I have always loved traditional fairy tales, so much so that I am wary of the contemporary variety. I was pleased to find in Virtue a very tight piece of writing. In one short chapter she succeeds in: A. Setting place – a castle. B. Introducing the main characters – Lux, a fairy tale playboy, Lily, the innocent heroine, and her step-mother, who happens to be evil (duh). C. Setting up the dramatic conflict of the story. D. Most important – getting me to want to turn the page to find out how that conflict would play out.
Her prose is the kind that is often described condescendingly as “workmanlike.” Her descriptions can be clichéd. They never reach the level of poetry that takes your breath away or offers some new insight. But I prefer workmanlike any day to the tangles of false erudition that spoil so much Literary Fiction for me.
I have no problem with workmanlike prose. It means the author is getting the job done, which is telling the story. Far more important than fancy description is the right amount of description. Amanda measures that perfectly. Just enough to tell you where you are and who the characters are then let your imagination fill in the rest. Not so much that you lose the thread of the story and get bored.
The characters in Virtue are not terribly nuanced – then again, it’s a freakin fairy tale. I don’t remember Jack and his mother, let alone that cow being particularly finely drawn. And I was pleased by how Amanda gradually reveals that her characters have an allegorical significance tied in with the theme (and title) of the book.
Though her fantasy world has many familiar elements – a palace fallen to ruin, an evil forest hiding a witch’s bungalow and an eviler swamp –she has added value with some nice imaginative touches. A glutton who gorges on barbecued goblin wings. Piranha-like fish in the evil swamp who lure their victims by crying like babies.
Virtue, apparently like all her books, suffers from shoddy copy-editing. Auto spell check has often returned the wrong word. It’s annoying, but not bad enough to wreck the story.