Into the Violet Gardens book review

By imh No comments

There is a good story in Into the Violet Gardens, dealing with government betrayal and the abuse of ‘others’/racism, but its prose and narrative composition make it difficult to enjoy and sometimes difficult to follow.
On the subject of its prose, the book makes excessive, and most often weak, use of similes, sometimes as many as three in a single paragraph (prowled closer like a tiger, leapt like a jaguar etc) often making what should have been simple, dynamic actions into melodramatic descriptions. Another negative element of the prose is that the author routinely made awkward use of the dictionary, shoehorning-in more advanced words to dissonant effect (using ‘ascend’ instead of ‘stood’ or ‘rose to his feet’) and occasionally just misusing them outright (although rarely, and with words phonetically similar enough that it was probably just a typo.)
A secondary layer to the prose, is that I often found it difficult to follow what was transpiring during action sequences. The opening several scenes in particular would sort of ‘jump cut’ skipping transitions, explanations, or descriptions. (An example of this is how the primary antagonist can teleport, but no description of why she can do this is provided, and it’s never described visually. Another example is how it took me until about midway through the book before grasping that her ‘Oni’ was a sword rather than her armor or a hallucination.) (A more personal aspect of dislike for me comes from the present tense prose, which just complicates the reading process for me, with the words actually on the page constantly at odds with how my mind wants to read them. This is purely personal though.)
On the narrative side, the composition, pacing, and descriptions are off. For the composition, there are scenes where a character is doing something, then the scene transitions to them doing something completely unrelated; and the first quarter of the book functions primarily as setup for the main narrative, leading to jarring tonal shift over the space of a chapter or two and an ambiguous span of time. Most of our Pov characters achieve or experience nothing of significance as related to the primary plot, more of just existing in it and trying to survive to no real result. (The climatic fight is between our primary antagonist and a pov character that wasn’t introduced until about midway through the book, rather than any of the three we started the book with, and have built emotional connection with.)
The pacing is a smaller issue, but still present; our primary antagonist progresses from a POV protagonist character to antagonist over the course of a couple paragraphs (her motivation derives from the CIA selling her out for a botched mission where she happened to kill or maim numerous bystanders), then becomes genocidal after one betrayal later on in the narrative. The climatic fight feels more like a last minute solution rather than a climax, with no prior build up, no planning, no personal stakes, just a random duel.
On the description side, we needed more information about the world: why exactly are the Virtuals so detested by humans when the only difference I could see was that they had cybernetic prosthetics. We also needed either slower, or more descriptions/interactions about our main characters and their motivations because they lacked concrete/tangible personalities besides their physical roles in the story (Troy as a Virtual, Alana as his girlfriend etc.) None of them had personal objectives, or agency to try and resolve the mess they find themselves in, thus I ended up being more attached to them because they’re the protagonists rather than who they actually are as characters.
The end result is sadly a book I just didn’t enjoy reading.

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