Well, after doing a short little review exchange with some fine folks that gathered together on the Book of Face, I ended up writing two reviews for two different books (Erik Nelson’s The Snake and the Fox and Gypsy Madden’s Hired by a Demon) as well as recieving two reviews for my book, Garamoush. That being said, I decided that it’d be kind of a neat idea to maybe put the reviews that I wrote here on my blog. After all, if anybody out there is reading this and wants to do a review swap (hint, hint), they’ll know what my editing style is like. Plus, this will also be a better place to set down these more in-depth reviews since they will inevitably have spoilers in them since I’m trying to talk about them as more of a critic and less of a consumer. Really, the reviews for both books mentioned above will be roughly the same as what you see on the book’s respective amazon pages, but I think discussions would be easier to hold on this site.
So anyway, I present first the review of Erik Nelson’s medieval fantasy novel, The Snake the Fox, the first book in the SomnAgent series.
Despite some bumps, I’m ready to read more:
Four stars given. ∗∗∗∗
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW (they will be highlighted in red so you know when they are coming)
Pros: I think the sense of mystery throughout the whole book is one of its primary strengths. Pitt, Nym, the shards, and all of the plans that ran between the Wolves and Rats during the Frozen Stone saga all kept me reading further and the further I went into the book, the more my curiosity rose. I wanted and still want to see what all of those mysteries amount to.
Also, I think one of the other pros about the book comes from its quick pace. In its 500-some pages, it manages to accomplish more than some books that have 200 or 300 more pages. The pacing managed to keep me interested and I wanted to see where the story went and I never felt like things dragged, minus a tiny section in the earlier parts of the Frozen Stone saga where there was a slight over-abundance of introspection and mental reflection.
Speaking of those dream sequences, I ended up really liking the attention to symbolism and dream theory in the last 30% of the book. Both Fippa and Lilium were given lots of time to show us readers the answers to some of the mysteries that we had been wondering about for a while (the waffles, for instance).
Cons: Some of the language felt out of character for the people of a medieval society to be using. Words such as “napalm,” “spotlight,” and “primary education,” felt very out of place for the time period that was being portrayed. Other words like “badass,” “top banana,” “strobe,” felt a bit out of place, too. As a person of the 21st century, I know full well what those words and phrases are supposed to mean, but I have a hard time believing that the characters in a medieval world know what they are. Now, I know that it is entirely possible that those things could exist in a fantasy world, but that leads me to my next point.
Another negative I noticed was that so much of the story was spent on immediately plot-relevant details and the traveling, fighting, and talking that moved the story along, were favoured above developing the world and the characters. Little was given about the settings aside from what was immediately important to the plot, which sometimes left me feeling lost and drifting in an open world I knew little about. Furthermore, because we only got to see what was going on in the character’s heads and in their pasts when the plot demanded it, I wasn’t able to get a good grip on the characters aside from one or two major points per character. To put it more concisely, I knew the characters as characters, not as people.
To follow off of the above point, I’d like to bring up Fippa. While I love characters that are flawed and are a bit broken on the inside- it’s realistic and engaging- but Fippa always managed to confuse me. As he progressed through the Frozen Stone saga, I thought I saw Fippa undergoing some important development. He was learning what it meant to be humbled and that honour could still exist in a world filled with lies and deceit. And yet, at the end of the book, he abandons Slider to die in the cold rather than walk twenty feet and bring him aboard his ship. I have no idea why he would do (or wouldn’t do) such a thing, seeing as how Slider had saved Fippa’s life more than a few times. Fippa also saw his brother Canus sacrifice himself to save his younger brother despite years of abuse. I wagered that would have made more of an impact on Fippa’s perception of companionship and sense of honour and he might have finally realized that it was important to protect those who protect him. But, I guess not.
As a final note in the “con” section: people cry a lot in this book. Even experienced and hardened characters such as I-Nezuumi and Canus end up crying at strangely inopportune times, which seems a bit out of place for their characters and for the situations they are in. It just seemed odd.
In All: Looking back on what I’ve written, it might seem like I disliked The Snake and Fox, but that’s not true. While I don’t think that my points were just tiny nitpicks, I still kept with the story from beginning to end and even set aside a book I was already half finished with just so I could read this one faster. That being said, nothing really bothered me too much about this book (aside from Fippa’s choice at the end. I’m still trying to wrestle with that one). I was kept engaged throughout and wanted to see those mysteries that we were baited on with so often resolved. Needless to say, I think I’ll be buying the sequel soon enough.
So yeah, overall I really did enjoy reading Erik Nelson’s book. Sure there were bumps, but that’s inherent in the first book in a series, particularly when that first book also appears to be the author’s first published book. Regardless, I’m ready to buy the sequel when it rolls around. Those who like a good romp through medieval fantasy land would probably enjoy The Shake and the Fox, as well. It’s a fun journey that’s not too long and its little glitches are easy to look past.
So, with that…
Good luck, you brave writer folk!