A while back I sent Sojourn in Captivity to be reviewed by Red City Review. The five-star feedback was humbling and kind. You can find the official link here.
What I’d like to do most is take a moment to talk about one particular compliment.
“Essential plot pieces are set in place here for future series entries, but the real attraction is Weech’s world-building. Animals, trees and plants, domestic customs, and planetary weather phenomena are all described in detail, giving a well-formed view of life on Oron.”
The Perception of War series is huge, and my goal is to provide a truly universal story. This means the planets need to feel real. The aliens need to feel authentic. Is that what everyone will think? No. But it is my goal to help a number of readers feel like they’re on different planets interacting with creatures.
That comment from Red City Review was particularly validating because it showed that the effort I put into making Oron and the Seferam feel authentic worked, at least for that reviewer.
Honestly, I would have been elated for them to say that the world building was good, so to have the reviewer say the world building was the real attraction was actually a surprise, but a welcome one.
I’ve said a few times that I always strive first to have compelling characters. My new logo proclaims, “Great Characters. Clever Plots.” I want to stand behind that, but I also strive to grow with each project I work on. If I’m going to grow as a science fiction / fantasy author, I need to have immersive worlds, and this review indicates I’m off to a good start.
In related news, Sojourn is entered into the 2019 Red City Review Book Awards. I haven’t heard anything regarding whether or not it’s a finalist, but I’m hopeful. I truly do think Sojourn is a fantastic story (even if it’s short).
My hope is the review might convince you to give it a try if you haven’t already. If you have, even if you hated it, I’d sure appreciate a rating and review on Amazon or Goodreads.
Happy New Year! I hope that the previous year was full of love and joy, and I hope this next year is even better!
Spoiler Free Summary:Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon is the fourteenth story in the Alien Days Anthology. Dan had written a paper regarding potential methods for planetary defense from aliens. While holding the rejection letter from his educational peers, he ironically faces the very threat he was afraid of.
Character: This didn’t work for me. The biggest reason is that while Dan is a character, this story is far more like reading a military defense or scholarly essay than a story. I had go back and scan the story just to recall that much.
Exposition: This is probably the biggest area of improvement for this story. It had more exposition than anything else, which made this a particularly difficult story to get through and then remember when it came time to write this review.
Worldbuilding: I can’t reveal the reason this area is so weak because it would be a spoiler to the plot twist at the end (or at least I think that’s what it was supposed to be). However, that plot twist isn’t foreshadowed or teased at all, so it just seems to come out of left field. The smallest bit of worldbuilding would have helped with that problem.
Dialogue: This is non applicable since there wasn’t a single conversation or spoken word in the entire story.
Description: The only description I remember from this story was the detail put into the papers on which the essay or memo was written. Again, the ending would have been more rewarding if there was more (I do vaguely recall some details about Dan) description in the story.
Overall: Regrettably, this story reads like a scholarly paper with brief, impersonal interludes into the life of the one who wrote it. There’s no conflict at all to speak of. There’s not lesson learned for the character. There’s no journey. I just didn’t find it entertaining or compelling at all.
Spoiler Free Summary: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series. Kell is one of the few people alive who can travel across dimensions, which in this story revolve around alternative versions of London. As an adopted son of the royal family in Red London, he’s a messenger from one king to another. Since Black London was sealed off, strict rules exist about transferring objects from one London to another. That doesn’t stop Kell from doing it. When he accepts something that truly brings danger on not only himself, but also the world, he ends up in Grey London, where is’ promptly robbed by Delilah Bard. Can they work together to not only escape those who are after them, but put right what Kell’s impulsive actions set wrong?
Character: For me, Delilah steals the show. I didn’t see Kell’s relationships enough to understand his motivations. I also don’t understand his motivation very well. I’m not saying it isn’t explained, but I don’t necessarily feel that connection. Delilah, however, experiences situations that help me connect with her better, and this might be why the book didn’t quite grab me the way it did pretty much the rest of the world.
Exposition: Any time you have a first book in a magic series, you’re going to be a bit heavy on the exposition. The reader needs to learn the magic system, get to know the characters, and understand the world. This book has essentially three worlds to refine. Then there is the culture. Fans who like broad, varied settings will love this (see below). However, all the (pardon the unintended pun) dimensions required explanation. This is the second of two (see above) reasons why I think this book didn’t really hit the home wrong. If I’m keeping the baseball metaphor, I’d say this was (for me) a double. But it was hard to get into the story and follow the characters amid the three Londons and magic system and history lesson crammed right in the middle of the plot.
Worldbuilding: This is where Schwab simply shines. The meticulous detail she put into this concept is obvious. It’s fascinating to see a magical twist on parallel realities. Then she went so far as to establish histories and cultures for each London. I think this is one reason why this book has received so much acclaim. This just goes to show you what works for one doesn’t always work for others. All the greatest worldbuilding doesn’t really sell me if I can’t get behind the character. Delilah kept me moving through the book, and this spectacular worldbuilding made the story more interesting.
Dialogue: While there’s still a certain amount of thinly veiled exposition in this dialog (normal in any book, especially fantasy), Schwab actually does use dialogue to advance and reveal the character. It’s not as snappy as a Sanderson or Rothfuss, but it’s absolutely more than spoken lines to progress the plot.
Description: This book has great description for settings, fight scenes, and even clothes, but I couldn’t tell you what color hair Delilah has or what skin color any of them are. Now, I’m not a very attentive reader to details of that sort, so please understand I’m not making the assertion that character description is absent; I’m simply saying that there weren’t enough descriptive beats to create a clear mental picture of the characters. The settings were the best. Each time we saw a new London, we were immersed in senses that made each location feel real.
Overall: This book has a creative magic system with great locations and worldbuilding. It was satisfying and fun to read, but the main character didn’t really grab me. Fans of deep worldbulding and mystery plots will probably love this series. No, I don’t think this holds up against any of my favorites, but I can see why some people love it.
Spoiler Free Summary: In The Warden of Everfeld: Memento by Steven D’Adamo Jaed is a young woman who’s sister carries a secret in her blood. When that secret threatens her family, Jaed takes her sister and runs. Aston has dreamed of being a warrior his whole life, but when he’s asked to track down the only woman he’s ever loved, he’s forced between his desire to be a fighter and his desire to be with the woman he loves. NOTE: Steven is a friend. I actually bought my copy directly from him while we were having dinner. He’s been a great source of support. You can factor that into your opinion of this review, but I assure you my opinion of this book is based on the book and not my deep respect for its author.
Character: Jaed was a wonderful character. I think her arc all by itself would have made for a wonderful story. She’s proactive and sympathetic. She’s smart without being too perfect. Sure she has a flaw or two, but what character doesn’t? The simple truth is I get her. She’s a sister watching out for her own, and that resonates with me. Aston, well, not so much. There’s a lot of exposition (see below) and Aston suffers for it. Also, he spends a great portion of the book not really doing much, and that dragged the story down a bit for me. Once Aston got moving, he got fun to read. I felt like his arc had some missed opportunities, but overall I enjoyed him once he was doing stuff.
Exposition: The book kicks off with a pretty big block of exposition, and that made the story drag, but I’ll note here that Steven and I are on opposite sides of the creative spectrum on this topic. He likes more epic stories that build more slowly, so one would expect the opening of this story to build a bit of the world. If you like deep histories and lore in your fantasy, then this won’t bother you at all. Yes, it’s exposition, but it does give context to some of the overall plot. This improved as the story progressed and the natural flow of the plot gives the world more detail.
World building: This was Steven’s strength. This world has an obvious depth that can only be achieved through meticulous worldbuidling and attention to detail. This is another creative difference I have with Steven. Books like Dune and Lord of the Rings are hugely successful and loved by many, just not me. I appreciate the skill involved in their crafting, but I’m just not that interested in the world. I need characters that catch my interest. Even in Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I got frustrated with the giant blocks of economical and geographical lessons when all I really wanted to know was how Kaladin was going to keep going. So this is probably the most important aspect of this review. If you love deep worldbuilding, you’ll like this book. I was impressed by it, but I wish it was sprinkled in more gently as the characters progressed through their arcs.
Dialogue: This was solid. I remember an odd insistence to avoid contractions that was, very clearly, intentional but didn’t feel very conversational. The missed opportunity I mentioned above ties to this. Aston makes a choice that was a great opportunity to push the characters, but they just sort of chat it out, and I wish Aston had more consequences to his actions. It moves the plot well and builds the characters, but it wasn’t the sharpest dialogue I’ve ever read (Dean Koontz).
Description: Fans of bigger fantasy books with heavy description will like this. I thought it was a bit much, but I’ll admit it didn’t drag the story down. It’s probably still more streamlined than some of the work I mentioned above, but it had more description that I tend to like, which is less than most readers want.
Overall: This is a solid debut novel. It establishes a fascinating world and gives us some entertaining characters. It’s unique in that it’s a simple adventure quest, and that’s rare these days. If you’re a fan of deep world histories and large casts of complex characters, you’ll probably enjoy this book.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Kra’daar by Chris Winder s the 12th story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More. Nik’Thil is a Kra’daar who’s looking to determine the source of a series of fires that have started to haunt his home. Will he be able to learn what, or who, is causing them before on breaks out of control?
Character: I recalled this story a bit more quickly than others. It’s not at the top of my list, but I remember liking the back and forth between Nik’Thil and the creature he’s chasing. This story had a nice sense of tension, and I think the character is the main reason why.
Exposition: As a whole, this anthology was solid in this regard. If I don’t remember much, it means I at least didn’t feel dragged down in a story, and that’s almost always the fault of too much exposition. This story had a good pace with a nice sense of progression. I read it pretty quickly. This whole anthology (of which this story is an example) is custom made for an airplane or long layover. You don’t get bogged down with too much depth. You get entertainment and quick resolutions.
World building: This is the main reason I remember this story. The setting and conflict of this story were memorable. The details were interesting, and I enjoyed an alien perspective in a story featuring an alien character.
Dialogue: This probably wasn’t as strong. I can’t remember a single line. I can’t remember a single situation in which the dialogue added to the plot or drama. It wasn’t bad or thinly hidden exposition; it was just conversation.
Description: This holds true from my last review. Any time I don’t think back in frustration about how many buttons that guy wore or what color the chips in the paint were, I feel like I was happy with the description. This element was a bit stronger than previous stories. I say this because I immediately remembered the overall plot and the world building, which only sticks if a scene or two stick in a reader’s head.
Overall: If you want Sci-Fi that isn’t overcrowded with human perspective, you should give this story a try. I like fantasy that expands beyond the human perspective, and this story does that. Is it an example of everything I want to read ever? No, but it is interesting, and it does have a fairly compelling main character.
Spoiler Free Summary: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a science fiction novel in which Anderson Lake, a calorie man looking for a way to insert himself into a position to get a look at seed banks for foods believed to be extinct. Taking place in a futuristic Thailand, this book combines social and political intrigue. Anderson stumbles upon a “new person,” also called a Windup, and that chance meeting puts his life, and the very political balance of Thailand in danger.
Character: Honestly, the characters are a bit weak for me. Anderson isn’t very sympathetic. Emiko, the Windup, is sympathetic, but she’s not proactive. I’ll admit her lack of productivity is due in large part to her character flaw, which does add tension to the story, but it frustrates a guy who lives for sympathetic, proactive characters. This book isn’t without stars though. The Tiger of Bangkok is this books best character by far. Note my bias mentioned above. Emiko is fascinating in a lot of ways, but she spends a good deal of the book doing very little.
Exposition: This is better. The author moves things along, letting the reader figure things out or simply move with the plot. There’s not a lot of info dumping, and that counters the slow place created by the description.
Worldbuilding: To me, this is why this book deserved the awards it’s won. This world and these points of conflict are as visceral as they are allegorical. This fantastic world is fascinating for those who like high, speculative science fiction concepts deep with meaning. I won’t lie, it’s not actually MY cup of tea, but I have to tip my hat to this world building. Should the author combine this level of world building with stronger characters, I’d be over the moon. This book’s conflict is the world itself. It has disease, economical strain, and political rivalry; and all of these elements make the setting a tragically wondrous place to visit.
Dialogue: This is fairly average, and there are some scenes here where the dialog seems to slow things down.
Description: In a book where the world and culture are so integral to the plot, it’s fair to expect a lot of description. I think these were necessary elements. Again, fans of books like Dune will love it, I just prefer stories more based in character than setting. That doesn’t make this a bad book, just not the flavor of ice cream I prefer (and everybody likes some flavor of ice cream!). What I will say is the degree of description, which really slows the book down in my opinion, is what makes the world and the culture in it so spectacular. I don’t think you can have world building like this without a lot of description.
Overall: Fans of deep, visceral science fiction like Dune will love this story for its fantastic world building and intricate plot lines that position characters against the setting in a fantastic man vs man vs nature triangle. This book sings to the heart of science fiction by asking tough questions about society and evolution as only science fiction can.
Spolier Free Summary: A Halo of Mushroomsis Andrew Hiller’s second published novel. (NOTE: Hiller did a story about me on his blog which I talked bout in my blog about My Journey So Far.) It’s about Derik a magical healer from another land who carries with him a very special mushroom. If I’m being honest, the cover leaves a lot to be desired. I implore you to ignore the cover and read the book as it’s a treat. It reminded me of Pratchett’s Discworld Series. I’ve mentioned a few times I’m a huge fan of Tiffany Aching’s saga, but not such a fan of The Color of Magic. This book has the traits of both books that I do like, and I feel fans of Pratchett would at least (if not enjoy) appreciate Mushrooms. In the book, Derik has to find the right location to plant his magic mushroom all while earning a dollar and avoiding cats and monsters who are hunting him down for stealing the magic spud.
Character: There are three main characters in this book, though it focuses on Derik. The other two characters are Imani, a baker, and Lara, a scientist. The characters are real enough, with decent identity and progress, but for my money, I think the most of Imani. Derik is the most well rounded of the characters, and we get a lot of insight into him, but Imani grows on the reader. Lara has some very interesting aspects, but I felt like her characters had some missed opportunities. What I feel makes this book stand out about these characters is that while they each individually may be lacking, this is a pretty strong ensemble cast. I realize as I write this that while I wish each character was more fleshed out, I moved through this book because of the way they interact with one another. For those who read my blog on plotting, this was a pretty effective relationship plot, and it’s honestly the strongest part of the book. These characters know Derik as a man trying to do something nice or right. They bond over their desire to help him.
Exposition: The exposition of this book is a little on the heavy side. There are a few segments where I feel Hiller is giving scope to the book, but I don’t think I personally needed it. Though there are patches of over exposition, they don’t slow the pace or enjoyment of the book.
Worldbuilding: I’d say this is the weakest area of the book. The magic system here doesn’t make a ton of sense. Now…I have to explain that I’m a fan of either (1) books that have a sense of wonder in which the magic is a complication or (2) books that have well understood (even if complex) magic systems that are part of the resolution. This book maintains a sense of wonder, but I felt that cost something at the end. However, it wasn’t something that brought the book too far down as the reader has enough understanding of how the worlds work to believe what’s happening. Once the reader understand the effects of the “Poms,” things flow pretty well. Now, I just said the exposition here was heavy, and how does one explain a magic system with out more of what was already a lot of exposition? So I see the sense in limiting the explanations to what the readers must have.
Dialogue: There’s a scene near the end of the book between Imani and one of her regular customers that I felt was a sign of a next level from Hiller. I wouldn’t begrudge an editor telling him to delete it, but it was strong writing that helped reveal the character. We see this again when Derik talks to a character referred to as Baba. Those two scenes are great examples of how dialogue can move a plot and define a character.
Description: I’m not as over the moon about description as some. It shows in my own writing, and it’s something I’m working on because I understand it’s something readers look for. With that said, I couldn’t tell you what any of the characters look like. The clearest memory I have is of a certain car that got great mileage without a lot of gas. There’s a lizard I can remember clearly as well. This didn’t bother me at all because of how much less invested I am in that sort of thing, but I evaluate the quality of description based on how much I can remember a day or so after reading the book. There are a few characteristics about Imani and Derik I can recall, but that’s about it. For my money, it didn’t bother me at all, but readers who want down to the thread count descriptions may find this element of the book lacking.
Overall: I want to go back to what I said earlier. A lot of the readers who enjoy the Discworld saga find a charm in the satire and melting pot of ideas. For me, this book has that sort of feel to me. The charm in my opinion is Derek’s sense of wonder in our world. I think that’s the main reason I enjoy it so much. Hiller shows our world from the point of view of someone from another world, and it made me feel more magic in our every day corner of the known universe. The ending was a cliffhanger, which I don’t generally like, but it did satisfy the plot of the book while pointedly indicating what I hope is a equally endearing sequel.