Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
For the first time in my reviewing career, I’ve run into something that almost never happens to me. I couldn’t finish a book. I tried my hardest to finish it; when I couldn’t finish it I put it down for a few months to see if time would make it better for me. Well, it didn’t.
Belavalari has absolutely no desire to be a wife. Cooking and cleaning hold no appeal for her. So when fate throws Merin in her path, a wounded soldier who she figures doesn’t have long to live, she drugs him and tricks him into marrying her. Not knowing what he’s done, he leaves her. She has what she’s always wanted: her freedom. But when Merin returns to take her to be one of the Emperor’s prospective brides, the truth comes out. The only way for the two of them to separate is to spend twenty-two days tied together at the waist. After that, they’ll be through with each other — if they manage not to kill each other… I kind of hate to say it, but that might actually have made the story less painful for me.
I had really looked forward to 22 Nights because the premise felt so unusual to me. After all, how many people fall back in love while going through what are essentially divorce proceedings? But even as the book started, I was beginning to lose enthusiasm. Bela, despite the fact that she is twenty-three years old, feels immature. Which is not usually a sticking point for me, because I really enjoy watching character growth, but even just over a hundred pages into the book, I really don’t see a whole lot of development. I just don’t feel like I can slide into her head and experience her life with her. Her emotions and responses seem tailored to move the plot forward, with little development outside of that. Because I couldn’t connect with her, she frustrated me.
I had some of the same complaints about Merin. I don’t really get to see anything about who he is as a person outside of his feelings for Bela, which makes me sad because he’s a highly placed general at the Emperor’s court. I know he’s led an interesting life, but I never get to see it. I don’t even get a chance to see what brought him and Bela together the first time, which frustrates me because I know so little about them already. I want to like these people, but I don’t know them well enough to care.
There’s also a secondary plot line interspersed with Bela and Merin’s story, about another of the Emperor’s prospective brides named Layla. Throughout my hundred-plus pages of reading, I have no idea how her story is related to Bela and Merin’s. It’s aggravating, because just as I”m starting to get somewhat interested in them, I get yanked back to Layla’s story. I don’t have the time to get engrossed in the characters’ heads because there’s not a whole lot going on in that regard, and then I get yanked back into the other story and the process starts all over again. I’m sure there’s a connection in the end, but there’s no inkling as to what it could be, and that drove me up the wall.
The final nail on the coffin for me was the way that conflict was handled. There is a huge disconnect between the emotional conflict going on between the characters and the outside conflict that they’re experiencing. The external conflict feels like it’s there because the author didn’t feel like the emotional aspects could stand on their own. (Truth be told, I don’t think they can.) It doesn’t shed any new light on them or how they’re feeling. Even Layla’s external conflict felt pointless. Because of that, for me there’s no tension. That just drove me crazy, and it was the combination of characters I didn’t care about in danger that didn’t seem to serve any purpose because their emotions felt flat. I finally threw in the towel. As much as I love the premise, the way the story was handled simply drove me up the wall.