There are two things that are true.
One is I have a term “Pathofdaggersitis” that I’ve coined for books that remind me of Path of Daggers with its multiple PoVs and corresponding lack of anything much to drag one into the narrative. It’s a hyperbolic term born of frustration, much as I was with Path of Daggers.
The other is a deep abiding love of Pratchett and Gemmell, both of whom would throw PoVs at the reader like they had to use them all in the first fifty page or lose them.
They seem contradictory, but it equals out to thinking books that introduce a lot of PoVs very quickly either really hit the mark or miss it entirely. Very little in between. This post will be exploring a bit of why the idea can be so marmite for me at least.
The most recent book I read that had me wishing for a more compact start was The Bone Shard Daughter (although Gwynne’s Malice and The Dragon’s Path also spring to mind quickly as examples). And the most recent book I read that had me happy with its sprawling start was The Legend of Deathwalker. What, if anything, did they do different?
One thing that I think might be part of it is how related the PoVs are and to look, not at PoVs, but strands. Does this hold up? In BSD, there are four strands to begin with; Imperial Island, Deerhead Island, the Rebellion Island, and the Island with people with no memories. In LoD, there are three strands, but all of them are in one physical location: Gulgothir. The characters are all meet each other early. While this isn’t true of every multi-PoV start I like, it’s fairly common in them. Multiple PoVs looking at the same problem are different to multiple PoVs looking at related problems are different; it’s not a surprise if I or others have different reactions to one than to the other.
A big part of that, I think, is that when we can see how their problems are related, the characters end up sharing hooks and build reader interest together. There is an obvious point that each PoV is like a new start, that needs to hook in its own right. The shared problem mitigates that. Distant, not obviously related problems increase the new start feeling. All readers are impatient in some way, looking for a promise of good things to come. If they are looking for that promise in terms of plot, shared problems deliver a lot quicker.
If they are looking for that promise in terms of emotional investment, shared problems mean shared scenes, shared page time. One of my problems with BSD was how we visited some arcs and then just ignored them for long periods of time, making it hard for me to gain any sense of narrative momentum. In LoD, Talisman doesn’t have that many scenes from his PoV to begin with, but there’s a number of scenes in which other PoVs interact with him and as such we build a sense of character quickly.
I’m not sure this is the entirety of why some work for me and some don’t. There are some multiple strand books I like (I think). I mean, I wished for a more compact start with The Red Knight, but I still read and enjoyed it, and it wasn’t until later the proliferation of PoVs overwhelmed me. The difference compared to BSD? It’s hard to say but I think there might be something to say for tonal and motivational match up. In BSD, Phalue and Ranami’s troubles as a couple due to differing social class felt very different to Lin’s and Jovis’ fantastical action narratives. I know I’m not alone in not really liking their arc (among those I’ve talked to, I’m in a distinct majority) and I think that might be part of it. Obviously there’s nothing preventing PoVs with major tonal differences from working but it is a risk. I think of Adrian Selby’s Snakewood, which was very ambitious in terms of PoV and voice, and I saw a goodly number of reviews saying it hadn’t worked for them. It didn’t work for me either. I loved the book for its ambition, but as someone looking to sink into the flow of a narrative, it didn’t quite connect.
As I reach the end, it all feels very obvious. Multiple PoVs can feel like multiple books wrapped into one and there’s a reason most people don’t start three books in a half-hour period. I do actually do that sometimes and it never ends well. The more obviously part of the same book the multiple PoVs are – sharing scenes, sharing locations, sharing tone – the less risk there of it feeling like that. But, well, sometimes I’m stupid and feel the need to take the slow way to what’s going on.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this little ramble.
Have a good rest of the day!