On Rip Offs
I got a gift card to Barnes and Noble this Christmas. As I was wandering the store, wondering what to buy, I saw books that looked like blatant rip offs of the popular A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Settling myself on my high horse, I told my boyfriend, “I don’t like when authors swoop in on another book’s fame and write something similar just because they know it ‘works.’ It’s cheap and takes no effort.”
I then left Barnes and Noble that day with Asylum by Madeleine Roux, because I’m a hypocrite. If you didn’t know, Asylum is– in style, genre, innovation, and timing– the most shameless, obvious rip off of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs that I have ever seen.
The covers are nearly identical, the genre is the same, peculiar brand of off-beat supernatural horror, the teens share the same corny jokes, and both novels include real black-and-white photographs to tell a story.
It’s Been Done Before
But here’s the catch. I absolutely hated MPHfPC. I own and have read all three books in the series. I started the first book as a teen (the age I was supposed to be to enjoy the series). It started off so strong. I had never seen anything like that before– with the creepy photographs of children in costumes. I loved super-natural horror. MPHfPC was right up my alley.
[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
But then the novel quickly morphed into every other standard YA novel. You know the one: “Kids Band Together to Save [Insert Cause/Person/Other Here].” I was so disappointed in the way Riggs tanked all of his amazing progress in the “creepy thing has no explanation” department by sweeping it into the “just kidding it was cute kids the whole time” category.
[Minor Spoilers Over]
And the MPHfPC series never got better, in my opinion. Jacob never eased up on his terrible jokes, meaning I couldn’t enjoy the plot. Because looking past terrible writing to get to a half-decent plot is like putting on shades and looking past the Sun. It’s almost hilariously impossible, and I have to take a break every few minutes so I don’t gouge out my eyes.
And I knew Riggs was a terrible writer, not because of the off-kilter jokes that no one alive actually makes, not because of the stock characters, and not even because of the way YA authors have of inserting dialogue that neither furthers the plot nor develops the personalities of the people we’re reading about. No. It was the way he started off writing each book with strong and vivid descriptions, and ended each book with a weak grocery list of “this happened then this happened then this happened, the end.”
I read the three books in rapid succession in college, just to get them over with, and the discrepancy was so noticeable. I don’t understand it. Did Riggs not edit his manuscript? But with this lazy editing style and his scenes-that-really-should-have-been-cut developments, it’s hard to read books like these (and this goes for a lot of YA literature) and not think, “It just seems like you didn’t try that hard for the fame you received.”
Maybe it’s Just Me
Unfortunately, Madeleine Roux’s Asylum started off much the same. I picked it up knowing it would have cringy teenage characters. I flipped through the pages and saw the phrase “I’d freak if it were me,” and I just knew I was going to hate a majority of the book’s dialogue.
I bought Asylum for the plot. This is gonna sound strange, but it’s basically always been a dream of mine to buy a house/rent an apartment/stay in a hotel and explore it, only to discover that there are creepy, secret rooms with hidden mysteries inside. I know. That’s weird. But Madeleine Roux just delivered.
Asylum is about three teenagers who live in an old sanitorium-converted-college dorm. They of course set out to explore it (that’s my kids) and they find that, hilariously, when the college purchased the building no one bothered to clean out all the old asylum junk. And I don’t wanna give too much away, but the kids find a giant, unaccounted for secret room full creepy shit™.
In the course of reading the novel I found that the characters grew less annoying and exponentially more lovable. I’m not sure if this is because Roux finally cut the cringy crap, or if she just has something Riggs doesn’t. Or maybe it’s because I grew a heart and stopped being so pretentious. (Probably not.)
The point is, I’ve learned my lesson. If you’re an author and you take advantage of a new genre because it got a lot of hits, but you do it better can we really be mad? It’s the free market, no?
And to fellow fans of Asylum, how’s Sanctum? I think I might pick up a copy.
Meddlesome Readers, thank you so much for hanging out. If you’re interested, you can buy Madeleine Roux’s Asylum book here on Amazon or go all in and get Roux’s Asylum 3-book box set here. My latest book review is of David Dyer’s The Midnight Watch, so check that out if you’re interested in the Titanic tragedy. But let’s hear it: what’s the worst YA book you’ve ever read and why? Rant to your heart’s content in the comments section.