Late last night I finished Zero at the Bone. As far as a quick little review goes, the book was good. I stayed up till 1 am to finish, which is a pretty nice testament, I think. The romance between Jack the target and D the hit man was really sweet, and I really loved that it wasn’t without problems. I also thought it was pretty brilliant that the author, Jane Seville, didn’t end it rosily. Real relationships don’t have a ‘happily ever after’ moment, and as much as I like reading the more traditional romances there’s something incredible when a book stays true to real life by ending with ‘things are still hard, but they love each other so they continue to work through it’. Because that is real. So basically the tagline of my review would be that the core plot was good.
It was the execution that was the problem. This book was faaaaar too long for the content of this story. There was way too much meandering when it should have been taking me somewhere. Most scenes had me hooked, hence the staying up way too late, but a lot of scenes made me tune out. They were just words on a page that made it hard to muddle the last 20%.
This got me thinking about book length vs better editing. For instance, Special Forces: Soldiers is similar in style to Zero at the Bone, except instead of a hit man it’s about two soldiers on opposite sides of a war. It’s so brutal in the beginning, so violent, that at over 500 pages it needs every single word to make readers believe that these two men, who had caused each other so much pain, were able to overcome and find love together. Yet, I read reviews saying that the story should have been edited down.
Another example, I consider Outlander by Diana Gabaldon to be one of the best books I’ve ever read, and at over 800 pages it is a long book. Just like Special Forces, if you read Outlander reviews you’ll find that a lot of people complain about that page length. I never saw it. Even the mundane scenes, such as Claire talking about medicine, are all fascinating and (I thought) important to the story. Everything fits, it all goes together. Every page builds the world and the characters.
Now, reading the reviews of Zero at the Bone I don’t see many people complaining about its need for editing or pairing down to only what was needed. Everyone seems to just love it, simple as that. I just really don’t feel like I’m wrong here…
I think that a book should be however long it needs to be to tell me story to the best of its ability, be it 800 pages or 300 pages. This got me thinking though, how subjective is such a thing as page length?