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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The Second Five

With my review commitments once again on track (if not completely caught up), I've had time to sit down and dedicate my reading to second batch of titles in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

As was the case last time around, I committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum) of each title, with the hope that one or more books in the batch would be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end. While the last batch had 3 titles that kept me engaged (which was a pleasant surprise), I'm afraid there were none here that I felt compelled to finish.


VJ Lakshman - Mythborn
In terms of presentation, the editor's preface raised serious red flags for me. He begins by selling himself, convincing the reader that he's a man whose judgement is to be trusted, and then goes on to sell the book, telling the reader what to like about it. Tack an author's preface onto that, which sounds just a little too innocent and eager, and any experienced reader of fantasy is going to wonder what they've signed up for.

I tried giving this more than 50 pages, to kind of distance myself from those early doubts, but none of it ever came together for me. I didn't see much more than very basic world building, consisting primarily of setting, without any sort of significance. The characters all fell flat for me, as did their dialogue. The narrative was a bit simple for my taste, not quite bland but fantasy-generic, although it did have a decent flow to it. Maybe it gets better, and maybe there's more development of the world and its characters as the story goes on, but I couldn't find the hook or the spark to keep me reading.


EJ Stevens – Burning Bright
This one I feel bad about not finishing, as it certainly does have promise, and I suspect might work very well for the right audience. The problem is, it's the third book of a series, and diving in mid-series rarely works for me. I liked the characters, but there were clearly nuances to their relationships that went completely over my head. I kept feeling like I was missing something, and without a shared history to justify it, the emotional aspect of their relationships was just annoying.

As urban fantasies go, this does seem to have it all - demons, witches, and fairy creatures - but it didn't really offer anything new or unique to really distinguish it from the crowd. The first-person narrative had just the right about of snark, with some inventive curses, and the dialogue had a solid amount of flair, but that's just not enough for me. Like I said, maybe it's the characters that really distinguish it, but only if you're already invested in them. Having said that, it was very well-paced, with some great action scenes, and a building sense of tension I could already detect early on.


Anthony Stevens – Shifter Shadows
I'm seeing an increasing tendency within the genre to break a story into bite-sized chunks, as if spoon-feeding a generation that lacks the attention span to read beyond a page-turn (or screen-refresh, as the case may be). That just doesn't work for me. I find it both frustrating and distracting. It's hard to settle into a flow and get attached to a narrative when the chapters are little more than scenes, topping out at 2-3 pages in length.

Maybe that's why the story felt so disjointed to me, and why I struggled to make connections as we skipped so quickly through times, places, and people. The opening scenes were interesting, offering up a glimpse of wild people and life in the wilderness, but then the focus shifts to a couple of kids in high school, and that's where the story lost what little interest it had generated. There were some moments of violence that caught my eye, and some insights into the life of a shapeshifter, but they weren't enough to win me over.


Rob Vitaro – By the Light of the Moons
This is a book that had a very young-adult sort of feel to in terms of the language, the narrative, and the plotting. The characters felt much younger than they were really supposed to be, with dialogue that wavered in terms of maturity levels, creating an artificial sort of feel to the interactions where you could feel the author speaking through them.

The other thing that I took away from the first 50 pages is a lack of world-building and scene setting. I came away from it having very little idea what anybody or anything looked like, or where they fit into the overall world. There was some nice action described, and a few moments of humor, but overall it just felt very young and sort of bland.


Claude Blakhen – The Feather and the Swords
Right off the bat, I should point out that this is a translation, and even the most professional mass-market publisher translations can come across as awkward and stilted, robbing the story of the author's original flair and flavor. This may very well be a much better book in its original Polish, but I kept cringing at things like word choices and changes in tense.

There does seem to be some decent world-building and character-building here, and I got a sense of the larger story that I liked, but I struggled so much with the language that it really became a distraction It's a shame, because I suspect this could be a much better book than my experience suggests, but it does need a professional writer or editor to make a thorough pass at the translated text.


CONCLUSION: None of the titles in this batch engaged me enough to read through to the last page, unfortunately. I had high hopes for a few, but they all fell short for different reasons. Burning Bright probably has the most immediate potential, especially for those who have read the rest of the series, but I can't recommend it as a stand-alone title, and I think there's a solid story hidden beneath the language of The Feather and the Swords, but it needs work.

I'll be diving into the next batch following my current read, so we'll see what it brings.

5 comments:

  1. Ouch... not a batch of books that set your world on fire.

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  2. Bummer none were good enough to finish.

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  3. Fingers crossed theres at least one worth finishing in your next batch!

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  4. I know wading through unknown authors is tough. Sorry, you didn't find a diamond in the rough in this group. I'll be hoping the next batch turns out better for you -- and for them!

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  5. I sadly had to pass on one that was the 2nd book in a series, which is a real shame because were it not for that, I have a strong suspicion that it might have come out on top for my batch. It was impressive enough that I want to read it (and the book that came before it, of course, since I'm also not one to jump in mid-series) once this challenge is complete.

    Here's hoping there's a stand-out in your next 5 choices!

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