I just finished reading The Awakening: Book One of the Judas Curse, by Angella Graff. The book mixes Mark and Judas from the Bible with Greek gods–an intriguing idea, at least to someone like me, who loves myths and legends. Graff went one step further and wrote Ben, a protagonist, as a detective who rejected all things religious and faith-based. His sister Abby, however, chased down miracles and stigmata. Their opposing approaches proved interesting until they felt contrived. The brother and sister rarely discussed their views or the WHY of how they chose them. They just fought about them, over and over again. The repetition felt stuck in for the plot, but didn’t contribute to character development. A missed opportunity. Yet this book had some original, offbeat slants that I enjoyed.
My main problem with the book was that the author kept teasing us with information that she’d almost tell us, but then withhold. She wanted us to hang in there to find the answers. That only works for me for so long, and then I get frustrated, and then I don’t care. My opinion? This technique doesn’t work. My big complaint, though, is that she NEVER told us why Mark and Judas were cursed and who cursed them. I’d have been able to identify with the characters’ struggles a lot more if I understood their history and burdens more. I’m not even sure what the curses actually were. Graff hints that Judas’s curse is that he can heal. Okay, I can buy into that maybe. Not totally. People would mob him and some would want to use him, but Mark’s curse was even more vague to me. Mark kept saying that he brought death and wars, but I never really understood why. The hints just didn’t cut it. Graff introduced enough interesting, odd events for me to hang in there to the end of the book, but the withholding of information began to feel like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. And the donkey, this time, was me.
I’ve seen other writers use this technique to keep readers turning pages. Hell, when I first started writing, I used it until an editor dashed off a quick note that informed me that I’d build more tension if I just spelled things out. “This is what the protagonist wants and what he’s dealing with. This is who the antagonist is and what he’s doing. Watch them collide and see what the protagonist does to achieve success.” At first, that seemed so simple to me. Too simple. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I didn’t give the reader all the information he needed? If he had to add things up? But no, the editor was right. The readers weren’t intrigued. They were frustrated. I was cheating, withholding information from them that they needed. I’m not saying that a writer can’t create characters readers aren’t sure are trustworthy or a plot that looks like it’s going in one direction and then takes a surprise twist (that’s been foreshadowed, but we didn’t expect). I’m just saying that a writer has to play fair. We give readers vital information and THEN we try to trick them. Agatha Christie excelled at this. She gave us the significant clue, but tricked us into looking at something else. Or, in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling makes Snape look like a villain, but he’s actually trying to protect Harry. But the information was there, on the page. She gave it to us and let us decide. She didn’t try to play hide-and-seek with it.
Angella Graff created an interesting, unusual premise for a series. She came up with one thing after another that I didn’t expect, but her book would have been stronger–for me–if she’d trusted her own writing more. She didn’t need to tease me into turning pages. Her characters and plot were enough to make me do that.