Fallen Favourites: when a book you loved becomes a book that’s “meh”

As a book person, I have created various iterations of “my favourite books” lists over the years. A favourite book had to be somehow incredible: it had to make me actually cry, or laugh out loud consistently, or wow me with its whole tone and writing, in addition to being a good story with some characters I could identify with or form a prejudice for.

Given these criteria, it was a smallish list, but also a varied one; most of my “favourites” lists emerged during my teens, when I was still reading the odd pre-teen book, mainly reading teen fiction, also catching up on a bunch of classics, and venturing into the general adult fiction realm. During this time, I discovered a couple of books that I enjoyed so much I legitimately re-read them immediately after I had finished them. So of course, they made it onto my favourites list.

However, two of these have since been passed on as relics of a bygone era in my life: Legend of the Emerald Rose by Linda Wichman and The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson. They will still always hold a special place in my heart, but for one reason or another, I would find it almost impossible to read either of them again. And so the bookworld turns.

Legend of the Emerald Rose, now passed into legend of my favourites.

Legend of the Emerald Rose (LotER… no, that’s too close to LotR. How about LER?) was hands down my favourite novel for a lengthy period of time. It was an Arthurian-inspired Christian fiction novel I picked up when I was a teen-something hitting booksales with my bestie every month (I even made her read it, for which I now apologise. No, I don’t, I retract my apology–the experience of reading a book, even one that’s not for you, is never something to regret, but to learn from. So, you’re welcome for the educational experience). It had all the elements that endear a piece of media to my twisted little heart: torture, humour, pretty people, magic, an angsty reluctant hero, and even a wholesome, redeeming message sprinkled liberally throughout. I was easy to please and this book pleased me. It was also probably one of the first books I read to include some more, ahem, adult content (literally, I was so sheltered: it was mostly just verbal references, which is bad enough, I guess, but not graphic by any stretch). So much so, in fact, that when I first started it there was a hot minute where I considered putting it down and not even finishing it. But I did finish it, and the rest is history.

Unfortunately for this book, it is also history in regards to my favourites list. What caused this demotion? Just <shrug> stuff. Specifically, reading Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. I was genuinely shocked—shocked, I tell you—to read one of the best-known compilations of Arthurian myth (Britannic, I think it would be called? From the French tradition, anyway) and find that almost everything in LER was just… no. (I wonder if I would have a similar reaction if I watched BBC’s Merlin again? No, that show is just so off-the-wall, I wouldn’t even be able to take it seriously enough to compare it to the actual legends; it is its own legend.)

The story of LER is set after the fall of Camelot—it actually begins during the last battle in which Arthur dies (or is mortally wounded, whatever floats your mythological boat [there’s a pun in there if you know your Arthurian legends]). So, it should transition somewhat logically from the general, largescale events that are agreed upon by most Arthurian myths, even if not directly based on Malory’s version. However, this was not the case for LER. The people who had died at the fall of Camelot—guess what? Not dead. Everyone who didn’t die? Dead. Okay, that’s an exaggeration—but there are enough of those (and other things) to make it kind of like a revisionist history of Camelot. Even the angsty romance couldn’t save it.

To be fair to it, it is written less like a continuation of the Arthurian myth and more like an Arthurian-inspired, fantasy, alternate-universe Christian fan-fiction. I don’t know if that makes it better or not. Should I be surprised when the catch-phrase on the back of the book is “Legend begins where truth ends… or is it the other way around?”

Anyway, suffice to say, all the neat little elements that together made this book my favourite (and there were a lot of them—Wichman is genuinely a good storyteller!) could no longer save it from being essentially a bowdlerization of Arthurian legends in my eyes. I still think back on those first times I read it fondly, but could never see myself reading it again.

The False Prince turns out to be a false favourite.

I think I read The False Prince when I was 18, and it impressed me then. It’s the story of a group of street urchins who are secretly rounded up by an ambitious minister of state to be trained to impersonate the long lost prince of the kingdom (kind of like Anastasia except without the talking bat and the demonic Rasputin). Only one of the orphans will be selected to emerge as the prince. Sage is our main character and narrator who smart-talks his way through most of the events of the story, and steals or blusters his way through the rest, determined to win the competition at any cost because, well, the losers can’t live to tell, can they?

I loved everything about this book—the writing style, the humour, the stakes, the characters, and the twist. It’s a case of an unreliable narrator and it’s executed very well. I still like this book and think it’s got great elements—why it got demoted from my favourites list has more to do with another book (and, admittedly, the target age group). After I read The False Prince, and was slightly disappointed in the two subsequent books, I happened upon a book at a thrift store entitled The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner. It looked interesting and so I read it. To my surprise, I encountered Sage—well, not Sage. This main character’s name was Gen, and he was also a smart talking, blustering thief. He was also an unreliable narrator. And at the end there was a twist, similarly foreshadowed as the one in The False Prince. Of course, The Thief was written long before The False Prince and even though there were eerie similarities between characters, etc. (in fact, so many similarities that I may do a comparison post sometime) I still liked The False Prince’s execution better overall.

Flash forward to later the same year when, without looking for it, I found the sequel to The Thief, The Queen of Attolia. By this time, I had almost forgotten how The Thief went. I just remembered it as a slightly less well done version of The False Prince. But I’d liked it enough to give the second book a go. So I did. By chapter three, I was shook. Completely, utterly shook. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. Jennifer A. Nielsen would never. (She was also writing for a slightly younger demographic—distinctly 10-14 range.) But apparently, Megan Whelan Turner would. The Queen of Attolia wrecked me. It was brilliant beyond brilliant. And I could not wait to get my hands on the next book—and the next. And they didn’t disappoint. Where The False Prince was a stunning beginning with disappointing followup, The Thief was an underwhelming beginning with completely unparalleled followup.

Unlike with LER, letting go of The False Prince was slow—I still like it (and still technically have it—it’s off of my shelf and in a to-donate bag). But it is decidedly less impactful now, given the fact that it’s very similar to a book written almost 15 years prior that has superior worldbuilding and emotional maturity. So, as much as I love Sage and how the story first hit me, I think I have to leave the book behind as a relic of a younger me.

It’s kind of sad un-favouriting books, but both of these came after learning something new (specifically, from further reading). It’s great to grow from increased knowledge instead of getting stuck in one developmental stage forever. It’s a bit like growing apart from a childhood friend. You know they’re there, and you still care about them, but you’ve both changed in different ways, taken different paths, made new friends, and they’re just not an active part of your life anymore, or you of theirs.

Wow. That was an unintentionally heavy metaphor. Cue the seasonal depression due to neglected relationships. Just kidding. But not really. It’s Christmas, I’m nostalgic, okay? A gif of old friends reuniting will cheer things up.

Have you ever really loved a book initially that you later reconsidered and had to demote to “okay but not a favourite”?

2 thoughts on “Fallen Favourites: when a book you loved becomes a book that’s “meh””

  1. Definitely been there! Specifically, earlier this year I reread an old favorite called Storyteller (by Edward Myers) and though it was good, it just doesn’t hold up the same way anymore! Like you said, you gotta appreciate these books for what they brought to your reading repertoire at the time, but as with anything, times change! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally! I just re-read another one I thought might not hold up with time, Loki’s Wolves, and I was right. Fond memories, but just not quite enough going forward to reserve a place on my bookshelf.

      Like

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