5 min read

The first two pages of two current bestsellers

Emily Henry's Happy Place and Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing.
The first two pages of two current bestsellers

As promised, today we are taking a close look at the first two pages of Emily Henry's Happy Place and Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing.

What a book promises in its first two pages
Use those promises to decide whether to keep reading.
Two more books, two more sets of first two pages
Cory Doctorow’s Makers and Blake Crouch’s Recursion.

Happy Place

I've already reviewed Emily Henry's Book Lovers – "a love story, but not my love story" –   so let's take a look at what Happy Place has to offer.

There's a lot to like about these first two pages. Medium-length paragraphs, with a couple of one-liners promising a laugh in the middle of the second page. The words Sabrina and Audrey Hepburn are placed enticingly close to each other, and even though Henry is not referencing Hepburn's famous role, she's nudging our brains to make the connection. With Vermont, Mattingly College, Polaroids and Doc Martens, we get a sense of not only place, but also time.

This is going to be a story about women like you, the book promises – and there's a lot to like about them.

We already know that there will be just enough wrong about these thirtysomethings' lives (and they really should be fortysomethings, given the fact that these two pages never mention technology beyond Polaroids and highlighters) for us to feel good about our own, and just enough familiarity in their stories for us to feel seen, and just enough aspirational luxury in their experiences – a cottage on the rocky shoreline, with a flagstone patio and white linen drapes – for us to feel like we've escaped, temporarily, to a happy place.

Fourth Wing

I'm not sure which two pages of Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing count as the first two pages. Is it the page that lists the book's premise and themes as if preparing readers to board a Disney attraction? Is it the page that suggests this book has been translated from the language of its own world into our own? (Does this imply that the translator has figured out how to navigate between parallel universes?)

It's probably not the page with the map – but it could be the first two pages after the map.

Oh dear.

If it weren't for the blurbs on the publisher's website – which include "a fantasy like you've never read before" (which is obviously false, go read the first line of the story and tell me the ten stories it immediately reminds you of) and "this book should come with a warning label" (which it literally does, four pages before the first page) I might not want to snark Fourth Wing so hard.

But I can't help it.

This book – which is not for me, let's just say it's not for me – has so much contradictory information in its first two pages that I'm tempted to read the entire thing just to see how uncalibrated it is.

Like, we're in a parallel universe with its own language that has subsequently been translated into English, but all of these characters are saying "I'm so fucked" and "Damn it, Mom," which suggests:

  1. That the translator ("translator") is an American woman born in the 1980s who took the easiest possible translation route ("yeah, let's just gloss this obscenity as fucked")
  2. That this is meant to be a literal translation, which means that these characters also went through a linguistic phase where "I'm fucked" became "I'm so fucked" and then "I'm totally fucked" (and let's be honest, we all picked up "so" from watching Chandler Bing, which implies this universe had a similar popular entertainment)

This is even before we get to the theological implications of "Damn." Does this world have damnation? Does it have a Hell, and do the characters believe this Hell to be a literal place? Does it have God? The casual use of "Damn it, Mom" suggests that this character does not actually want to her mother (or, I suppose, "it") to be condemned to Hell, which implies that we are in a universe where people at one point treated damnation as a literal threat but now consider it to be, I don't know, an appropriate response to a mild irritation.

An annoying parent, in this case – which also implies that in this world, young women are allowed to publicly chastise (or damn) their mothers for being annoying. These kinds of things define a culture, and so far the culture looks a lot like 1990s America as filtered through popular television shows. (In the real 1990s America – trust me, I was there – we did not say such things to our parents' faces. We said them to our friends, when we wanted to feel like Darlene or Daria.)

I really want to get to the part where the dragons turn out to be the size of horses or, like, single-seater aircraft. We know this is going to be a world in which dragons are easily rideable, as opposed to one of those worlds where dragons are the size of multi-story buildings, and it makes me wonder if this world has a mythical (or literal) multi-story-building-sized creature to fill the metaphorical gap left by the horse-sized dragons.

The one thing that makes me want to actually read this book, instead of poke holes in its first two pages, is that the author has a legitimate military background. There might be some necessary truth, in this narrative – and I'm curious to see what it is.