Howdy folks! Today I bring you the lesser spotted discussion post in which I muse on something that’s caught my attention lately. For today’s post, I was inspired by my recent read of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, a book which I enjoyed but struggled to settle on a rating for. I thought I’d unpack why and, when it came down to it, the ‘why’ was essentially because V is a fave of mine.
It may surprise Schwab fans to learn that I, an also proclaimed Schwab fan, took three attempts to actually successfully read Vicious. That’s right, three attempts – I had previously DNFed (or, the more charitable/optimistic/misguided PAFNed ‘put aside for now-ed’) this book twice before now. Why? To be honest, Vicious wasn’t really my thing. And, despite everything, it kind of… still isn’t. This seems to be an unpopular opinion around the bookish community online, especially amongst fans of Schwab’s other work. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything away from anyone who does like Vicious most, because it is just personal preference and, for me, I prefer Schwab’s more portal fantasy-esque novels as that’s the line my taste generally runs along anyway.
But the fact remains that, actually, I didn’t love that book, I just enjoyed it, and really appreciated the skill I could see already in Schwab’s earlier work. But I just felt that she has written better (in fact, I suspect that Vengeful will be what I hoped Vicious was) and I’d read better examples of her work. Then came the moment when I realised this and felt like I was somehow betraying an author who I basically considered one of my favourite authors writing nowadays. Which brings me onto the point of this discussion post: I think I automatically look on books more fondly immediately purely because they’ve been written by a favourite author. That might sound obvious to some but I realised recently that this actually affected my baseline average rating for books.
As a rule, when I rate a book I start with 3 out of 5 stars, 3 to me says ‘it was average’, there was nothing special about the book but nothing particularly wrong with it either – it was just ‘ok’. If a book has a problematic element in it, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it was poorly written, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it didn’t have a logical plot-line or the character motivations seemed skewed, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. Likewise, the flip-side is true. If a book touches on important issues in a constructive and thought-provoking way, I’ll add a star or two. If a book is well-written or the writing style draws me in, I’ll add a star or two. If the plot sweeps me away on a journey and keeps me turning those pages, I’ll add a star or two.
So it’s easy to see how books by my favourite authors can end up getting inflated ratings even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy the theme of the stories within them as much as I have other stories. My baseline for rating a book by a favourite author, a ‘just ok’ book by them, is automatically a star (or more) higher than it would be for just any other random authors’ book. I just can’t be unbiased. I think this was the case with Vicious and it’s likely the case with some of my other favourite authors such as J.K. Rowling, Leigh Bardugo, and Neil Gaiman. If I’d rated Vicious purely based on enjoyment overall and I hadn’t settled it firmly in my head as a Favourite Authors’ Book, it probably wouldn’t have got a 4-star rating – and, ultimately, the review probably wouldn’t feel quite so tricky to write either!
Do you experience this too? Or maybe you’re able to divorce the artist from the work more than me and rate everything as an entity without that bias? I’m really curious about this topic so, if you have an opinion, please share it below in the comments and let’s chat about this.