Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On Retconning: A Review of Destined For An Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost

"Retconning" is defined simply as altering the plot or history of a work of fiction after it's been established. It's one of those plot devices that can be massively annoying and confusing, as well create plot holes. Because of this, the term carries a negative connotation. This is the first time I've felt the need to use the term "retcon" in a review, but it happens to be the most accurate term to describe the plot of Destined for an Early Grave.

In this story, the fourth novel in the Night Huntress series, Cat has begun to dream of a mysterious vampire named Gregor. She finds out that Gregor is known as the Dreamsnatcher, possessing the ability to kidnap people in their dreams. Gregor claims to be married to Cat, according to vampire law. He spent a month with her when she was sixteen, and according to some witnesses he was able to marry her, right before he was imprisoned for his misbehavior. The kicker is, Cat can't remember any of it, because her memory was tampered with. One way or another, Gregor's pursuit of Cat puts her relationship with Bones on the rocks, and all of her friends' lives in jeopardy.

Positive Comments

I know the plot sounds...stupid, and yes, I'll get to criticizing it in a minute. But it does one thing really well: It creates and brings to light all of the internal conflict between Cat and Bones. It forces them to fight, break up, and eventually figure out why they love each other all over again. Frost builds all that turmoil up so effectively that I felt like I was living through a break up in real time. They went from characters that I like and respect, to people who's heads I wanted to knock together. It takes talent to get readers that emotionally invested in a story, kudos to Frost.

World building happens in this book--some of the existing ideas are expanded on, new concepts are introduced, and all without bogging the book down or jumping the shark. The overarching plot (namely Cat's) actually moves forward. There's real character development, and real relationship development. These are all great things, and all things that are really hard to do once you get 4 or 5 books deep into a series.

Critical Comments:

Retconning: It's not always bad, and sometimes it might even be necessary, but overall it's something authors should really avoid doing. One of two things lead to the awkward clunker of a plot device that is "Gregor the Dreamsnatcher". Either the author planned this all along, but failed to foreshadow it so that her readers wouldn't be blind-sided by it, or she made it all up on the spot while writing book 4. Either way, I'm inclined to be annoyed by it because it feels contrived. It creates this great conflict, and it leads to a lot of emotional development for Cat, but it also creates plot holes and weakens Cat's back-story. Couldn't Frost find another way to build the same kind of conflict?

The characters' actions are maddening. Cat has a chance to kill Gregor fairly early on, and her reasons for not taking it are beyond weak. I guess there would have been consequences for his death, but there were huge consequences for letting him live anyway, so she gained nothing. As her primary reason for mercy, she sites residual feelings for him from when she was sixteen. I just don't buy that line of reasoning--he was a manipulative vampire that she knew for a month and had a crush on. Stack that against her bond with Bones and it should be no contest. This was the one time when I really felt like she was betraying Bones, and it honestly damaged my opinion of her. Bones proceeds to make some equally asshole-ish calls, so it evens out in the end. Like I said, I wanted to knock their heads together.

Overall, it was a hell of a book. I was grinding my teeth in frustration throughout most of the middle, so I can't say it was a pleasant reading experience. But again, any emotional reaction is better than none. Obviously, if you're reading the whole series, you'll have to read this one eventually. I don't think you'll be too disappointed, but I wouldn't call this a high point in the series. 3 stars.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this review. I haven't read the book but I'm sure I would be inclined to agree with you on the frustration front because I experience that a LOT with YA. I think you articulated really well what you did and didn't like about the book. I hate it when it seems like an author puts together a plot hastily, it's really patchy and really brings down the story.

  2. elena--Thank you! I know YA is famous for maddening and frustrating characters--for me that's almost more excusable, because they are teenagers after all.

  3. Oh, how I love Cat & Bones! Sadly it wasn't my favorite book in the series either, but I can't dislike a Night Huntress novel. ;) I'm glad you enjoyed though, even with the few negative points. Great review!

  4. Rebecca--Exactly how I felt. I didn't love the book, but Cat and Bones are still fantastic!


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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