Extended Thoughts: Prison of Souls

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

Boy, if it takes this much to get ready for Grad School, I can only imagine how much time of mine it’ll devour once I’m actually in it… Yeah, that’s where I’ve been for the last month or so. Graduate school. It already haunts me like a phantom.

Speaking of haunting, which is vaguely related to spirits, I’m here to copy+paste my thoughts about Xander Grey’s excellent Prison of Souls!

 

Have fun~

 


 

Title: Prison of Souls

Author: Xander Grey

Genre: Science-Fiction Mystery

Release Date: September 8th, 2015

Amazon Link: HERE

 


Spoiler territory ahead, naturally.

So, I have to give Prison of Souls props right out of the gate; it’s a rare enough thing for a book to keep my interested from cover to cover. It’s rarer still that I feel like I genuinely cannot put the book down until I see some resolution. I’m an, admittedly, impatient person when it comes to reading; if I don’t find that a book is holding my attention in the first few chapters, I’ll set it aside and see if something else catches my eye/seems more worth my time. I managed to read about a third (hovering somewhere around 120 pages) of Prison of Souls, however, in one sitting.

I’m a huge sucker for these, what I call, ‘oddity plots.’ Prison of Souls’, for instance, hints at a woman without a brain being shot by a man in a trance who has mysterious seizures and no memory of the shooting who also ends up in jail with his childhood bully as a result. So, Souls sets out to already capitalize on the strangeness of its science fiction mythos to engross the audience. And, for me, it really worked. I may start to show this book as an example of restrained, self-aware science fiction. That is to say, science fiction done tastefully right. Nothing that would be categorized as ‘science fiction’ goes too beyond the understanding of basic physics and biology, save for the plot points centered around ‘quantum tunneling’ (which is cool stuff, look it up). However, points like that are mostly explained (in context of the story— we’re never just given a lesson in theoretical physics, thankfully) in the story, meaning there’s not too much background knowledge needed to fully appreciate it, and there’s never too much exposition to grind Soul’s quick pace to a halt.

There is one minor caveat to that, though. And, as it turns out, it makes up one of the most significant (and one of the only) issues with Souls. Its climax centers around Josh’s powers, something never explained throughout the novel (though, I never felt it needed to be explicitly explained [again, I love the element of sci-fi mystery], that was, until this particular part), and how it can be used to draw the Ouroboros into Slaven’s ‘Hell’ dimension.

However, at the (predictably) last moment, Josh’s powers manifest themselves in such a way that could only be called deus ex machina. His powers manifest in the exact way required to rectify his current predicament right at the correct time to save the day. For a power that Josh hardly knew he had his powers until very recently (story-wise), he demonstrates such a level of control as to make it unrealistic. Again, part of what really drew me into the sci-fi elements of Souls is that the primary subject of said elements, Josh, is an overwhelmed everyman who has had power forced upon him merely by chance. That dycodimoy really helps the audience get into the shoes of Josh; we understand his plight (to just get his life back in order and maybe learn some answers about his past, provided it’s not too inconvenient/dangerous) better because it’s undiluted by the machinations and rule sof science fiction superpowers. So, the sudden shift in the novel’s climax, in which Josh’s powers progress further from timely and a mite predictable to downright confusing. Josh becomes nearly godly in his ability to tap into the science fiction space-time stream (I think? I’ve read the section over a few times and, while I get the impression that it’s meant to be ambiguous, the precedent set earlier in the novel got me used to powers that are explained in simple terms rather than in no terms whatsoever) to completely undo the much-more intelligent and numerous Ouroboros in one fatal blow.

Nevermind the suddenness of Josh’s control of a barely-explained barely-showcased power, but that final scene by itself felt rushed to the point of breakneck. Everything up until Slaven and Josh’s fisticuffs was evenly-paced. It was quick but never skimped on key character development and plot progression. And after playing up the mysterious and uncontrollable factor of Josh’s past and his powers for so much of the book, to tie up all of the antagonists into a neat little box with a bow seemed anticlimactic. To that end, the moral choice that Josh looked to have to make inevitably (the one based on if he really should destroy Ouroboros due to their pure-sounding intentions of saving humanity from  a rogue planet) getting reduced down to a much less complex (and, by effect, morally mature) situation that painted Ouroboros as purely evil was a wasted opportunity. This is especially jarring because of the focus on the tangled psyches and pasts of the key characters.

Oh, and I’m no astronomer (though I did study it in college for a semester), but wouldn’t a rogue planet a mere four-hundred years away from Earth be relatively easy to spot much earlier than Ouroboros claims to have seen it? If the scientific community, something that Josh seemed apt to know something of, had discovered such a thing (or even had hints of it), it would no doubt have some kind of presence in the community due to the potential danger. That’s a comparatively minor gripe in an altogether less-than-deal-breaking criticism of Souls, but as I was reading, I was thinking that Ouroboros may have had some pretty shaky reasoning to go back in time and do their whole song and dance.

Still, despite all that, I found myself really enjoying Prison of Souls. It was a deft work that skillfully introduced, followed, and developed all the characters it needed to. There was no excess or fluff to mar the real meat and mystery of the story, which is something I all-too often see in both science fiction and mystery works. Souls chose to focus on what its title suggests, however. That is, on the people (and the souls thereof). It gave a very human context which captured our hearts to the strange elements that captured the imagination. I don’t even care how cheesy that sounded, it’s what I think! And, if anything, I just wish there was a little bit more to the novel. I wanted to see just what a capgras could do, the paranoia Joshua might have once he realized he was being hunted by an organization staffed by face-changing flesh robots, and came to the realization that his enemies could be planted all over the world into places of power one day.

And that’s never a bad thing— if I ever want more from a work, that only means I was unhappy to set it down, unhappy to see it all come to an end.

 


 

Well, I just happened to look at my last review and saw I wanted to do this as a monthly thing. If it wasn’t for blasted grad school (and a brief anime convention in early July), I would have probably possibly met that goal!

Oh well, for next time. And I hope the next book I get to review is as good as this one~

 

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

Extended Thought: The Girl with Red Hair

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

Well, I’m back yet again! The internet just can’t seem to get rid of me, can it? This time I’m back with another indie fantasy book to levy my critical powers at! Which is to say, I’m going to make a bunch of words about another bunch of words.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: The Girl with Red Hair

Series: The Last War Saga

Author: Michael J Sanford

Genre: Fantasy (action-adventure, sword-and-sorcery)

Release Date: May 7, 2016

Amazon Link: HERE

 


 

 

Spoiler territory ahead, naturally.

 

Unfortunately, I think The Girl with Red Hair suffers from the ‘average’ syndrome. It felt straightforward, uncomplicated, and average. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being simple or average, but in the fantasy adventure genre, being less than exciting can be just as damaging as a mystery novel with an extremely simple mystery. This adventure is virtually entirely character-based, which makes the world that the people live and adventure in ultimately feel dead.

There was also a bit too much ambiguity throughout most of the novel. Virtually every character had at least one or two major secrets that are kept from the audience through the use of unreliable narration. I’m all for unreliable narrators- they keep a story deeply rooted in the characters and gives questions for the reader to answer. However, when thy become so compounded (and coupled with a world and situations that the characters are largely unfamiliar with) that they begin to confuse the reader, they are no longer doing a service to the story. Instead, it makes it feel more like the story is just deliberately withholding information for a later date.

Some of the solutions to difficult fights felt a bit contrived. For instance, there were rarely ever instances of the characters doing something clever or concocting a plan to outsmart and outmaneuver their numerically-superior enemies. Instead, they would fight as they always did until they were exhausted and some new arrival, usual in the form of Adelaide’s hidden power, would save the day. In short, the heroes never really need to think outside the box or feel truly defeated- everything (Even their imprisonment in the third act) is merely a minor inconvenience, as they’re still physically and mentally fit enough to continue running/adventuring/fighting soon afterwards. It made the whole story feel rather “floaty,” in that misfortune and difficulties only serve to show how powerful and capable the heroes are with their fighting skills, not to actually pose potentially-lethal challenges.

Because this fits into the action-adventure fantasy genre, I suppose this comes with the territory, but it’s still not an excuse: character depth. Because the majority of this story (and most stories like it) is spent adventuring from place to place and fighting various adversaries, there isn’t much time given to the characters to show who they truly are as people. The author claims that The Girl with Red Hair is inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he runs, which somewhat explains the way the characters act. That is, they fit into neat archetypes based on recognizable in-game classes: the aloof rogue, the boisterous bard, the withdrawn and experimenting mage, the tough and morally strong fighter. Their personalities feel very safe, emphasizing only familiar aspects. I will note both Alexander and Tannyl as points of particular interest, though.

By the end of the novel, I felt well and sick of Alexander, unfortunately. I’ve surmised that there’s some kind of deeper plot-based reason as to why he’s so obsessed with protecting Adelaide, but unfortunately, this does no favours to his personality and likability. More specifically, he becomes more obnoxious as the story continues as he becomes singe-mindedly obsessed with protecting Adelaide; his entire personality is subsumed by that one desire, making him quite flat and uninteresting to see from his perspective and oftentimes grating to see from an outsider’s (meaning, from the view of another character) perspective.

Tannyl, however, was what I felt to be the best and most developed character in the novel. Even though he was the most plagued with what I outlined earlier regarding excessive ambiguity, his internal struggle felt much more real than the other characters’. That point’s particularly odd when one considers that Tannyl’s original companions, Sachihiro and Jaydan, were much more attached to their homes and families, which were destroyed in the first part of the novel. Whereas the latter characters seemed to get over the traumatic loss of the home and family they’ve known for their entire lives fairly quickly, Tannyl maintained a level of emotional complexity rarely seen in the other characters.

I feel as though I should mention Adelaide too, and I think she just happened to be a victim of circumstance with me; the last two indie fantasy novels I read both heavily featured a small, mysterious girl with godly powers and an innocent mindset. So, I was unfortunately turned off to her quite quickly. Looking beyond that immediate reaction though, which is actually a reason why I waited until now to release this review to try to remove that bias as much as possible, Adelaide unfortunately mirrored both Alexander’s single-minded pursuit of one goal and Sachihiro and Jaydan’s fantasy-stereotypical mindset while still being the crux for most of the plot-convenient action solutions in the story; she behaved like a little girl, saying little girl things and thinking in little girl ways, until danger threatened and then her godly powers would activate and pull her friends out of danger.

So, in much the same way that Adelaide is the crux for the story’s plot, she’s also the seed of most of its problems. Her transformation into an older (though not necessarily more mature) woman at the end of the novel may help remedy these issues. It may also give Alexander a few less inhibitions. If you get my meaning. Because I was definitely getting some meanings from him.

 

I think that most of this novel’s flaws could be remedied by just slowing the whole pace down. Let us, the readers, come to know Alexander, Adelaide, Tannyl, and the rest, as people and not just characters. Given that this is a series, I can only guess that the danger will become steadily more mortal as things progress. Fittingly, as the danger becomes more real, the characters need to feel more real, elsewise there will be little emotional investment in the journey and danger. There’s still so much we don’t know about the characters and their world; to a fantasy adventure, a genre that so heavily relies on both of those aspects, that can be fatal if left unattended.

Similarly, I know that this criticism must be tempered against the reality that this is only the first in a series, meaning there is still time to develop these characters and their world. There is ground to be made up, though, as the characters in The Girl with Red Hair ended up hardly progressing (that is, becoming deeper, more complex, and more human) from where they originally started.

But there’s always still hope! It just needs to be willed and worked into reality.

 

 


 

I’m really trying to keep these a more relevant and consistent thing. One review a month (or, at least, one month’s-worth [so, every 30 days]) seems practical. But every time I set a goal like that for myself (cough cough, Lorequest), I end up shunting it by total accident.

So maybe I’ll just keep things ambiguous and infuriating! Like a summer storm, I come, I go, I make you freak out about accidentally leaving your car windows open!

Not even I know what that last one’s supposed to mean. Which makes it all the scarier.

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Rabble Review: Ghost in the Blood

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

I need to stop putting these off. I write these reviews but can’t be bothered to come onto WordPress anymore. I’m so out of practice. Lorequest needs tending, too… Eventually.

Time for more of Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost series!

 

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: Ghost in the Blood

Series: (Book 3) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: December 2, 2013

Amazon Score: 3 Stars (would like to give it 2.5)

 


 

 

 

I had decided to give Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost series one more chance before I threw in the towel. And, blow me down, Ghosts in the Blood is a marked improvement of the two previous entries. It’s the first novel in the series that I could give a recommendation to. It still suffers in some areas, most of which aren’t new or shocking for those who read the first two books, but we’ll get to that.

 

Pros: The cast is expanded much beyond the last two Ghosts entries. Newcomers such as Radast and Ducas are a little one-note and gimmicky, but they’re decent enough characters.

-Heroes and villains are both recurring (as in, they return from earlier books), which gives the narrative a more cohesive feel.

-The villain, while similar to the last two, has an actual presence, inspiring a fair amount of both intimidation and mystery.

-Again, the action’s smooth, easy-to-follow, and entertaining. Unlike the last entry, it’s used much more sparingly, so it doesn’t get old.

-The mood is much more atmospheric and dark than the last two entries, showing a growing maturity in the writer’s skills and construction of a cohesive narrative emotion.

 

Con: This book, like the last two, took itself too quickly. However, unlike the last one, it had enough content set up to make it last and remain interesting throughout.

-The world was much more interesting this time, including folklore and cultural flavor; however, neither of these were fully expanded upon.

-The villain, despite her presence and power, met her end to a deus ex machina plot contrivance, which was disappointing.

-Almost none of the other heroes contribute anything meaningful to the plot— that is, most of their actions in the narrative are waiting for Caina to find everything out for them and then following whatever plan she cooks up. At least they have personalities, though. Mostly, anyway.

 

Overall: I’ll probably come back to this series after a break, but at least there’s that; I’ll be coming back to this series I had serious doubts about before. And Ghosts in the Blood, with its refinements and improvements, is the book that singlehandedly did it.

 

 

Ghost in the Blood’s Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Blood-Ghosts-Book-3-ebook/dp/B005R9IHV8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460050426&sr=8-1&keywords=ghosts+in+the+blood

 


 

 

I decided to do a shorter style of review this time- I actually wasn’t as emotionally-invested as I was in the last review. And this is actually a good thing, considering how utterly nonplussed I was with that last entry. I could have been more invested in this story, but we’ll see what happens in the Extended Thoughts. Except that one to be shorter, too!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Extended Thoughts on Ghost in the Flame

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

I’m back with another Extended Thoughts, this time with Johnathon Moeller’s Ghosts in the Flame. The shorter version is already up, for your reading pleasure.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: Ghost in the Flames

Series: (Book 2) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: December 2, 2013

 


 

As per usual, these Extended Thoughts are more rambling than my regular reviews, but that way it’s got more of my true emotion in it- that extra bit of visceral-ness can really help to express just how challenging this book was for me.

 

Oh, and massive spoiler territory. Naturally.

 

I’d like to start off with the main point of my shorter review. And that’s that the one thing you really can’t do to either sword-and-sorcery/adventure works or works in an episodic series— you cannot make them boring boring. It’s the ultimate sin that kills interest much more than bad writing ever could. Around the 60-70% mark in the novel, I was actually becoming angry at how little the narrative was doing, how nonexistent its pacing was, how frustratingly little the characters seemed to develop, and how flat and one-note the world was. It felt like I was reading the clip-notes version of a larger narrative with everything more complicated than throwing knives and bickering about which obvious villain was the actual villain (which was, incidentally, also obvious).

Alright, here we go then, into detail.

So, Kalastus is clearly the main villain and always has been. Pyromancers, relatively early on, were described as being powerful in sorcery and mentally unhinged to the point of madness. There is only one character in the entire novel who fits that description. Kalastus even has instances where he is clearly behaving like a man who has lost most of his mind. While also using very powerful sorcery. But Ark, paragon of intelligence he is, however, only kept suggesting that the Sons of Corazain, the religious cult based around the Saddai fire god that would be such an obvious villain that no self-respecting narrative would have chosen to be primary villain, must be responsible because they like fire or something. His reasoning was flimsy, at best. So, in the end, Caina was right all along and the villain was in the Magesterium, even though the real kingpin was in her face the whole time.

She really isn’t particularly bright, is she? And Ark’s no 9-watt either.

To wrap up what I wanted to say about the book being an awful bore, I remember my own writing, back when I was still getting a handle on the long-hand form of novel writing, being something like this. As in, the plot didn’t so much advance as it went in ever-widening circles, so advancement of the narrative was almost totally accidental or unintentional. I started to get internally enraged every time Caina had yet another dinner to go to or was attacked yet again in the street by the Sons or snuck out at night yet again (and we mustn’t forget to detail exactly what cloths [always the same] she puts on before doing so) to spook people and sneak around.  Naturally, I was almost livid by the time I finished the book. Livid and bored. It was a surreal combination of emotions, none of them good.

To elaborate just a bit further, though, I will say that this book at least had the potential to be an intriguing and interesting entry into the series, mostly in regards to the plot. Caina really only ever did what I outlined above. Her disguise as Countess Nereide was never fully utilized, in that we were never able to see the rest of the city or the culture dominating people’s lives. Caina could have gone to a funeral, library, workshop, dry dock, or out into the countryside instead of just going to dinner every other chapter. Even the religious service Caina attends in the latter half of the book is only used to further the plot, albeit very minimally. Now, for a countess to do some of the aforementioned things would be strange and would likely blow Caina’s cover. Which is why the disguise of Countess NAME needs to go. Immediately. It was already used once in the Child of the Ghosts, it doesn’t need to make a reappearance from here on out. It restricts Caina to doing the same things I just outlined. Or, the Countess shouldn’t be Caina’s only disguise. It’s already long overstayed its welcome. As has her personality and character as a whole. Unfortunately, since I think she’s on the cover of the rest of the 12+ books in the series, I think her removal is a bit of a pipe dream.

But I have a right to dream, darnit!

There are only heroes and villains in Ghosts in the Flame. A character is either good and fights for good or evil and does the opposite. A notable exception to this rule are the handmaidens that follow Caina (disguised as Countess Nereide). But, given their extremely tertiary role, perhaps this is expected. Otherwise, eventually everybody takes a side to either be fully on the side of the good or fully on the side of evil. Naturally, their swift justice (or rewards) is dealt out by the end of the book. I suppose this should leave a fulfilled feeling inside come the book’s conclusion, but since I can be reasonably sure now that each book in the series will essentially be starting anew, I’m grimly expecting what happened in Child of the Ghosts and now Ghost in the Flame to happen all over again.

Ephaeron was one such character who I felt could have offered an interesting personality to the novel. Being a member of the Magisterium, a supposedly entirely-evil and corrupt government composed of magic-users and their ilk, Ephaeron could have very well been an interesting exception to this almost cartoonishly antagonist organization. Ephaeron, from his first appearance in the book, seems level-headed, rational, and not a terrible person. This was probably his first failing. In the Ghosts series, it seems if you aren’t a hero (or tertiary character) and if you aren’t prepared to help the side of good (Read: The Ghosts), you are automatically a villain. There are no neutral characters who are simply flawed individuals who sometimes to do the right thing and sometimes do the wrong thing.

Speaking of the characters, Caina is one of the prime examples I have nowadays for a ‘convenient conscience’ character. That is, one who only seems to have a conscience or regrets about what he/she’s done when it’s convenient to the plot. Caina, in Ghosts in the Flame, has a few moments of emotional pain because of all of the people she’s killed. And, to be fair, she is very adept at killing the regular folk employed as guards or destitute and disenfranchised people who are clinging to their beliefs, now perverted by hatred and rage. And yet, she seems to be much less efficient at actually killing the real villains in charge.

This is exemplified by this exact quote from the book. Brace yourselves:

“’Those men we killed tonight,’ said Ark, his head on the pillow, his eyes staring at nothing. ‘Do you regret it? Does it weigh upon your conscience?’

‘Do I feel guilty about it, you mean?’ said Caina… ‘No. Not at all. We were only defending ourselves. If we had not fought back, they would have killed us both. But do I regret that we had to kill them?’ Caina sighed. ‘Yes, I regret it. Keenly…’”

I had to read that over about three times before I was convinced I didn’t just hallucinate those two paragraphs. Let’s attempt to nevermind the fact that Caina here essentially is saying that she regrets killing people but doesn’t regret it at all, and examine the greater context and consequence of a character like this. I see this kind of ‘convenient conscience’ characters more and more often nowadays since darker fantasy seems  to be in vogue recently. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, a ‘convenient conscience’ character is only that claims to be burdened by all the mass murder he/she commits, but only when the plot demands it. That is, we as readers are only ever assured that the character isn’t an amoral killer because we’re informed otherwise periodically. However, real psychological trauma doesn’t wait for a quiet bit of downtime to reveal itself. Cognitive dissonance, traumatic flashbacks, and crippling feelings of regret can come on at any time and render an individual a shaking, useless mess.

Not like I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Besides that, though, if Caina hates what she has to do, then why doesn’t she find some kind of way to improve her life? I have little sympathy for characters who hate what they do yet make no attempts to change things for the better. And you may (rightly) say, “But the Ghosts are the Emperor’s assassins. How can she not kill people?”

How indeed? Wouldn’t it just be stunning to see what the author could come up with that would astound and bedazzle us with all of his creative cunning? It is possible. And such a thing would bring Caina’s character out of the doghouse of mediocrity it’s in right now.

Also, Caina’s lack of concern for the Saddai beyond a professional level, is a little worrying. I found myself getting frustrated with her for not realizing that the Sons of Corazain were so numerous and rowdy because of their mistreatment at the hands of the Lord Governor. However, no sympathy ever extends to them— fittingly then, Caina has no inner thoughts about the world at large or her own interpretation of it. Oftentimes, it feels like the world of Caina extends about five feet around her in any given direction. While this kind of construction could be used to show a character being out of touch with the world at large, Caina shows no real interest in anything extending beyond her current mission and nothing is given to us, as readers, to make us believe that the author intended her state of mind to be a larger statement on anything. As far as I can tell, the world is just viewed through a pinhole by Caina and, by effect, us readers. This gives everything she does a very sociopathic kind of feeling, as she doesn’t understand anything beyond her mission and immediate danger. And whatever apocalyptic power is now being set against her. A mindset of extremes, I suppose. Though, it doesn’t much help her character any. Or the world around her.

 

Even the basis of the entire plot, the return of a Saddai Ashbringer, an extremely powerful pyromancer, is flimsy. Even re-reading that sentence after writing it, I was shocked at how flavorless it all is on the surface. Pyromancy, the magical art of creating and using fire, is some of the most straightforward and common magic used throughout the collective high fantasy mythos. Casting fire is, to most readers, neither impressive nor intimidating. Now, that preconception can be subverted. In fact, doing so can be a good shock to the readers’ systems, putting them on edge and opening their minds to new ideas. Traditional Western-style dragons, now mostly seen as an intermediate-level challenge for a hero to slay, are sometimes treated in such a way. When separated from the high-fantasy roots, an armoured, fire-breathing winged monster with an insatiable appetite is very threatening. Pyromancy could have been played in much the same way; even magical fire catches, burns, spreads, and devastates just like it does in the real world. So, rather than random acts of lighting people on fire, the pyromancy in Ghost in the Flame could have shattered expectations of something so common in fantasy literature and drawn more real-world parallels to make the plot more compelling.

As a sidenote, I was apparently correct in my last review of Child of the Ghosts; Every primary antagonist from here on out is going to have some kind of world-ending power, which is likely just the pinnacle of the new magical flavour of the day. In Child, it was necromancy and in Flames, it was pyromancy. Ghosts in the Blood will prominently feature blood magic, I bet my best nickel on it.

And I know this is nitpicking, but Rasadda, the city focused on throughout the story, is apparently created almost entirely out of black stone and decorated with obsidian. This is ridiculous, considering its arid, sun-soaked climate. All of that black would absorb the heat from the sun like blacktop and would make the city unbearably hot. It’s nitpicking, sure, but when you’re constructing a totally fictional world, some measure of logic needs to be used to make said world believable.

 

Okay. So that’s about all I have to say about this one. It was a rough ride, make no mistake. However, I’m still holding out hope that the third book will be the saving grace that keeps me reading at least one book later, just to see how Mr. Moeller’s writing style and good writing sense improves over time. Or doesn’t improve, though I’d really rather see him succeed than not.

This is all a little surreal though, considering there’s so many books for the series out, but still. I’ll be there, cheering for the positive change if it comes, even if nobody else is listening.

Because that’s just the kind of person I am!

 

 


 

 

Ghost in the Blood is up next. And I don’t mind saying, seeing as how I’ve heard over half of it now, that it is already a big improvement.

But how big? And it will it be enough? I dunno! I’ll tell you when I’m done!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

Rabble Review: Ghost in the Flames

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

I’m back. With another entry of Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost series.

Brace for impact, children.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

 

Title: Ghost in the Flames

Series: (Book 2) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: December 2, 2013

Amazon Score: 1 Star (would have liked to give it 1.5)

 


 

 

Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost in the Flame, second in the Ghosts series, has committed the ultimate sin of sword-and-sorcery/adventure fantasy literature: it’s boring.  I apologize for being potentially overly-frank with just my opening statement, but I feel it’s within prospective buyer’s best interests to know the real crux of the opposing argument as early as possible. But let’s get more specific.

 

Pros: Ark, a series newcomer, is much more interesting than Caina or anybody else has been up until this point. Take that for what you will.

Like the last entry, the action scenes are all fluid, easy to follow, and quick. Although, they do wear out their welcome about midway through the book.

 

Cons: Caina, an ultimately flat and uninteresting character, is the only perspective in this book. This is a change from the previous installment in the series. I got tired of hearing her voice very early on.

The plot is essentially the same three events happening in a loop until the heroes are smart enough to realize the very obvious answers in front of their faces. Once you see one fight in a street or dinner with a noble, you’ve seen the next eight to come.

As an extension of the above, the heroes are even more staggeringly dim-witted when it comes to missing key and obvious plot details.

The novel has very little beyond its action scenes, which do get old quickly because of the slogging plot.

 

In short, and this is the worst offender of them all, this book is simply boring. It does little to nothing on an emotional level, instead preferring to focus almost entirely on the surface-level events like those previously mentioned. The writing isn’t particularly flawed or difficult to read, it’s that it’s so painfully serviceable in a plot that doesn’t so much go forward as it makes ever-expanding circles until it eventually reaches the end as a result.

A lot of my previous complaints from the last entry in the series are present here, too. The world is malnourished and underdeveloped, and the characters are lackluster, oftentimes being shockingly one-dimensional. Even Ark, the series newcomer, isn’t enough to salvage the novel. Perhaps if every character had his level of development, Ghost in the Flame would be a little more interesting, perhaps even worth a tentative recommendation.

As it stands, though, this is a step backwards from the already-underwhelming first entry.

 

Overall: The first one was better; it’s not a good thing.

 

Ghost in the Flames‘ Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Flames-The-Ghosts-Book-ebook/dp/B005G69H5C

 

 


 

 

I feel like I want to give this series one last look before burying it (and possibly myself) for good. I can’t tell if that’s just my inherent optimism getting the better of me or if I’m slowly becoming a masochist. God help me if it’s both!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer (and reader) folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Extended Thoughts: Child of the Ghosts

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

A double post on the first day I’m back? Amazing! Or totally predictable, since I hinted that I’d be doing this in the last post, the shorter version of this review. And I follow through with my recently-made promises! Because then I won’t have the chance to up and forget…

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: Child of the Ghosts

Series: (Book 1) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: January 2014


 

 

…Child of the Ghosts, the first novel in Johnathon Moeller’s The Ghosts series, is Mistborn minus anything worth reading. But don’t worry, I won’t be referencing Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn throughout this, I just thought it was the most pithy and condensed way I could sum up my feelings for Child of the Ghosts

I added that in for continuity’s sake before beginning this Extended Thoughts session, just to keep things relevant. Unlike my original review this one’s going to be a bit more ramble-y as I talk about not only Child of the Ghosts, but the fantasy genre as a whole.

Oh, and spoilers, naturally. Including a very old Harry Potter spoiler too, I guess.

 

Characters and Their Lack Thereof:

There were no characters worth getting invested in, frankly. The story was so uncomfortably fast and slipshod that I, by the end of the book, didn’t remember most of the characters names, anything about their pasts, or their personalities. And unfortunately, most of the characters who I did remember I did not do so fondly. The primary characters, Caina, Halfdan, and Maglarion, all fit neatly into clichés, rendering them totally indistinguishable from the hundreds of other flat fantasy characters I’ve read. The only potential exception to this rule is Laeria Armalas, Caina’s mother.

To summarize: Caina is the clichéd broken young woman who tries to piece her life back together and change her ways when it’s plot-convenient. Otherwise, she’s totally content to slaughter her way through her fellow human beings without a thought, only to lament for a couple of sentences a few paragraphs later. Rinse and repeat. I was originally going to write, ‘…piece her life back together and change what she doesn’t like about herself.’ Except then I remembered that I have no idea what Caina thinks about herself, if she likes herself as a person, or if she’s concerned with how others see her. Caina, by and large, is a vessel to propel the plot forward and to throw knives. So to be honest, whatever trouble she finds herself in (which isn’t much, creating a dry, arid feeling throughout most of the plot) isn’t particularly gripping because I don’t care much about Caina or what happens to her.

Villain’s-wise Maglarion essentially Voldemort, though he’s opposed by a gaggle of assassins collectively holding the idiot-ball instead of a well-organized grassroots movement of concerned, well-fleshed-out individuals. That’s really about it— he desires eternal life and the death of everybody in Malarae for reasons never explained beyond it just being the evil necromancer thing to do instead of going into retirement. Lord Haeron, the walking, ‘hate me, I’m a scumbag with no redeeming qualities,’ character and painfully obvious sacrifice-to-be in Maglarion’s plans, is precisely as described. I mean, when you make a deal with the devil, you end up either getting through into hellfire or fiddled to death. Either way, it’s a predictable (and thus, largely unsatisfying) end.

However, we can turn to Laeria now after quickly poking fun at Halfdan: I actually thought he was dead, considering how clichéd the rest of the book was, I finished the book and quickly forgot what his ultimate fate was so I just assumed he had gone the way of Obi-Wan and Dumbledore. He did not, however, his entire character and fate just escaped my mind mere days after finishing the book.

So, the character of Laeria Armalas, who is, again, Caina’s mother, represented one of the few potentially deep and interesting character-to-character interactions. Being Caina’s mother, who is none-too-happy with her daughter (for reasons unknown, honestly), brings up the potential for an interesting dynamic with the heroine. For some background, Laeria is a magic-user but is singularly untalented. She, according to Caina, had trouble making a goblet float via her own power, so she appealed to Maglarion in order to boost her strength. Furthermore, Sebastian (Caina’s father) fathoms that the reason why she married him was because Laeria had been kicked out of the Magisterium for generally being terrible at magic; she suspected that Sebastian would rise above his current status and become a lord strong enough to force the Magisterium to accept her back.

It was at this point (less than 5% through the novel), that I thought Laeria could be an interesting character: her lack of power, weak sense of self (due to her seeking approval from her magical betters), and tumultuous relationship with husband and daughter opens up an avenue rarely seen in fantasy, especially sword-and-sorcery. It’s all too common for the antagonist to wield some kind of tremendous power and be totally unrelated to the hero aside from the, “You two must fight because one is the hero and one is the villain,” idea of fantasy. Yes, that was a subtle stab at the character of Maglarion. But, for Laeria, what kind of emotional and psychological barriers could we see her overcoming and battling with or even using as a shield against Caina’s eventual revenge? Will Laeria eventually conclude that Maglarion isn’t the master she thought he’d be, creating a parallel between him and Sebastian and causing Laeria to go her own way and become a recurring element of humanity to Caina’s life?

I’ll give you a hint; it’s none of those things. She’s killed before the 10% mark when Caina hits her with a fire poker. And come the end of the novel, there’s not a single character that could replace Laeria and be a new character with some actual potential.

And I had hinted at it before, but I want to make it explicit now— the Ghosts, as an organization, are really almost frustratingly stupid. Though, they’re more of a casualty of the plot than they are of bad characterization (though that is also an undeniable factor). For instance, it’s known early on that Maglarion’s bloodcrystal is a huge source of power and is fed by Maglarion’s rituals, implying (even without it having to be explicitly spelled out) that it will continue to grow in power. So, rather than try to kill Maglarion with the deus ex machina spear-of-magic-killing, destroying the bloodcrystal would rob Maglarion of his power and render him easy to kill, provided he didn’t just die on his own from the shock of his power leaving him.

I remember having figured this all out before the ghostsilver spear even showed up— and once it did appear, I spent the next few chapters flipping (metaphorically/electronically) through the next few chapters just to see if I was right.

I was. I wished I had been proved wrong.

And I had hinted at it before with Maglarion and Lord Haeron, the villains in Child of the Ghosts are just so painfully villainous. They don’t behave like human beings with human wants, desires, histories, pain, hope, and joy. I found myself thinking of the two main villains as mustachioed bandits twirling their long black whiskers just because they were that one-dimensionally evil. Which is boring and uninteresting, by the way.

Plot, Tension, and Questionably-Done Stakes: Okay, here’s the thing— oftentimes these heroic/sword-and-sorcery fantasies function on a very simple kind of plot device, the end of the world (or a close equivalent). Most people would rather the world not end, particularly in the myriad of painful ways dreamed up by fantasy authors. However, most people think that way because the world is worth living in and their lives are worth living. And yet, if a story doesn’t instill in us, the readers, a love for the people and place, why should we care about the fate of the world? Starting off a series with the, ‘World is at stake,’ plot device means that there’s really nowhere else to go from there— no villain will be more powerful than the one that threatens all life. So, the character of Maglarion is even more wasted when one considers that The Ghosts is a very large series, and I predict that the villain of each book will wield a similar, ‘destroy all life,’ kind of power. And yet, because we’re being scrubbed clean of the last villain just to have the new one replace him/her, we never get the chance to really learn about the world and its people. Thus, no matter what villain appears and no matter what power he/she is wielding, it’ll never actually make us care.

To wrap that up: We’re never given time to just examine the characters and see them just being people. Ultimately, we come to know these characters as assassins, fighters, necromancers, etc. but never as simply human beings. And yet, even that feels very bland and malnourished. I know I said I wouldn’t reference Mistborn in this, but I think it needs to be said that Mistborn had a similar cast of characters, but its world and magic system were what set it apart and kept it entertaining. Meanwhile, in Child of the Ghosts, I hardly even know anything about the world (a map may have helped) beyond what’s strictly and immediately plot-relevant. And, with no magic beyond the fantasy clichés of necromancy, telepathy, and blood magic, I was never even invested to see what came next out of that aspect of the story.

This all culminates it something I’ve been writing and stewing about for the past year or so: positive and negative tension. I wrote extensively on the subject for my thesis work at the end of undergrad, and this book helped me to realize that I hadn’t just been blowing smoke that whole time. Positive tension, essentially, is the feeling created when an author (usually in fantasy, but it’s conceivably applicable to any genre) capitalizes on a kind of aura of invincibility around a character which keeps him/her safe from harm. For a variety of reasons, characters (usually the main protagonist) can become invincible in all but name. As in, they will never die and never become wounded or crippled in a way that cannot later be healed. As a side note, Caina’s inability to have children, curtesy of Maglarion’s ritual, doesn’t count as it does not consistently hamper Caina’s physical or mental health. Fitting of a character like that, when danger does come knocking, the tension created isn’t based out of the question, “Will this character make it out in one piece?” as much as, “What new trick or clever idea will the character use to get out of this?”

The difference between those two is that the latter is wholly unrealistic, turning life-or-death combat into a magic act; we all know that a magician, if he or she is sufficiently skilled, will pull of the trick at hand with no real danger, no matter how realistically the magician may be sawing the assistant in half. Instead, we as the audience, are merely standing by the see how spectacular it all is. Positive tension makes the reader want to see how entertainingly a situation can end, whereas negative tension makes us as readers hope that the situation will unfold devoid of catastrophe.

Child of the Ghosts is made up, down to the genetic level, of positive tension. Even if Caina’s plans and adventures deviate from their original goal (being discovered and having to fight her way out of a tight spot seems like an already-old favourite), there’s never a sense of real danger, merely a short-lived inconvenience that serves to set up the next bit of action. It’s after revelations like this that I’m happy the book was so short, otherwise I likely would have never had the patience to finish it.

As an extension of that last point, I had figured Alistair, Caina’s noble lover, would meet his bloody end— his involvement in Caina’s life would have made it too complicated and would take emphasis away from the constant stream of action that makes up the lifeblood of the novel. So, perhaps undulling cynically, I knew he would have to die, lest he complicate the straightforward-as-an-arrow plot.

Ultimately, the Ultimate Ultimatum: So, we come to the rambling end again. And my position is still unchanged— Child of the Ghosts is too boring, narrow, and devoid of joy for me to recommend. But it’s not offensively bad and is free on Amazon. So I guess there’s that.

Oh, and what I mentioned in my shorter review about the writing still holds up upon a re-examination. Every other line has to be extenuated with a heavy bass note and a martial-arts movie zoom-in just to show how incredibly dramatic every drab, predictable turn of events was.

I’m also reading the next book in the series now. Spoiler alert: the writing style is much the same.

 


 

 

This series was started in January 2014 and there’s already at least 17 books out for it? Christmas crackers, I’ll be reading these from now until Judgement Day…

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folks!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Rabble Review: Child of the Ghosts

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

Well. Here I am again. It’s not flash fiction, it’s not Lorequest, it’s a book review! I’ll be doing more of these in the future. I did a few in the past, mostly about the SomnAgent series and I want to continue doing them, mostly on indie fantasy and science fiction. Because I’m a rabble-rouser and I want to make sure I want to pick fights with works I know how to talk about extensively!

Speaking of ‘extensively,’ I’ll be doing an Extended Thoughts to all of my reviews so I keep myself from babbling on further than what’s warranted.

 

Anyway, once again and as always, have fun~

 


 

 

Child of the Ghosts, the first novel in Johnathon Moeller’s The Ghosts series, is Mistborn minus anything worth reading. But don’t worry, I won’t be referencing Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn throughout this, I just thought it was the most pithy and condensed way I could sum up my feelings for Child of the Ghosts.

But okay, let’s get a little more specific.

Pros: I liked the little bits of voice we heard from the narrating main characters— it helped to outline their personality (tiny bits of it anyway) and made for entertaining little tidbits.

The action scenes were quick, coherent, and got the job done.

It was short. Which, given the list of cons, is a blessing.

Cons: The characters were, by and large, one-dimensional, uninteresting clichés that are already rampant in the fantasy genre. Nothing new is brought to the table in terms of character.

Unfortunately, nothing new or interesting is brought via plot, either. It proceeds in one strictly defined direction and lacks for interesting or thought-provoking twists and turns that would otherwise engage the reader outside of simply experiencing a string of plot-driven events. Combined with the lackluster characters, it makes the entire experience a singularly uninteresting read.

The world, people (meaning, the culture of the population at large, not individual characters), and system of magic is, at best, vague and sparse in details, or, at worst, clichéd. For a non-spoiler example of the latter, necromancy and blood magic are the prime evils in this novel, which has been done by some many, many other fantasy series (virtually every one that springs to mind which employs said magic).

The writing itself is often stilted and clumsily constructed. Too often will a small ‘twist’ happen in a chapter and, judging by the formatting and pithy writing employed, it will be played off as being of tremendous import, practically warranting a ‘bum bum bum!’ sound effect. Which seems campy to say in a review, but it was campy to read many times over in a book, as well. It gave everything a strange aura of silliness that was hard to shake.

Overall: I can’t say that I liked Child of the Ghosts, nor would I recommend it, though it is generally inoffensive. Which may just be a more diplomatic way of saying, ‘bland, drab, and generally dull.’

 

Child of the Ghost’s Amazon link for those who are interested: http://www.amazon.com/Child-Ghosts-Jonathan-Moeller-ebook/dp/B0052Q9WFQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458623012&sr=8-1&keywords=child+of+the+ghosts

 


 

 

Not sure how I feel about this new post-constructor page on the site. Too big, white, and open-ended. It’s like starting a new piece of writing and realizing that your mind is completely blank. Except, that never happens to me, because I still never get writer’s block!

Ha! Anticlimax!

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.