The Bookman, by Lavie Tidhar, or "How to ruin what could have been an awesome book"
This book has a fairly decent and original plot. It's steampunk + alternate history + lizard kings + characters based on historical and literary figures + adventure, which should be a cool combination, except that it's very difficult to care about any of it.
How difficult? Last night I had twenty-five pages before the end of the book. I wasn't particularly tired or busy, and there was no reason why I couldn't just finish it. And yet, I decided to surf the internet and go to bed instead.
Let me repeat that: Twenty-five pages, and I couldn't bring myself to grit my teeth and finish it last night. (I ended up finishing it this morning.)
Why was it so difficult? It wasn't boring--on the contrary, there was a lot of stuff happening. The problem was the characters. The only one in the book who has significant screen time is Orphan, the protagonist, and he is about as flat as they get. He has very little by way of personality, and he is relatively passive.
There is the right way to do passive characters and the wrong way. The right (well, depending on your definition of right...) way is Quentin Coldwater, from The Magicians*. Passivity and dullness is Quentin's character. It's what makes you
love hate want to bash his head into a brick wall. However, Orphan isn't the kind of passive that you can hate. He's the passive, personality-free character about whom you just don't care. He gets shuffled around from situation to situation, and all he cares about is his dead fiance. (And with how little screen time she gets, and how early she dies, the reader pretty much forgets everything about her, making it nearly impossible to sympathize with his feelings.)
Anyway, now that I've finished with that, I'm off to read I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. If there's any author who's capable of making me care, it's Zusak. (I cried through the last fifty pages of The Book Thief.)
*Actually, I also hated The Magicians, for two reasons: 1) Grossman's lazy writing habits; 2) Quentin. However, while I hated Quentin, it was also part of what made me admire the book. It's very rare to see nihilistic fantasy with a protagonist you're supposed to hate, and the concept of the book is really cool, even if it failed in execution.