I don't read much, but here my last two English books have been by once and future fan writers. Reminds me of the yaoi boom in the 90's, doujinka pulled from the floor of Comiket to come be mangaka at Biblos. And as with the djka, I wonder if the promotion to pro wasn't occasionally a bit premature. Alas, there's no apprentice program for writers as there is for mangaka, years spent drawing backgrounds for pro mangaka after which you turn into Ima Ichiko.
This is all by way of saying Williams really ought to write better than she does. Which is unfair, as my other piece of current reading informs me- she certainly doesn't write as lacklustre as impeccably mainstream Peter May. Genre fic doesn't do fine writing. But Williams' prose is still... sloppy. Reflex. Line of least resistance. Didn't she reread it and notice how often she repeated the same trope? Even fanwriter me is aware of some of my own verbal tics (no I will not tell you what they are: you'd notice them in my next story if you haven't already.) Williams or her editor (if any) should have picked up on and corrected this whatever it was of hers- vulgarity, paleaswater said. Laziness, say I.
In fairness I really only got twitchy in the last third of the book. Maybe she was under a deadline or had lost interest or something, but that's when it really started to grate. Or maybe I was expecting her to bring things together in the last part of the book and present a satisfying climax. Whatever. But she didn't, and to make it worse, she never IMO redeemed her watercolour presentation of the main female character. At times Inari read like a woman written by a man.
And now I shall do some cultural poaching and grump about Why is a Chinese denizen of hell sporting a Japanese name? for a fox spirit no less, when book-Inari is some sort of water spirit. I begin to see the source of Chinese dissatisfaction, and share it. No one writes Chinese characters and when they do their version doesn't feel right, snarl. Don't shoot the piano player and all that, but still. Inari is a Japanese name, dammit, and Williams' demons are still too Christian for my satisfaction.
To make the inevitable comparison, Novik's prose may seem smoothly bland at times but it never reads sloppy; and further, bland is a proper style for the period. Her characters may be figures in a landscape, seen in medium view, but they fit nicely into that landscape and one sees enough detail to guess the rest. Her China and her Turkey feel like reasonable versions of those countries as seen through the eyes of insular but open-minded Laurence. And most of all I miss Laurence's niceness and decency and want to read more of him: and am wondering if any of the same atmosphere is to be found in the Master and Commander books, in which case I'll have another crack at them. Even if there are no sweet-natured dragons there either.
But first I think I'll read Ishiguro to cleanse my palate of genre fiction.