Analysis, process, Reading, Reviews

Book Review: Unrelenting

Unrelenting is a slick modern paranormal thriller with magic-in-plain-sight and a headstrong female protagonist in search of her sister.

Bridget leaned out the open window of James’ parked car, grateful for the fresh air. His car smelled like mildew and French fries. She tilted the side mirror so it showed the glass doors of the police station entrance.

Unrelenting by Marie Parks and Jessi Honard

Part 1: Who’s going to love this book?

This is an easy-reading paranormal thriller. If you like that genre and you like it without the horror element, but with other tropes like a headstrong main character, vivid descriptions, and fun side characters that all bounce off each other in delightfully mismatched ways, then you’ll love Unrelenting.

It’s the story of a missing person case gone cold. The overworked detective has all but given up, but Bridget won’t take no for an answer when her half sister is involved. Even if that means taking the case into her own hands.

The action is popcorn poppin’ and the writing is buttery smooth. (image or video of Steven Colbert eating popcorn or movie popcorn popping)

Part 2: Who’s going to hate this book?

If you’re turned off by thriller tropes like chapter cliffhangers, people being knocked out, and “follow that car!”-type stuff then steer clear of this one.

If you’re tired of the determined protagonist who tries to go it alone in an uncaring world, but eventually reluctantly accepts allies then this one isn’t for you.

Part 3: What I thought of it

Yeah! I settled right into the main character’s quest to save her sister and keep a candle of hope after everyone else had given up.

This is not normally a genre I would seek out, but the prose is smooth and easy to read. It’s not scary, which I consider a plus. The characters are likable. And the emotions get appropriately intense at the climax.

Even though this is paranormal, it’s not horror. It’s not scary. It’s not trying to be scary.

There’s even an understated humor throughout. As I was reading Unrelenting, I couldn’t help but think that the premise is, “What if Mulder and Scully, but complete amateurs?”

Part 4: What writers can learn from it

I know for a fact that at least one of the two authors of Unrelenting is a discovery writer, meaning that she writes in order to figure out what happens next rather than planning what happens next and then writing it down.

I write in the same way and cannot seem to do otherwise.

If that’s your style as well you may feel frustrated at times when your own writing leads you down dead end paths or slows the plot too much or otherwise subdues a good story you had going.

Unrelenting demonstrates two techniques to help avoid pitfalls while discovery writing.

First, each character has a goal that they absolutely cannot back down from. This goal is a strict universal constant and it drives the character to be unrelenting in their actions.

This is an excellent way to keep the story on track.

Second, the novel has a very clear action-reaction rhythm. Abrupt and physical action is followed by the characters’ reflection and decisions regarding that action, as well as more mellow (or at least slower) consequences that result. This likely reflects the author’s process of pausing to look a short distance into the future of the story for the next exciting action scene, but it’s also an enjoyable up-and-down roller coaster experience for the reader.

However, the key thing for a discovery writer (especially one writing this kind of thriller) is that the slower, reflection-and-descision-making scenes MUST launch the characters back into action. This is why the earlier point about making sure each character has a goal that overrides everything else is so important. The characters cannot reach the conclusion that sitting on their hands is the best course of action, at least not in a thriller. They need to get into trouble again soon.

Lastly, I want to mention that the characters bounce off each other in an entertaining manner. The Mulder and Scully comparison is quite apt. If you force a skeptic and a believer into close proximity, interesting sparks are going to fly.

You can find all kinds of information online about character relationship diagramming: the sort of thing where you draw connecting lines between each pair of characters and write out how each pair is matched and mismatched, how their interests align or conflict.

In Unrelenting:
James: goofy disheveled but obsessed with the paranormal.
Bridget: independent skeptical focused but obsessed on finding her sister.
Bridget and the detective Ivanova are similar in their stubbornness, but their interests are opposed.

HOWEVER, not all authors want to diagram this stuff ahead of time. The one thing I like to know about my story ahead of time is at least a kernel of each character’s personality, but I like to discover everything beyond that. But, and this was a wild realization to me, character diagramming and even plotting can also be useful after a draft is written.

When I’m tired or unfocused I might start putting words in characters’ mouths that don’t fit so it’s important to analyze my own characters after the fact and make sure me, the author, is being honest with their expression.

In conclusion, Unrelenting is a smooth reading paranormal thriller which may be of particular interest for discovery writers to read in order to pick and pry at how the pieces ultimately came together.

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