Bannerless: Unresolved conflicts

It’s hard to rope in a reader by the first page, but Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn succeeded in pulling me in by the first paragraph.

Enid came downstairs into a kitchen bright with morning sun blazing through the one window and full of greasy smell of cooked sausage. Olive already had breakfast—sausage, toast, cream—set out on the table. In her dress and apron, her dark hair pulled back with a scrap of cloth, she was already at work—but she shouldn’t have been, in Enid’s opinion. (1)

This first paragraph reels you in with 1) an image of the main character’s movement, 2) imagery that expands just beyond the typical visuals, and 3) internal reflection on behalf of the main character. It doesn’t take much but that small hint of Olive doing too much work in Enid’s opinion already sets a small conflict in motion, which propels the reader forward, to want to keep reading, but with this book, because it has a tendency to leave its conflicts unresolved, the book doesn’t live up to the expectations of the beginning.


  1. Olive trying to get pregnant (post miscarriage) (2, 8)
  2. MAIN: Enid discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan (3)
  3. Enid wanting to leave, learning what she wants to do for her life (47)
  4. Enid discovering love (46)
  5. Enid learning whether she wants a banner (46)
  6. Enid discovering why the investigators are in Fintown (111)
  7. Enid discovering the source to Pasadan’s false happiness (160)
  8. Enid wondering if Tomas is too old to be an investigator (178)

Although the book has one main plot, of discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan, it also has several minor conflicts, most of which are listed above, and at first glance, most of these conflicts don’t see interconnected except they are, connected by a single motif—banners. In this book, everyone wants a banner. A banner means the allowance to have children. A banner means that you have earned your place in the community, that you have worked hard to support another possible mouth to feed.

But while everyone else wants a banner, Enid is not sure she wants one. Someone first asks her about it when shes a kid (46), but at that point, in her young age, she doesn’t think she’ll ever want one, which to me is confusing, because while she denies it, she tears at Olive offering her the banner later in life and she seems constantly focused on babies and banners, insisting that most investigations seem to stem toward people wanting a banner. People would to any extent to earn that banner, even falsifying quotas or overextending their fields. She seems almost obsessive on the subject.

And yet, for how much this book seems to focus on babies, it doesn’t seem to offer any closure on the subject. It dances around the subject, similar to how Enid dances around the subject of love. When this conflict is first initially opened on page 46, with Enid jealous of how people her age are finding love and having sex, she doesn’t seem to understand the allure, although she wants to. And while the book continues with her hooking up with Dak, she doesn’t truly find love until Sam, which leaves me wondering, why is Sam better than Dak? Why do we see five seconds of Sam and half a book of Dak when the resolution to this conflict is her falling in love with Sam. She even admits to him being better in the end!

So while this book seems to wrap up most of its conflicts at first glance, it seems to offer very superficial closure, never completely resolving the heart of any conflict. We never see Enid find love. We never learn why or why not she doesn’t want kids. We never learn why the investigators are in Fintown. We never see her house earn their baby through Olive. This leaves at least half of the conflicts listed above open-ended and unresolved, which brings me to warningly say, always offer closure. At least unless you’re planning on a volume 2.

Over-arching theme: Are children a god-given right? Or are they a privilege that’s earned?

Vaughn, Carrie. Bannerless. New York, NY: Mariner, 2017. Print.


Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Unexpected Resolution

This book is not what I expected! Not in a particularly good or bad way, but in a random-thoughts-translated-as-random-interwoven-plots kinda way, with each different conflict finishing in a subtle and unexpected fashion.

I guess I should explain. There’s a few conflicts within Ishiguro’s book, which I’ll list below:

  1. The married couple, Axl and Beatrice, were supposed to visit their son.
  2. There was a vicious dragon that warrior Winstan was supposed to kill.
  3. There was a vicious dragon that knight Gawain was also supposed to kill—no idea why the two men couldn’t help each other.
  4. Everyone kept recognizing husband Axl, no idea why—I secretly thought he was King Arthur lost among the people after the forgetful fog.
  5. There was the boy Edwin, whom was bit by some secret animal—I kept wondering if he was going to turn into a werewolf.

Any of those align with your expectations? No?

What do you expect to happen?

Now compare that to what actually happens:

  1. The married couple remember by the end of the book that their son had died earlier, and now they could only visit his grave, meaning all their travel was for nothing.
  2. Winstan killed the “vicious” dragon, who was actually really old and was going to die soon anyways, and he didn’t kill out out of the goodness of his heart (being that the dragon’s breath created a mist that made people forget) but because he wanted people to remember their vengeance in order to create disorder and chaos before the Saxons invade.
  3. Knight Gawain never wanted to kill the dragon; he was the dragon’s protector, protecting the beast so that Master Merlin’s spell of forgetfulness would make people heal and forget the past—the mass murder that King Arthur had commit.
  4. Axl turned out to be just some small peace-maker, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table.
  5. Edwin was bit by a dragon, whose pull could actually pull you toward it. No idea how this works considering the Dragon was so big it Should’ve just swallowed him, and was so old that it never left it’s nest. Feel like this plot was concluded since the Dragon died but was ultimately left unexplained.

Overall, even though this was a slow read, I thought this was a very interesting book. Because of its numerous conflicts, the way it interwove these numerous stories, it was very complex and it tied itself up at the end. I feel like it was so subtle that it was very thought provoking, and I like the fact it had no big reveal. I’ll have to think on this book some more.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

My apologies for non-fandom

I am not a fan of this book, which I know is something negative, so let me say 2 things positive: This book has conflict. This book has complexity. But as a writer always interested in the why and will behind characters, this book has left me wanting.

Featuring The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles. 1-10.

I have just finished the Nine Princes in Amber, and I find myself wanting to read, wanting to see what everyone else praises, but I am really reluctant to continue, which is saying something, although I do have my own reasons:

1. Why does everyone want to be king of Amber?

Seriously. Why does everyone want to be king? Every male sibling wants to be, and the most we hear as to why is “Amber was the greatest city which had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and always would be, and every other city, everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber…I remember thee with love, city that I was born to rule….” (61). Cool. So, what happened to first born? Why is every other sibling trying to kill the other? Don’t siblings for the most part get along? And where is the father in this? This seems like a major conflict line, which I get as to why it’s not explained, but at least give me more reason for them to rule besides each sibling thinking, this is the best city ever. (Also, what happened to the girls wanting to be queens?)

2. Why can’t Corwin remember anything and why does this keep happening?

As he mentions, “I am suffering from amnesia. I don’t dig all this talk about Shadows. I don’t even remember much about Amber.” And apparently this has happened for some time. As he mentions later, “I had been without full memory since the reign of Elizabeth I” (60). Why only him? Why not his siblings? And why is this conflict never again addressed in this book. This is a serious issue. What if it happens again?

3. The battles bored me.

The details within this book are amazing. It’s clear this author is a fanatic for world creation, and you can tell with his devotion to the parallel universe theory, especially since one deviation from the original world leads to a billion other possibilities. But for the battles, it’s always “three hundred dead from eating poisonous native fruits, a thousand slain in a massive stampede of buffalo-like creatures, seventy-three gone…” (77). I skim read most of the battle, more so than usual, stopping at the beginning of every paragraph to see if the battle was over yet. Talking about the battle this way, although visual, made it too omniscient and led me to being disconnected from the character, and bored.

I want to like this book. Everyone online says that this is a classic fantasy. But I wonder if classic is meaning the start of fantasy, an original fantasy, not necessarily good fantasy? I’m not sure what to think. But I think I have to put this book down before I try any more. I simply don’t want to read it, and I don’t particularly like forcing myself to. But please, somebody convince me otherwise.

Zelazny, Roger. The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles. 1-10. New York, NY: Avon Books. Print.

Review of Sleeping Giants

I usually don’t do too many reviews, but this being an advance readers edition, it prevents me from quoting the book (since its still subject to change).

But I just want to say one of my reasons for excitement for this book is it’s mostly dialogue. And that’s exactly what I need. This way I can use it as a guide on how to edit my own mostly dialogue book.

And the dialogue is definitely unique. If you read normal dialogue, it’s main purpose is to communicate feeling or intent. This dialogue, while maintaining that same purpose, also has to communicate movement and scenery, which Neuvel did a good job with by using the technique of a constant interviewer. All the sudden when you’re on the phone, the listener is ordering you to tell him what’s happening since he doesn’t have a camera on you. It’s very entertaining.

And in my last post, I was so confused about the giant; I thought they giant was going to be removed from the story since SPOILER they sank him in the ocean. But nope. It was a trick to retrieve him later. So the whole story was in fact about the giant.

One thing I did not like, besides the characters seeming to fit standard archetypes, is that I didn’t find any real, driving conflict within the story until the later half. In the beginning, it was a very plot oriented story, telling you how they recovered each of the pieces, which although was stressful at times, was not conflicted. At the times with high stress, it was mainly filled with regret or sadness for accidentally killing someone. But once Alyssa came in, there was some tension. Here there was conflict. She didn’t like the characters (we don’t really find out why) but she wants them replaceable, willing to go to any means to do so. She’s very selfish, demanding, confident…making her a great enemy in the book that I’m sad we didn’t see more of.

There was also some political conflict between nations, which we didn’t get to see a lot of, which could’ve definitely increased the tension. We got some more at the end with Korea. Definitely a high point.

In the end, I would say it was a good book. I liked seeing the unique stylistic approach, and it was a good story, even if it didn’t have a lot of tension in the first half of the story.

Neuvel, Sylvain. Sleeping Giants. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2016. Print.

Creating Conflict

Conflict is bourne out of humanity; at least, that’s what I usually think since everywhere I go, someone’s always upset. Whether it’s one person fighting to stop the bus; a student arguing with the teacher to sway their grade; two guys competing to win or lose, there’s always conflict – whenever there’s a discrepancy of ideas.

And it’s not that difficult to create. (Most of the time I think we bring it on ourselves.)

Take Robin for instance, the main character in Glasshouse, all he knows is that someone is out to kill him. And this is where the discrepancy comes to life: survival. And while a lot of authors tend to fight to kill their characters, Stross gives Robin what he wants: satisfaction.

“Think about it,” she says. “It’s a closed community running in a disconnected T-gate manifold. Nobody gets to go in or comes out after it starts running, not until the whole thing terminates. What’s more, it’s an experimental protocol. It’ll be anonymized and randomized, and the volunteers’ records will be protected by the Scholastium Experimental Ethics Service. So-“

Enlightenment dawns. “If anyone is after me ,they won’t be able to get at me unless they’re inside it from the start! And while I’m in it I’ll be invisible.” (Stross 29)

I thought this was a good change of pace. Instead of fighting to kill your characters, bring conflicts out of their choices, make them hidden behind the reflection of good ideas.

If you’re looking on how to create conflict, first come up the idea of what do they want in life. If you look at Robin’s character, you can see his history as a soldier, where now he wants peace, seclusion. He doesn’t want to keep fighting, especially when he can’t remember what he was fighting about – this just creates paranoia.

After that, create a situation where his worst fears come to life. In this case, Robin’s enemies find him, after he spends the whole novel evading them. I think this was the greatest strength: Showing the reader that Robin had failed. He was captured, mind-wiped, and there was no sense of escape. And yet your novel doesn’t have to stick to one conflict. At this point in the book, Robin’s conflict changed, and to create fluid transition with change, just reflect on it!

Hint: Usually this solves any problem with a book, whether it’s a whether it’s a questionable reaction or event, your character’s active reflection will solve it.

It’s time I stopped kidding myself that I can fight my way out of here, and time that I stopped kidding myself that they’re going to let me go in (I checked the calendar) another ninety-four megaseconds…I’ve for a stark choice. I can conform like everyone else…Or I can try to find out what’s really going on. (Stross 137)

Even though the point of the novel has one motif in mind: survival, it can have multiple streams of conflict starting and stopping. Because your book is a fluid transcription of Robin’s life, you’re allowed to start/stop multiple conflicts, ever increasing the amount of complications.

I think the main idea to take away from Glasshouse is that you don’t always have to force a conflict on your characters; most of the time, we do plenty good making the conflict for ourselves.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2006. Print.


Day-to-day life does not have subtitles. If it did, I’m sure there would plenty of things I would have to reflect on. Did that student lie to me about having a doctor’s appointment? Was that really a hall pass or did they forge it between classes? There’s this spectrum of truth that I think we may over embellish within our daily lives, which is much easier to see in the contents of a book than the 3D nature of life.

Take for example this paragraph:

“Yes.” Emphatically yes. Shards of memory remain: a flash of swords in twilit alleyway in the remilitarized zone. Blood in the fountains. “I was an academic. A member of the professoriat.” An array of firewalled assembler gates, lined up behind the fearsome armor of a customs checkpoint between polities. Pushing screaming, imploring civilians toward a shadowy entrance-“I taught history.” That much is-was-true.” It all seems boring and distant now.” The brief flash of an energy weapon, then silence. “I was getting stuck in a rut, and I needed to refresh myself. I think.” (Stross 3)

While reading, you get this obvious conflict between dialogue and thoughts, how he tells his companion that he was a history professor when really he’s thinking about how he used to be a soldier, fighting in a war. I like the clear opposition. Professors are boring; soldiers are frightening. Through his adjectives, you can tell this is the idea that Stross is going for, and I really appreciate it.

And I think this should be a common technique for writers. Nobody always tells the truth. Almost no one, and if they did, I’m not sure they’d be human. To err is human, or however the quote goes. So I think characters should at least lie about something, and this is a good way how to do it: Create direct conflict between dialogue and reflection.

I would also create reflection on the lies afterward to create motive – why are you lying? How is it important? What’s the alternative?

These should be explained to the reader because after that, you have purpose. You have a story!

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2006. Print.