Torn Almost Too Sweet to Eat

I finished editing a book in the Book Girl series this week about a goblin who eats books and comments on how they taste. Maybe that’s why I’m seeing literature in flavors right now, and after finishing the second book in Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series, Torn, the overwhelming sensation that’s left over is sweet. Now, taking the story at face value, you wouldn’t think this. Wendy Everly is, after all, a troll princess, and her general demeanor is a bit surly and sarcastic. But after Switched, Wendy finds out that she’s the most wanted person in troll society, and that’s in a good way.

At the end of Switched, Wendy abruptly fled the kingdom of Förening with Rhys, the boy she had been switched with at birth. She takes him back to her original home and introduces him to her brother, who is Rhys’s real sibling. Shortly after, Wendy, her brother Matt, and Rhys are kidnapped by rival troll faction, the Vittra, who crashed Wendy’s christening party in Switched. Wendy learns why she is so important to them—it turns out they’re family. While trapped there, Wendy is introduced to Loki, who can match her in sarcasm and mettle more than Finn, her forbidden love, can. Wendy and crew are saved from the Vittra by Tove, the Trylle with the strongest powers, and others, and Wendy finds herself safely back at Förening with most of the people she loves.

Once there, Wendy comes to a reckoning with her mother, Elora, and even begins to understand her just a little bit. The last time Wendy was there, she was kept in the dark about everything, but now she is gradually being let in on secrets. The biggest thing she learns is that a royal’s life is full of duty. Wendy starts training with Tove, who’s so powerful that he comes across as autistic. (Since he’s so hyperaware of everything, he has to tune himself out or he’ll go crazy.) Wendy also learns that the Trylle’s special powers are their weakness and that she might just be the most powerful ever of the trolls. There’s foreshadowing of this when Tove scares Wendy a few times and says that he felt like she had slapped him in his mind. Sounds like quite the superpower.

Wendy learns that she must make a royal alliance with Tove, though she doesn’t feel that way about him, and for once she agrees to others’ ideas, seeing it as best for her kingdom. Loki drops by enemy territory, seemingly to just see and be near Wendy, and suddenly Finn loses his self-restraint and jumps Wendy. What’s a girl to do? Three months ago Wendy couldn’t get a date, and now she has to beat guys off with a stick. This is all done in a very chaste way, of course, with kisses that ignite the blood and lots of heart thumping, but it does leave a saccharine-sweet aftertaste.

In Amanda Hocking’s blog entries before she gained fame with her Trylle series, she wrote about how she was rejected by agent after agent and was told to make her protagonist Wendy more “likable,” my least favorite piece of advice that’s often bandied about in the writing community. I like a hard-to-love character and find that more true to life. I wonder if J. D. Salinger was ever asked to sweeten up Holden Caulfield, and what would have happened if he’d done it? Sometimes you have to defy convention, and it’s a good thing Hocking did or I think I would have found this novel too sweet to finish. As it is, I’m going to have to find something very dark and depressing to read before I attempt the last novel of the Trylle trilogy, or I’ll go into a sugar coma. I’m sure of it.

The Troll Princess Who Almost Wasn’t

Amanda Hocking is the self-publishing wunderkind who’s recently turned the publishing world on its ear by showing how books can be successfully made and marketed on the Internet with a little creativity and a shoestring budget. The Cinderella story may seem to have happened overnight, but Hocking worked damn hard for her pumpkin carriage as evidenced by the epic tale on her blog: http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2010/08/epic-tale-of-how-it-all-happened.html.

I couldn’t get a hold of Hocking’s original ebook of Switched so I checked out the souped-up version put out by traditional publisher St. Martin’s Griffin. The story reminds me slightly of my favorite book when I was in grade school—The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

The story’s protagonist is Wendy Everly, a teen who’s always had a problem with fitting in. She’s gone to many schools but has never felt quite right there or in her family. Wendy grew up in a well-to-do family, and she can remember the fancy house that she grew up in … until her mother tried to kill her.

Wendy was a cranky kid, and on her sixth birthday her mother tried to carve her up with a butcher knife, proclaiming her a monster and not her real daughter. Since then, her mother has been committed to a mental hospital and Wendy’s been raised by her older brother and aunt.

Wendy tries to get along at her latest high school, which she helps along with a unique power that she’s discovered. She’s found that she can convince people to go along with what she wants. There are a few other strange traits that set Wendy apart from others. She has wild, unruly hair that’s almost impossible to work with, she hates wearing shoes, and weirdest of all, she’s an anti–junk food teen who actually craves raw veggies and unprocessed crap.

She notices an especially intense boy at school who is always looking at her—Finn Holmes. She finds it creepy but is also slightly turned on by it. They dance around each other, and Finn starts telling her some crazy stuff—that she’s not who she thinks she is. Wendy sends him on his way, but when enemies attack, wanting Wendy to further their goals, Finn is forced to bring Wendy back to Förening (yay, umlauts!), a troll community hidden away in Minnesota, where she happens to be the princess of the trolls.

At Förening, Wendy is introduced to the Queen, her mother, who is cold and distant. Wendy is kept in the dark about much of the Trylle goings-on, but she gradually learns about their caste system, rules, and so on. At the same time, she feels like as much of a misfit as ever—even with the new title.

For the most part, I enjoyed Switched. The idea of a teenage troll is fresh and different, and I love the solution the trolls have come up with to fuel their economy, though it backfired on Wendy. What I want most is a copy of the ebook Switched to compare with the St. Martin’s version of Switched. I’m curious to see the DIY cover compared to St. Martin’s slick book design, and I want to see what kinds of editing changes were made. The last chapter of Switched completely took me out of the story because it was so different from the rest of the book. It really did seem like a tacked-on affair, and I believe in a strong finish, not a blow-by-blow passive voice description of what happened next. I want to know if this chapter was a St. Martin’s editor’s choice or not.

I am looking forward to reading Torn, the second part of the Trylle trilogy, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for other books and series by Hocking. I think she’s going to be a young author worth watching in the coming years.