I Am Not A Serial Killer: a YA urban fantasy with a twist

Serial Killer

As you may know from my blog a few weeks’ ago, I’ve come to really love the Writing Excuses podcast over the last month. I began listening to it because of my love of all things Sanderson, but wasn’t particularly familiar with the other three podcasters, except for Howard Tayler, whom I’d seen cover a couple of Brandon’s lectures while he was on a book tour.

So after hearing Dan Wells talk about his writing on the podcast for weeks, I decided I needed to read his John Cleaver series that he’s always talking about. So I got the eBook and began reading it every now and then on my phone, when I didn’t have my hard copy of Assassin’s Quest (that I’m also and still currently reading) on me.

Well, seeing that I Am Not A Serial Killer is only maybe a quarter or a fifth the size of Assassin’s Quest, I  obviously finished it first. (A review of the latter is also coming soon for those of you eagerly awaiting it) I’m going to try and not give any huge spoilers, but I think there are certain things worth discussing about the book.

Firsty first things firstly, you should know that this book is YA urban fantasy, but doesn’t seem so immediately. Like Twilight, it takes place very much in the regular world, but unlike Twilight, instead delving piece by piece into the fantastique, it takes you completely by surprise two-fifths of the way through. This can be jarring for a great deal of readers.

It’s not like Wells didn’t do his share of foreshadowing. My inner-monologue just responded something like this: What??? So it’s not a story about A, it’s a story about B. Well, that’s disappointing. I wish he’d hinted more heavily at this earlier… oh wait, yeah, no, he did, I guess. But wayyy too subtly. So yes, he did do a good job, I loved the writing style and character voice, I just think the narrative structure could have been done a little better.

I, and I imagine a lot of other readers, felt that the story set itself up as something other than what it turned out to be. It’s like if Twilight had have appeared very much like a normal high school romance from the get-go, Edward was moody and seemed to hate her, but then no van-skid-on-ice scene or anything happened and suddenly one night Edward kidnaps her super speed style from her room and takes her to the lone meadow in the woods where he’s going to devour her, but somehow she manages to convince him he’s better than that and they fall in love.

See how, while potentially awesome and interesting, it’s not as good? Maybe you think that sounds more interesting, and to each their own, but I think that that example and Serial Killer both skip a few radical steps in the natural series of progression or escalation that you need to satisfy the readers. Otherwise their expectations are violated. We love twists that surprise within the realm of that’s-brilliant-we-should-have-seen-that-coming, not twists that seem to betray the whole fundamental type of story that is being told.
You’d think after my little pseudo-rant there that I didn’t enjoy the book, but that would be untrue. I think the fact that, otherwise, it was so very captivating is what makes this one problem for me such a big deal. Because everything else was soooo very good. The characterisation, the character himself and other plot-twists and escalating tensions in the book, even the humour!
Honestly, if it weren’t for this one thing, I would happily give this book a 4.5-marshmallow rating (probably even 5-marshamallow because it was his first book) As it is though, I’m still going to give four marshmallows, because I do think it was pretty great. I just wish I could have given it more. Hopefully, being aware of this large twist will be enough preparation for you that, should you choose to read it, (and I still recommend that you do) you will not be as taken aback as I was.

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