This post primarily discusses King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo, though I also talk about her other works and compare it to A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin. There shouldn’t be any spoilers, but I make no promises. So, without further ado, let’s reflect.
I talked about the issue of information flow a bit in my last post on creating characters, but mostly from an author’s viewpoint. One of the books I’m reading this month is King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo, and it has three narrating characters, so I thought I would discuss what having multiple PoV characters means from a reader’s perspective.
Three main characters is obviously more manageable than the eighteen total narrating characters in the last published book (A Dance of Dragons) of A Song of Ice and Fire. Of course, A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of much larger scope and for a very different kind of audience than the books written in the Grishaverse (including the Shadow & Bone trilogy, Six of Crows duology, and now the King of Scars duology). Martin’s series is, at its heart, about political intrigue. That means many courts, many plots, and many people to keep track of. The Grishaverse novels are more an exploration of the power that those characters possess, and as a result is more inner reflection than whispered secrets in dark corners.
That said, even the nine PoV characters from the first book of ASoIaF (A Game of Thrones) seems a bit excessive. The function of any narrating character is to give the reader important information that cannot be discovered by anyone else. King of Scars has three point of view characters, but two of them remain pretty close together, spatially. They interact daily. The only information that either of them can really provide that the other cannot is inner monologue stuff. Still, it works, because there are only three total, and the two who are close to each other can bounce back and forth on the narrating so that structurally, the PoV chapters are easy to rotate. Not so for ASoIaF. While I have no doubt that Martin was strategic with his PoV hopping, he doesn’t neatly rotate between the characters, and so it takes the reader a short time to catch up on the events of one character’s life, while taking a longer time to return to another character’s.*
The trouble, I think, comes from a focus on a specific character. When I was younger, I feel like even though the books I read were in a sense limited omniscient, the narrative style was lofty enough that the author could slip in information to the reader without always giving it to the character as well. As in… “Unbeknown to [character], the enemy was drawing near,” or something. Now, with the popularity of 1st person narration in YA novels and the concept of “deep point of view” — where you really get in the character’s head, whether in 1st person or 3d limited omniscient — there’s a bigger focus on keeping any information off the page unless the character is actively thinking about it. And a character can’t think about something they don’t know, such as an enemy drawing near.
It seems to me that there are two major benefits and drawbacks to having access to multiple points of view. First, it can increase the chances of the reader connecting to one of the characters, because if they find one PoV character annoying, at least they will keep flipping pages, looking forward to the chapters in their favorite character’s PoV. However, along the same vein, it’ll can be harder to keep track of the doings of all characters, since I’ve noticed, both while reading King of Scars as well as other books with multiple PoVs, that I tend to focus the most on the characters who seem most important to the plot.
Secondly, it allows the author more avenues of releasing information. However, characters don’t just state the Important Thing and then shift chapters; they narrate, get involved in side-plots, mention their favorite foods. There’s more information to remember, because of course the whole art of a novel is to weave all the information seamlessly so that the story unfolds rather than simply gets reported. So, ideally, an author will weigh the benefits against the drawbacks each time they add a new perspective. It seems to me that the fewer number of narrators you have, the tighter the narration itself can be.
*I have read A Game of Thrones before, but it’s been awhile, and I don’t have my own personal copy of the published novels. So my information from this came from A Wiki of Ice and Fire’s page on the books’ tables of contents.
Next on my reading list is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve seen it on the bookshelves for quite some time but was never sure if it was a book I’d like. So I guess we’ll see. I’m also pretty sure I’ll be reading Shadow Scale, the book that takes place after Seraphina, though I don’t have it yet. Beyond that, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the bookstore has to offer once my current reading material is gone.