So, who thought it was a good idea to pick up the paperback borrowed at Christmas from my sister-in-law and start reading it last Thursday as a distraction from the mess of packing? It must have been me, because somehow I found myself bringing an unnecessary item with me on the plane even after I swore that I would stick to Kindle purchases for the next few months. It wasn’t my brightest idea, but then, sequels can have an undeniable power over the rational mind.
As Lie the Dead is the second (of four, I believe) books in the Dreg City series, the first of which (Three Days to Dead) I wrote about in December. This book picks up precisely where the first left off; it’s a rare move that I appreciate, especially in this genre, although the three and half month interval between readings did leave me a little fuzzy on the details of what had happened at the very end of Three Days. I’d never considered what challenges such a decision would cause for a writer – there is a finesse required when picking up characters right at the moment they’ve managed to escape the last bloody climax and shoving them along into the next adventure – until I tried it myself. I will be the first one to say the Kelly Meding does a much better job of it than I did. It was certainly worth straining my brain to recall a few chapters of another book in order to see where she took the story in this one.
My own experience in trying to take characters from one story to another was haphazard at best. In retrospect, I realize I didn’t have enough of the big picture sorted out, and when I got into the second part, it turned much darker than I was expecting. I kept looking for the snarky, comically lovelorn people I’d written months before, and they were nowhere to be found. In their place, I found fragile, damaged characters with histories I hadn’t even guessed at, and all of that back story really got in the way of the story I thought I wanted to tell. Stupid characters taking charge of their own lives – completely unfair in light of that fact that they wanted me to do all the heavy lifting when it came to actually telling the story. I was intrigued when I realized that Meding was doing just what I’d tried (and failed) to do. Her characters were getting thornier and more complex as well, but it worked with the direction of the series. The changes in them made it easier to understand and accept the story that was unwinding rather than seeming wildly out-of-place.
I admit, I was jealous. And, admittedly, distracted from reading in large part because, as much as I wanted to know what happened as a reader, I was more curious about how it all came together as a writer. (For the record, I haven’t figured it out completely yet, but it has certainly gotten the wheels turning, which is actually quite inconvenient since I had my heart set on working out the problems of another project when this idea decided to hunker down and demand my attention. Some day I will learn that I am not completely in control of this process and I’ll be better off for it, but today is not that day. Tomorrow probably isn’t either.)
Ultimately, I was impressed by how little of the story I was able to guess at as I read. I’m not usually the type of person to poke a stick into the conclusion to see what wiggles out; I much prefer to be surprised. In some cases, of course, writers seem determined to point the way with big, bold neon arrows, and although guessing at the twists doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a story, it’s nice to have a little mystery left in the relationship. Meding manages to sock it to her characters on a number of levels, repeatedly, until all I could think was that they really deserved a shower, or a nap, or at least some chocolate – anything to keep them going in the face of ever-escalating ass kickings and subterfuge – and she does it without giving away all of the secrets I expect she has planned for the next book.
To learn more about Kelly Meding, head over here.