No One Died and I’m Disappointed.

No One Has Died and I find myself disappointed. Have I Become So Corrupted?

I blame George R.R. Martin. I am on the fifth book of a series that is widely considered a classic by epic fantasy fans ­– If you want to know which, feel free to hook up with me on Goodreads – and I am beginning to find it really hard going.

I am trying to work out why this is. The world building is fantastic, and the characters are very compelling. This series has won multiple awards and turned a generation onto the genre. The Internet abounds with discussion groups, artwork, jewelry, collectible cards, and even a board game.

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The series lacks two things and I am embarrassed to admit that I am missing them. The first is sex, or at least sexuality. Sure everyone sounds very attractive, but seem to blush when a dress comes above the knee. Now, I respect a society that values modesty, but in every other aspect, this is a dangerous world with bad folk, extreme circumstances, and a lot of opportunity for more than noble romance. We delve deep into the souls of these characters, but burn me (yes a hint!), if just a bit of cleavage is shown then everyone blushes and flees for cover or avert their eyes. Sorry, Master Author – no teenage boy is going to do anything less than gawk when confronted by three beautiful women in skimpy negligees.

The second aspect that is beginning to bug me is that no hero or heroine seems to die, and I am really not expecting it as I approach the end of Book Four (I also read the prequel if you are counting). Please no spoilers if there are any!!!! But we seem to have fit into a rather comfortable pace and rather predictable story arc.

But here is what is really bugging me. I read, no devoured, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and there is neither anything remotely sexual (no matter the noble efforts of Peter L. Jackson), nor do any of our major characters die – with all due respect to Boromir and Haldir.

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So what has changed? Me? Of course not! I am as full of self-denial as the next man. And so I point the finger at George R.R. Martin: plenty of sex (not particularly healthy I wish to note) and plenty of main characters dying.

Now I have killed my share of protagonists in The Wycaan Master series – I Didn’t Mean To Kill Her and Oops! Just Killed A Friend – and I have neither enjoyed the criticism I have endured for my efforts nor got over the personal sense of loss that each death inflicted on me (let alone the character), but somehow I now crave that tragic turn, expect it, even anticipate it.

What has happened to me? Have I lost my (fantasy) innocence? And what shall I read while waiting for the next Game of Thrones?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more novels in the Wycaan Master Series: The First DecreeAshbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released in September 2015. The story continues.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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Where is the Moral Line in YA Fiction?

Since I wrote Wycaan Master with my (then) 11-year-old son, I assumed that our story fitted the Young Adult genre. It is a coming-of-age novel, so I never gave it much thought. There is no clear sex or profanity, though race is a big issue in the first book.

Since I have become absorbed in the fantasy genre, I have begun to wonder where the line is drawn. As I continue to write the second and third books in the series, intimacy has developed between characters, sometimes direct and at other times implied. There has been plenty of violence and references to overindulgence in alcohol. Colleagues at my writers group have questioned whether I should be including these themes.

As I began to research this, I found a number of excellent sources regarding YA fiction in general. Heather Dunlevy-Scheerer has written an interesting article about the historical development of YA literature.

She lays out several characteristics that she took from someone called Niday (I couldn’t find a clear reference).

(1) a teenage (or young adult) protagonist

(2) first-person perspective

(3) adult characters in the background

(4) a limited number of characters

(5) a compressed time span and familiar setting

(6) current slang

(7) detailed descriptions of appearance and dress

(8) positive resolution

(9) few, if any, subplots

(10) an approximate length of 125 to 250 pages.

From a brief skimming of the Internet, it seems that the common thread in YA fiction is an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, protagonist. However, the subject matter and story lines of leading YA literature are relevant to the challenges of youth, and more edgier novels include themes such as identity, sexuality, science fiction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, money issues, race, familial struggles, and bullying.

April Dawn Wells suggests seventeen common traits of young adult novels. These include: “friendship, getting into trouble, interest in the opposite sex, money, divorce, single parents, remarriage, problems with parents, grandparents, younger siblings, concern over grades/school, popularity, puberty, race, death, neighborhood, and job/working.

There are a number of YA novels currently in print that are on the edgier sides, dealing with peer pressure, drugs, gangs, crime, violence, sexuality, incest, oral sex, and female/male rape.

The obvious criticism of these novels is that they encourage destructive or immoral behavior or at least bring them into the adolescent’s mind at too early an age. Countering this is the fact that teens will be better equipped to deal with real-life difficult situations and social issues because they have role models in the protagonists they have followed.

Where is the line drawn in amount and nature of such issues between appropriateness and inappropriateness in young-adult fiction? How can we keep literature as a relevant medium when the exposure of TV, computer games and Internet is almost not monitored and easily accessible? None of these mediums, in my opinion, can offer the depth of thought and emotion that a good book provides.

Now more than ever, YA literature needs to stay relevant. Maybe the adults (including parents of teens like myself) have to accept that we might be more uncomfortable with this than our children.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).