Two more interesting books in my anonymous SPFBO 8 read every page review series.
This struck me as a book I would have wanted to write when I was in my teens, except in my teens I would have been utterly incapable of doing so! There are lots of references to epic past events and battles, with threads through to the present, and portents of what is to come. Characters are set up as good and evil, only for their positions to be more nuanced than that, if not the inverse of their original position, which is a nice twist, but…
It all seemed rushed. I felt like this book, its storylines and its characters all needed a little more room to breathe, a few more scenes to nail character transformations down and end their arcs satisfactorily in this novel. Instead there was a sense that this would be taken care of in sequels, which is a totally legitimate choice to make, but for me this left this book feeling somewhat unfinished, the events within it not complete on their own.
For this reason I really felt it needed another pass, another edit to provide depth, and catch some continuity errors that popped out at me, especially in the first half where twice events or sentences contradicted themselves within pages of each other. I know that would have been caught with another careful edit or beta read or something, as would some of the characterization whiplash that occurred, and would not have taken much to smooth out, in my humble opinion.
I am squirming as I write this, to be honest, because I’m pretty sure my own writing could be accused of all these issues and more, so I want to own that here. Anyone who has read a handful of my blogs would know how much I “love” editing, and how I probably over did it on my last book – and still errors or inconsistencies will have slipped by because I was too close to the wood to see the trees in front of me. It is always easier to see flaws in the work of others than it is in your own, so I do not point out these things lightly, or in any way considering myself above making the self-same mistakes. I should probably post this paragraph with any review I ever write, because it will always be true.
Having said all that, this is a dynamic world, with well set up adversarial powers, and multiple threads of potential conflict between individuals, groups, nations, and it is really solid. The character development and positioning in this book does set up intriguing future relationships and interactions for the sequels, with a promise that alliances and characters can and will change, given the right circumstances. That is a strong draw. Magic and power-sets within the world also have a well-worked feel to them, with a sense that it will be interesting to witness them interact and battle against each other, to see which will come out on top – something that does not happen in this book, but is signposted for the future, and makes a good reason to find the sequels and check them out.
This one started off going in a definite direction, which I thought was worthy, but my interest started to flag and I actually set it aside for a while.
I came back to it because I wanted to know how the set up was going to be paid off, and in a sense it wasn’t. This ended up being a net positive, as the book took a right turn around one third to half-way through, and for me it totally worked, and became way more engaging: I began to really care about the lead character, whether and how they would survive, and what survival would do to them, and that engagement and concern almost totally eclipsed my interest in the initial appearing arc of the story, and enabled me to mostly ignore the nagging sense of waiting for that first third to return and be resolved.
So I blasted through the second half of this book and loved it – I still wanted the conflict/moral dilemma set up in the first half to be more fully addressed, and in a sense it was referred to and the outcome related and taken as read, but without the experience treated in any of the detail I had expected it to be. The author kind of returned to it in the finale – but the opening half made me think the initial problem was going to be dealt with in a longer, more psychologically nuanced way. To be fair, the issue at question is something that has been discussed many many times over, which is why I think the author decided to show that sequence, then move on from it, as we the readers will be familiar with that scenario and how it typically plays out.
Instead we had multiple characters and storylines drawing slowly together, with the core storyline still dominating, and a real uncertainty as to what would happen both in terms of the narrative and proposed plot points, and in the evolution of the lead character(s). No spoilers as I’m not identifying the books, but death was a real possibility for everyone involved, and did happen to some, which kept the stakes up. I had a sense this was going to be a first book in a series, but could not be certain what shape that continuation would take until almost the last page, which was excellently done and most satisfying.
With the main events and focus of the book shifting away from the opening set up, it became far more compelling as I think the author found their wanted groove. Like #3 this book needed more edits and proofing passes for basic typos, and one unneeded recap of events that could easily have been cut and made no difference to the story. I refer you to my paragraph above again. But I will say the ending won me over, and I was hungry to read more. I think this author could really grow into something special if they can find a way to make the second half of this book inhabit an entire novel, and I am hopeful they will do so – we are all learning as writers, and improve with each book. I am sure lessons will have been learned from this foray into the wonderful world of writing, and they will be applied in future efforts.
So there you have it. I have yet to start book #5 – have to decide which one to go for, but I will carry on! I will probably finish long after SPFBO 8 is done at this rate, but I am enjoying the process.