Thursday, January 17, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Sea of Tranquility -a Greteling of character

The Sea of Tranquility. Author: Katja Milly
A Gretel-ing of Character by Nakeesha J. Seneb

This is a Breakdown, not a Review so spoilers are inevitable.

I'm a student of plotting. I can talk to you at length about the Hero's Journey, Three Act Structure, the 9-point system, 15-point system. I can talk to you for hours about the sequencing of actions. Where I find myself lacking is when the hero or heroine's character drives the plot. Luckily, there's a plot system for that! In his book Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction Jeff Gerke outlines five phases in a character driven plot. They are, in order, the knot, the inciting event, the escalation, the moment of truth and the final state. In this breakdown I want to focus on the yin and yang moments of this method: the knot and the moment of truth.

The Knot
Gerke tells burgeoning authors that "the knot is the thing that is wrong with your character." Both Nastya and Josh are damaged by death. Nastya was "murdered;" Josh has systematically lost everyone in his family to the Reaper. Nastya's death is a spiritual (as well as physical) assault because its her dreams, her life's purpose that have been decimated. She can never be who she once was, and her resurrection is unpalatable to everyone in her family. Since Josh is marked by death nearly everyone gives him a free pass and a wide berth. The force field surrounding him is impenetrable and he aims to keep it that way so loss will never touch him again.

We know their knots but we don't know the details of their troubles. Its been drilled into my head that we need to get all the important details about the MCs upfront, before the first third of the work is done. We should know the important things (their motivations) before the inciting incident so we understand the characters reaction to the obstacles that get put in their way.

The first half of this book is spent slowly Gretel-ing out the details of their knots. Like the siblings of the grim fairytale, Millay leaves bread crumbs that we first examine slowly and then are racing ahead to find the next and then the next as though we're on a sugar rush from too much gingerbread. Its a twisted, delicious foreplay as Millay parcels out the details of Nastya's assault and decent into self-hatred. My heart ached and yearned and broke as I discovered Josh's backstory of loss. Millay takes 50% of the book to do this -maybe more. And though the details are Gretel-ed (and I credit Gretel because of course its the female who takes precautions with the directions) slow it felt like a high-speed chase by a witch on a broom because my heart pounded and I was literally at the edge of my seat gripping my eReader.

Moment of Truth
Josh's moment of truth is pretty straightforward. Josh admits to himself that he loves Nastya and he accepts the very real possibility of losing the damaged, self-destructive person that she is. You'd think Nastya's moment was when she finally comes face to face with her murderer, but I beg to disagree. Her moment came when she decided she didn't want to be date raped. She's been 'dead' for three years, but in that moment with an unwanted hand against her genitals and her panties yanked to her knees -that's when this character's knot unravels and she decides she wants to live.

Moments of truth are doors: choices. Nastya clearly sees what's behind door #1 where she'd actually embrace her made up Russian whore persona; or door #2 where she'd decide to fight for what's left of her life. That's what this story was truly about. Nastya deciding to live, deciding she was worth life. I love that I was mislead to think it was about revenge. I love that along the way I was distracted by themes of loss and worth, by the definitions of love and family. This is a book about what it means to be alive.

ARC courtesy of Net Galley.


  1. This is an awesome breakdown! Not just for your insightful analysis, but also for the clever and, honestly, beautiful way in which you express yourself! I love your Gretel-ing metaphor, and this is a perfect example of how analysis can add to our emotional as well as our intellectual appreciation of a work. Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness, looking forward to following and reading more of your reviews!

    1. I love your handle: flylibrarian! Awesome! I was spent so much time on those few sentences about Gretel-ing. So glade it was understood!