Extended Thoughts on Ghost in the Flame

 

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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!

 

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Rabble Review: Ghost in the Flames

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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!

 

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Extended Thoughts: Child of the Ghosts

 

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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!

 

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Rabble Review: Child of the Ghosts

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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!

 

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The Shadows and the Innocence Review

 

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Hello again friends, here’s my next attempt to brutally stab (I think I mixed up my phrases there) at reviewing the novels of my peers. This time, I’m tacking a crack at Erik Nelson’s next novel in his Somnagent series.

You can buy it here, by the way. It’s got a snazzy new cover now. Or, at least it’s new to me!

 

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

 

I still don’t know if I’m doing this whole reviewing thing right, but I’ve decided to cut up this review into two parts, the “Short” and the “Long” review. They should both be rather self-explanatory. The ending “In All” statement could apply to either, so feel free to read it regardless of whether or not you choose to read the both the “Short” and “Long” review or just the latter.

 

The Short Review:

 

Pros: Similar to the previous book, the sense of mystery is prevalent again. However, just enough is given to push the reader onward but not reveal too much.

The stakes have been raised both emotionally and physically. More powerful characters begin to enter the fray such as Raven’s “children,” and Mortello. The narrative has a more escalated sense of scale that makes the actions of the individual characters more engaging overall.

The quick pace is retained from the last book— it never gets hung up on anything that isn’t moving the plot forward. While this is sometimes at the expense of character development, it doesn’t change the fact that the story still moves along at an enjoyably quick pace.

Compared to the last installation, the descriptions of the action sequences have been much more refined. Nelson has greater control over the choreography of the characters in larger-scale action sequences and their conclusions are more satisfying without sacrificing the velocity of any given encounter.

 

Cons: The second half of the book left most of those aforementioned powerful characters and raised stakes behind in favour of focusing solely on Slider and Lillium. While said section was still enjoyable, it detracted from the greater scope of things and brought the reader away from the actions that had the highest stakes attached to them.

Lillium’s and Slider’s psyches also seemed a little too easy to control. The character’s personalities had not significantly shifted, though they claimed to be better people as a result of defeating the demons in their heads. Slider in particular has not made very significant progress as a character and has stayed mostly the same since beginning his journey.

 

The Long Review:

 

I chose not to place the character Nym into either Pro or Con due to my mixed feelings about her. While she does provide some of the most compelling mystery in the entire narrative and her upbeat personality does a serviceable job filling the gap made by Fippa’s absence, her presence can be a little jarring or derailing sometimes. Her constantly-cheerful personality can be sometimes placed against backdrops of death and destruction and, especially when paired with Pitt’s ambivalence, can create an unharmonious emotional palette in some scenes. Additionally, her enormous powers seem to act as a safety cushion for some of the characters; so long as Nym is happy with the way things are going, we as the readers who are aware of her great power, can expect things to work out alright. It almost spoils the fun of it all.

 

 

Raven had a kind of villain gestation period in the last third of the first book, so it was refreshing to come back and see him again. However, I felt that Raven was an underused character in the novel, however. His presence was pleasantly felt in the first half of the novel; his children especially became enjoyable new additions. The children did add more to that feeling of heightened tension and power that I had mentioned previously. However, both Raven and his children disappear midway through the book and their absences are felt.

As mentioned before, this second book brought something new and very intriguing into the series— a sense of real power and mystery. Characters like Pitt, Nym, Raven, and Lillium were investigated (in regards to their sources of power and their ability to use it) more in-depth than before and their ambiguous natures combined with colossal power gave the novel a feeling of heightened tension and raised stakes. Coming from the more regular characters of Slider and Fippa in the first novel, Shadow’s focus on its more magical characters brought injected a new sense of life into its narrative.

Unfortunately though, the focus on the characters switches around the midway point back to Slider. I felt like Slider’s more linear and uninformed (meaning, he is not as worldly and does not have any real knowledge of the plot undercurrents) detracted from the growing feelings of suspense and power created in the first half. The ending in particular, which will almost certainly lead into the next installment, seemed to arrive suddenly with minimal warning or expectation, likely due to Slider being largely ignorant of events outside of his immediate focus. Turning the lens back onto those earlier mysterious characters and back towards Raven probably would have helped to keep the reader better informed about more worldly events and their true importance could have been underlined for effect.

While the plot of Shadow moves very quickly, though I would argue it moves perhaps too quickly. We as readers see plenty of Slider being a rogue, Raven being the regent, and so on, but we rarely see the characters simply be people. Depth of character, including those little things that make us all people (hobbies, favourite kinds of humour and food, etc.), never comes out strongly due to the movement of the plot being of paramount importance. I think I stressed this in the review for the first book as well, but I think it is worth doing so again.

However, a point of improvement over the first book would be the elaboration on the fictive world and how it all ran. The roles of the Guilds were elaborated on and now it makes more sense when a member of a given Guild takes an action against another. It all factors in to that earlier idea of giving the story’s events more weight; with some more background about why things are happening and how they happen, we as readers can reason for ourselves that particular events may be more important than they immediately let on to characters that are less culturally-aware (see: Slider).

 

In All: Despite the gaps in information with the villain’s plot and plans and the very slow development of the main character, I think there is more than enough mystery and sense of awe to keep the energy of the story going onto its next sequel. With the raised stakes, I can only think that the next book in the series will continue that upwards climb and make the oncoming events even more interesting. All that needs to fall into place now is some stronger character development and a greater sense that the world around the characters is living and breathing independent of their actions. Otherwise though, the next book promises to give plenty of space— all the space that is necessary to make the series reach even higher heights.

If I had to give this book an exact numerical score, I’d say 3.65. However, since Amazon hates fractions, I decided to round up.

 

 


 

 

It’s weird not having to put a blue frog onto the bottom of this post. And not adding any pictures like my Lorequests. What’s that? I still need to do one or two Lorequests for this month? Says who?

Says me, I guess. Too bad the other voices in my heads are speaking louder than what Lorequest is saying.

 

 

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

 

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Hired by a Demon Review

 

Yup, here we are again right away with another review. This time I’m reviewing Gypsy Madden’s 2012 fantasy novel, Hired by a Demon. Like I mentioned in my last review/overview, this review will have plenty of spoilers, but that is so that critical conversation can occur more easily here than on Amazon.

 

So, with that, on with the review of Gypsy Madden’s Hired by a Demon.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Bumpy and a bit confused at times, but not all bad

Three stars given: ∗∗∗

WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW (they will be highlighted in red so you know when they are coming)

 

Pros: There’s lots of potential throughout the story. I think it could really reach its potential if the world’s inner workings were just expanded upon and the characters were all developed a lot more. Either way, there’s a lot of wiggle room deep in the story and/or, if there is a sequel, the mythos and characters could all make for a good story if they were expanded on more.

Oh and I liked the gargoyles. I really liked their fun mannerisms, like magical stone dogs. I really wish I saw them come in towards the climax to bring some lighthearted and charming spirit to help alleviate the dour mood of the ending events.

I was also excited to see in the beginning of the story (in Vara’s perspective) that the modern-day world might be blended with a magical one. Usually magic is segregated to a medieval time period, so it was refreshing to think that it could be woven into a world very much like our own. This was only somewhat true, however, as there still appears to be a large separation between magical and non-magical worlds.

 

Cons: Vara and Austin are pretty much useless. Vara’s actions and ineptitude are more or less the cause of everything bad that happens in the entire story. Not only that, but when she isn’t being manipulated or duped into doing something bad (such as releasing the demons or taking Laris to the demon realm), she’s being blamed for something that she realistically couldn’t prevent, such as Laris and Richard giving Vara and Derek the slip early in the story.

Austen… oh, Austen. While Vara might have set up all of the problems that occur during the story’s plot, it’s Austin’s staggering incompetence that allows those problems to actually become dangerous. He starts off by failing to guard Laris and throughout the rest of the story he contributes very little. His attempts at hunting the wolf fails, the hunters he hires fail, there’s even an entire chapter where he is just pinned to the ground and beaten up by demons. It didn’t exactly contribute very much to the story.

It made me hard to root for the characters when they so routinely failed their tasks or were duped into doing something against their will. I thought that this problem would be dealt with by the end of the book and, in a way, it was. Except, it was done in a way that ultimately harmed the book rather than helped it: Deus Ex Machina.

Yes, Deus Ex Machina rears its head in this tale. Vara’s discovery of her inner “god-power (something I’m still a little lost on)” at the precise moment when she needed it, despite the oft-reinforced point about her painfully average magical ability, is very reminiscent of Deus Ex Machina. I would also lump the reveal of Vara’s mother as a “god” to be in a similar vein. The fact that the story makes little to no mention about Vara’s mother’s power or status makes this reveal of a point which is incredibly important to feel random and almost impulsive.

Moving right along though, Vara, Austen, Vara’s mother, father, Laris, Laris’ father, Derek, and Lulu (most of the cast, actually) very rarely get time to develop as characters. The plot moves forward at such a breakneck pace that I never got to learn about the characters aside from what was immediately necessary to know. While that’s acceptable and encouraged during the quicker parts of the book, there was never a moment in the book where I felt like I could just sit and enjoy the character’s character. Needless to say, the random reappearance of Vara’s mother and father, the startlingly out-of-character power-grabbing of the former and of Laris’ father, and the introduction of Lulu and Vara’s brother as the wolf spirit (yet another thing I’m still trying to comprehend) came out of the blue at best and directly contradicted a character’s personality at worst. For instance- why would Vara’s mother arrive just in time to take Laris’ power for herself (meaning, she knew about the job her daughter was involved in and the danger she was in too) and place her daughter in even more danger when she clearly appeared to be a caring mother?

            I don’t know the answer to that and the story never slows down enough after that point in the plot to explain why Lara’s mother would do such a thing.

 

The World: There’s a very distinct difference between being sparing with your world-creating, such as allowing the readers to fill in things on their own, or spreading sporadic bits of information throughout the story to avoid a knowledge dump, and not building up a world at all. There’s so much happening behind-the-scenes in the background and history of the world in this story and its slim 250-ish page count just can’t do it justice. For instance: is this our world or a totally fantasy world? What is the relation between regular humans and magical humans/demons? Why are the Nature Children kept as slaves/when did that happen/how does that relate to the world at large? Is magical passed down by parents or is it something that can be learned? Are the Nature Children actually anthropomorphic animals? They are often referred to as “fur rugs” and the like, but there is never any mention of things like muzzles, claws, digitgrade or plantigrade legs, tails or anything else that might help to define them as being exactly bestial in nature.

Furthermore, I’m sorry to see that the world, in general, lacks originality. The demons are very clearly plotting and devious- as demons usually are. They live in a place that is very reminiscent of hell. The Nature Children live in heavily-forested areas. The magical government is full of corruption and runs the same way any non-magical government would. The latter reminds me quite a bit of Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic, even down to the investigation/court room which features only a singular chair in the middle and the ministers up top.

Also, the ending was… confusing. Vara, who again and again has proven herself as startling incompetent with things both magical and corporeal, is placed at the head of the magical government. Despite her young age and relative inability to tap into her hidden “god-power,” she is placed in charge of a very powerful governing body because she managed to displace the previous leader. The Roman Empire went through a period of its history where that kind of government reigned supreme. It was called the Crisis of the Third Century and its name should speak for itself- without adhering to succession laws, the powerful replaced the less-powerful on the throne and anarchy swept across the empire, almost bringing it to an end. I bring this up because the idea that a relatively young person could be placed into a role of such power without a sense of irony on the author’s part or trepidation on the in-world character’s part rubs me as being very strange.

The flaws in both character and world development also didn’t help the story any when it came to the climax and ending. Since I had little idea what the world was about and wasn’t given much time to really bond with the characters as human people and not just as characters, the ending fell a bit flat for me. I didn’t feel like anything was really at stake and needed protecting because I wasn’t told much about the world to begin with.

 

Overall: Really, I think what this story really needed/needs above all else is more space. It needed more space, upwards of one-hundred more pages to really give the characters, world, and plot the time they need in order to function well. The plot, unfortunately, ran over things like character and world development which made me feel like I was being left behind as a read, seeing all of the events from a distance. Compound this with the constant failure of the characters to accomplish or solve anything and the less-than-inspiring setting and mythos and I admit that my interest was waning towards the end. Still, if the author refines her work and skills, I think she can make something really interesting out of her world and characters.

 

 


 

 

Needless to say, I think that Hired by a Demon had good ideas scattered amongst its narrative, but the information was simply too scant to really get me to dive into the world or characters. If there is ever a sequel, I’d really like to see the author expand all of the story’s aspects three-fold.

Which is kind of redundant considering what I already said above… but that just shows that I mean it!

 

So, with that…

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folks!

 

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The Snake and the Fox Review

 

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.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

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!

 

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