel like an outside bystander being told the events of a story secondhand. A reader’s investment relies heavily on details, and when their attention wanes, that’s when a book tends to be replaced with another before “The End” is reached.
Author Jenna Whittaker falls into this trap quite often in her novel, Watership. Though I did sluggishly make it to the final page, it was extremely hard to invest any interest in what was happening. The book begins well enough, setting the scene and providing some nice, albeit slightly confusing, descriptions of the landscape and our main character, Desu. However, the writing devolves quickly into a narrative style that kept me at a distance, keeping me from fully investing in what Jenna was clearly fighting to provide. When Desu, as part of a required culling, kidnaps Kira, a young child who lives with her mother in the bowels of the planet, I didn’t feel any raw emotion, mostly because it’s all buried under an understanding of what’s happening that isn’t fully fleshed out for the reader except in small bites of dry exposition. In other words, we’re provided the why — to protect Kira from certain death as the world itself collapses — but that reason is never explored to the deepest depths of possibilities.
What we’re told is that only the most genetically viable humans are selected to board the Watership and cultivate a new planet. Most of these people are from the elite communities, and though a handful of those from the dregs of the lower class have been selected, the majority of them will die. So why is it that Desu breaks the laws of her “people” to rescue Kira? It’s hard to tell, and because of this, everything that happens between them feels cold and distant. We’re supposed to care very deeply for the budding mother-daughter relationship that blossoms between Desu and Kira, however, the characters are hardly ever together, and the big secret (that Desu is hiding Kira from not only her own race, but from the humans who may or may not revolt over having her genetically inferior self on the ship) is uncovered rather early and has absolutely no consequences.
Now, if you’re at all confused about what I’ve discussed thus far, you’re not alone. So much happens in this book, yet nothing really happens, and the distinction between humans and areomancers and carriers and crawlers — it all gets a little jumbled to the point where it’s hard to remember what each looks like, what their functions are and how they fit into the puzzle. There are a lot of strong ideas sewn throughout the book, so much so that it almost feels like this book should have been a trilogy. The third act alone brings in a new threat that wasn’t once talked about in the first two-thirds of the book that itself could have been fleshed out into its very own full-length novel. At the same time, though, there is so much repetition (revealing something in one paragraph only to say that exact thing again in the next), I felt half the book could have been edited out, leaving open the opportunity to really dig deep into the characters and their motivations and develop the story beyond simple surface events.
The confusing aspects don’t stop there. There are several instances when ideas are introduced and then contradicted or forgotten, and the time frame — though from what I can tell is accurate — isn’t well-defined and time jumps aren’t transitioned into smoothly. There’s one moment toward the end of the second act when one of the alien races, the Aspects, agree to sacrifice themselves to help keep the core of the ship running. The death of their leader, Medrin, is described quite well, but then in the next section of the chapter, it seems as if Medrin is still alive. I could be wrong, and this could have something to do with the Aspects’s abilities, but it’s nowhere near clear enough because the characters themselves are wholly underdeveloped.
Desu is probably the most well-developed character in the book, which makes sense, since she is the main protagonist. However, even she doesn’t get the love that’s required to fully invest in her coup against her own race. The rest of the cast is left to wander the book without any development, and that includes Kira, who is involved in the most interesting aspect of the book, one which again is left heavily wanting. It turns out, the Watership has evolved over time to become sentient, and the core becomes attached to Kira. We’re never given a clear reason as to why this is, which is why the impact of what happens is sorely ineffective. And that about sums up the book as a whole. There are a lot of good ideas that aren’t fleshed out enough to make a coherent story or had enough emotional or viable impact to keep me turning the next page.
My Grade: C-
Jenna Whittaker is an Australian author who’s been writing since she was a child, and doesn’t ever intend to stop. She’s self-published 4 novels (one science-fiction, one dystopian and a couple of fantasies) with plenty more to come. Jenna is also an accomplished artist and graphic designer.
Check out all of Jenna’s social media platforms:
If you are an independent author and would like your book reviewed, let me know in the comments section with a link to where I can purchase the book. If I find it intriguing, and it’s something I think I’d like, I will purchase a copy and add it to my reading list. I will be doing one independent book review per month, so not all requests will be accepted.