Britain, Kristen. 1998. Green Rider. New York: DAW.

Reviewed 13 March 1999

Green Rider (cover) This book gets three stars because it's an excellent teaching tool for prospective writers. It has many serious flaws, but somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

First of all, a word on "famous author endorsements." When you see a "famous author endorsement" on a book that mentions not one whit of the substance of the book—such as those on this book—that's a sign that one of three things happened during the marketing process:

  • The endorser has not actually read the book, but is doing a favor for a personal acquaintance (the author, the publisher, and/or the editor).
  • The endorser didn't much like the book, but felt obligated to provide a positive statement for the marketing dorks (who most certainly have not read the book).
  • The endorser doesn't care about his or her credibility, and will make a positive statement about anything that the publisher shoves in front of him or her.
So, what does that mean for Ms. Britain's first novel? Some of all three, I'm afraid.

Ms. Britain's strength is creating sympathetic, strong female characters. All three of the "good guys" are "good gals"—the protagonist, the administrator, and the leader of the Special People. Despite the appallingly obvious plot (note to prospective authors: don't expect to fool readers by changing the gender of characters in chansons de geste), the characters remain true to themselves, even though the protagonist is a spoiled rich kid. Ms. Britain's characterization is much "truer" than was Misty Lackey's at this stage of her career.

The flaws start to show up in the world creation. The novel displays no sign of any knowledge of preindustrial economics or agriculture—there's simply far too much wilderness, and not nearly enough agriculture or aquaculture, to support a society as urbanized as this one. The Gymnasium (in the German sense) from which the protagonist is running away appears to have magical lighting and an extremely enlightened curriculum. Together, these and other factors just don't mesh well to create a satisfactory environment.

The most significant flaws, though, are in plotting and actual writing. The plot is one (small) step removed from an idiot plot. For example, the identity of the spy in the bad guys' camp was obvious from the beginning. Once again, a trip to the Evil Overlord's page would benefit everyone involved.

The writing, though, is the greatest sin. "Spunk"????? What is that word doing—repeatedly—in a high fantasy/quest novel? That's just one example. What I found most disappointing was that the style was generally acceptable. Ms. Britain's writing is fairly flat, but that's very common in American letters. Unfortunately, she has a tendency to reach for mid-century middle-class American slang and put it in the mouths of her upper-class medieval characters just too damned often. These word choices often broke all of the tension that she had worked so hard to build, despite all of the other problems with the novel.

All of that said, though, Green Rider is still worth reading. Somehow the various weaknesses make themselves forgiveable while reading the book. For example, despite the problems with the plot, the pacing is exemplary. Explanations give necessary information concisely without falling into Professor Superscience Lecture Mode. The characters themselves are more than one-dimensional—how often do we see a villain blinded by his own emotions, instead of by his ego or a supernatural influence?

Overall rating: 3 stars
This is a learning novel. Ms. Britain clearly used it as a learning experience (and let's hope that she has learned the right lessons!). The various flaws are obvious enough to provide instruction for writers, without being so overwhelming that the book becomes an instrument of torture.

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