When telling a story, there are a multitude of things to think about, the main ones being the main plot, subplots, character development, relationships, tone and themes. One that is just as important is the relationship between the narrator of the story being told and the reader. For most writers, this connection is ingrained in the art form. In other words, they don’t have to consciously think about it as they write; they simply understand what type of relationship one is looking to have with the reader, which could be anything from trust to ignorance. C.A. King’s novella, Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness, is a story within story, so the challenge of building a relationship with the reader is two-fold — there’s the overall narrator who is telling us the story of Tomoiya, and then there’s the secondary narrator conveying a story to Tomoiya. Because of this duel narrative, I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing something, even though the characters have some interesting layers and the ideas throughout are solid.
The Tomoiya of the title is a young girl who wants to know more about her favorite book, one left behind by her mother. We’re told through her eyes that the book ends with the wedding of its protagonist, Princess Allaynie, to her chosen suitor, Mijellin. But according to “the man” (our secondary narrator), the story itself is incomplete. Just before the wedding, a trader known as Wodon arrives and quickly finds out that Allaynie has a secret — she’s what’s known as a vampire. And not just any vampire, but a very rare breed that has special powers that can benefit Wodon greatly. He kidnaps her for his own nefarious purposes, but when she escapes, he becomes hellbent on destroying all vampires in the universe.
What’s inherent in this scenario is whether or not we can trust the man who tells the bulk of the story. What we’re getting is what amounts to a second-hand account of history, so it’s very hard to know how much is fact and how much is fabricated to enhance or alter the past in the man’s favor. Which is fine, however, without knowing who this person is, we’re never clear as to what motivates him, so to a degree, we can’t decipher what’s happening, or for what purpose, and so it made me feel as if I wasn’t in on all of the King’s secrets.
This isn’t just in regards to the narrator, either. Because of the nature of the format, we’re thrown into this situation without truly knowing who all of the characters are, and because of the length of the book (a quick 98 pages), King doesn’t allow us to spend the time with these characters to become familiar enough to understand and empathize with their motivations, forcing the reader to follow the actions of characters through ideas that aren’t fully fleshed out. And when one of the more interesting characters disappears half-way through the book and is never heard from again, it’s a bit off-putting.
I did find the changes to the vampire lore that King creates to be very interesting, however, it’s hard to follow as they seem to be some contradictory ideas as to where and when the lore started and/or evolved across the universe. Is this meant to take place close to Earth, where most vampire lore has seen varying iterations, or is this in a galaxy far far away, where this type of idea wouldn’t be known? Or is this the beginning of the lore, which would eventually expand across the universe to where we see it today? This confused me and drew a disconnect with the overall flow of the book.
The pace, though, is swift, which makes the story an easy read. But because of this, there are many holes where large chunks of time are omitted, forcing King to simply tell us what happened — sequences I wish we could have seen play out to some degree. I understand why it works in the context of the man’s story, but without being immersed into the visuals of these moments, we’re left with dry exposition, inevitably leading to moments that have no real impact because they happen so abruptly.
Overall, King’s ideas are good, and I liked a few of the characters, but would have liked to have had a much stronger relationship with the narrator, both from the author and the man within the story, so that I could connect with the characters on a deeper level and understand the difference between what was truly important and what was simply being told for effect.
My Grade: B
Born and raised in Halton County, Ontario, Canada, C.A. King is proud to be among the list of Canadian-born authors. King wasn’t always a writer; it wasn’t until her husband and both parents passed that King found her passion for the written word. After retiring from the workforce to do some soul searching, she found she could redirect her emotions onto the page, and in 2014, decided to follow that passion and publish some of her works. She hopes her writing can inspire a new generation of Canadian authors and add to the literary heritage and culture Canada has to offer.
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