Let’s Talk About Reported Speech (and the Remnant Chronicles)

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

So this week I decided to loop back around and finish the Remnant Chronicles (The Kiss of DeceptionThe Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson). They were middling to me, overall. I liked the second book more than the third for sure. It maybe edged out a 3.5 star rating, in my mind, to the last book’s 2.5ish? (I talked about the first book here.)

They weren’t bad for me, but they weren’t my favourites. For me, 3.5 is pretty good, so I definitely had fun in the second book—I think it had the best worldbuilding and the most satisfying arc for Lia, which the third book followed a bit disappointingly. (I also think I preferred the interactions between Lia and the less prominent of her two love interests, not in the sense that I shipped them, but in the sense that they made good friends—and that gets the most time in the second book.)

I’ll qualify that a bit more for you, though.

The Heart of BetrayalLia is a pretty cool heroine, although she does begin to suffer from a kind of good-at-everything syndrome. She knows what to say to inspire the people; she can throw a dagger and nail her target; she’s gorgeous enough to make dudes fall in love with her in an instant; she can lie well; she can strategize; she picks up languages easily; and the other thing is a spoiler, but has to do with how special/”Chosen One” she is. The romance(s) and major events across kingdoms revolve around the fact that she is special as heck.

It’s not insufferable, because she’s pretty good and not the best at everything, and as a princess she has a position that allows her to be important in the first place. I mean, as the protagonist, she should be pretty cool, anyway. And the pacing of events, particularly in the second and third books (the first book is a slow build), is pretty quick, which tends to smooth out the edges of such things for me; I’m much more likely to start getting annoyed by a character if I’m stuck with them and nothing is happening.

In terms of the other characters, none of them really endeared themselves to me. I mean, let’s talk about the love interests. One was a warrior-prince who fell in love with Lia. That seemed to be his entire character. His bond with a mentor of his was possibly the most compelling aspect of his character, and that mentor felt woefully underserved. Another was an assassin who fell in love with Lia. He had a more interesting backstory and some slightly more interesting motivations, but he was also the one of the two who was made out to be a gullible, ineffectual jackass throughout the story, so. (Like I cannot remember a thing this dude succeeds at. Seriously.)

Another issue I had with these books is that the romance became increasingly boring and low-stakes to me. It doesn’t feel like the stakes are low to Lia, it’s just that I stopped caring who she ended up with, because I wasn’t wrapped up in her or their feelings and shipping them. Part of this had to do with the fact that she was often separated from one or both guys by circumstance. Another was that, even when together, their encounters often didn’t feel very romantically compelling; it didn’t feel like they were really getting to know each other beyond in the mouth-to-mouth sense. Another was that this book had to pair off two spares who settled for one another in what I found to be an unsatisfying way.

The Beauty of Darkness

But maybe the most grating aspect of these books for me, and a reason I felt at arm’s length from many characters a lot of the time, was all of the dang reported speech.

So quick grammar real talk for those who don’t know: when we get dialogue between two characters, that’s called direct speech.

“I love you, love interest of choice,” said Lia. 

But when someone tells us what they or someone else said, it goes more like this:

Lia told him that she loved him.

Often reported speech requires that you backshift what was said to a different tense, like in this example—she loved him vs. I love you. That puts us at a remove from what was said temporally; even though in both cases, the writing is in the past tense, it feels less like we are hearing what is actively being said, because people always speak in the present tense. (And, of course, because we’re not hearing what’s being said. It’s being reported to us.) That backshift in tense can really draw us out of the action, too, if there’s direct speech around it—which happens more than once in these books.

Reported speech can also act to distance us from the subject, at least semantically; she rather than as a subject. (Even though in both cases, Lia is speaking in the third person, without the “I,” what she’s saying can feel less personal, more at a distance.)

So that I’m not just railing on the Remnant Chronicles, let me drop you an example that I hate in a book series I really love, The Hunger Games. More than once (but if you’re looking specifically, flip towards the back of the first book for sure), Haymitch reports to Katniss what’s happened in a big ole info dump of reported speech. (Reported speech comes off as extra ugly in The Hunger Games because it’s written in present tense, by the way. Why.) This bugs the holy shit out of me because I want to hear how Haymitch would tell her. Haymitch and Katniss’ relationship and understanding of events are important! What would he say? How was she reacting? I would rather hear this conversation!

That’s not to say that reported speech doesn’t have its uses. Not every conversation or tidbit some character said that some character relays to someone else is so important that we need to get it quoted exactly. It’s great for glossing over stuff like that.

But reported speech in the Remnant Chronicles happens in the middle of main characters having conversations. (Which is not only a weird withdrawal of potential character interaction, but a big interruption of the rhythm of dialogue and kind of jarring.) It happens often enough that it came up for me not as some annoying thing for me that I could point to a specific example of, as in The Hunger Games, but as I’ve ended up jabbing my finger wildly at the books, going, “Why don’t people just say the words?”

I don’t know if it was rewritten that way for length. I don’t know if it’s because the author wanted to cut some corners and not have to figure out what everyone would say, exactly. But when main, perspective characters are talking to one another, I almost always will be curious about what they’re saying, thanks. (Sometimes they’ll just be like, We exchanged words about what we’d had for lunch, and then started talking about boys we like. “Isn’t Eric great?” I said. This is fine, unless they’re having really interesting fantasy moon lunches.)

Anyway. That’s my rant/life story about how reported speech can really distance me from characters, draw me out of their conversations, make me feel like I don’t know them as well, and get me lost when the rhythm of their speech stutters and then I pick up again and wonder what was even at stake in their talk. So yeah. It has its place, for sure, but let’s keep it out of the conversations between main characters where they’re pouring their hearts out to one another, okay?

And she told them not to hate her for having middling feelings and a firing off a prolonged rant about the BookTube-beloved Remnant Chronicles, and asked them to tune in again next Tuesday. She said to have a great weekend!

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