Literature, as a whole, is a very interesting entity. Pick a book on any site, be it Amazon or Goodreads or wherever else – you’ll see part of the spectrum that forms people’s varying opinions on said book. It could have very average, mediocre ratings – say a 3 or a 3.5 star rating on either site – due to the tug-of-war that is the (terrible) star-rating system. On one end you’ll find people who adored every aspect of the story, characters, world and all. On the other, there are people who cannot fathom how said book was even published. Every person that has rated the book has different experience in the genre – they could rarely read fantasy or fantasy could be the only genre they read. The former might think magic and swords and knights are a fantastic breath of fresh air from, say, paranormal romance or whatever their shtick is. The latter will have jaded veterans.
Though I’ve read for most of my life, I’ve only been blogging and reviewing since early May – I am nowhere near as jaded as other reviewers. No matter what end of the spectrum a person is on, their enjoyment of the story will probably (read: definitely) be very different from yours. Take Bradley Beaulieu’s The Winds of Khalakovo for example. Its rating on Goodreads sits at around 3.37 out of 5. Not very promising to the casual glance, is it? Looking through the reviews, it’s hard to see where the negative reviews come from, as a majority of genre bloggers praise it one way or another.
If a book interests you but many of your trusted go-to reviewers have given it poor reviews for whatever reason, will you still read it? I guess for me it depends on what problems the reviewers had with the book and whether I have the same stance on the problem or not, and even then, if I was really looking forward to the book I might still try it. I remember taking the “gamble” that was reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Empire in Black and Gold a few months ago. It’s in a similar situation to Winds in that it has a fairly average rating. When these several thousand people think the book is mediocre, will I think it’s any better? Despite some minor debut issues, Empire turned out to be a great book and the start to what is already my favorite fantasy series and I’ve only read four of the nine released and ten planned.
Of course, this can work both ways. The classics – the staples of sci-fi and fantasy – are said by many to be must-reads if you call yourself a fan of the genre. Hyperion, Ender’s Game, Dune, The Hobbit. I’ve read Ender’s and The Hobbit, and I enjoyed both. I’ve seen many, many people who love the genre but simply can’t understand how or why any of the staples of the genre are staples at all. They just didn’t work for the people. Whether they don’t think the work has aged well or they just didn’t find it interesting – it’s the magic of literature.
Ratings and reviews certainly play some factor in what I read, but they don’t completely determine what gets tossed onto the monolithic Mount TBR. Sometimes taking these “gambles” are worth it, as was the case with myself and Tchaikovsky. That’s what I love about reading. It doesn’t matter what other people thought of a book, it matters what you thought. The moral of this post is this: take risks, don’t just abandon books because some other people didn’t like a book you thought could be good. You’ll only know if you check it out for yourself.