Not C. S. Lewis, But He Could Have Been
Now I understand the kickback against independent publishing (sort of). Yet for all this manuscript’s unprofessionalism, the story still swept me along so that I had no choice but finish it.
The story centers around Blott, a boy whose village faces starvation due to a drought and is controlled almost exclusively by the chief member of the council. In an attempt to find relief for his people, Blott discovers things about himself and his world, and is forced to explore the strange abilities that separate him from the rest of the people, even from his parents and brother. He also struggles with a violent enjoyment of destruction that might come from some mysterious external puppet-master, or from a well of darkness in his own soul.
I couldn’t help but notice the editorial mistakes, mostly malaprops, that dotted the pages. For instance, a “waste of precisions resources” instead of “waste of precious resources”. As a writer myself, they made me smile, but they certainly tend to break a reader out of the story.
There’s also the author’s use of modern slang, both in narrative and in dialogue. I recognize that this is a fantasy world, and as such Mr. Parsons can make his characters talk however he wants. If these inhabitants of a sheltered valley amid vast, empty white plains want to call each other “Dude” and “Bro”, who am I to say it’s “incorrect”? It’s his world, after all.
As I said, however, it broke me out of the story and reminded me this was something someone had written (and written differently than I might), not a real life I was living vicariously. Speaking of which, Mr. Parsons either hasn’t heard or doesn’t believe the stern injunction of writing coaches against “head-hopping”, or switching between different characters’ perspectives within the same scene. The narrative zips and jumps between viewpoints, spilling the thoughts and observations of different characters one after the other with no regard for this writing “stricture”. As an author who has had to weed this issue from my own pages, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the shifts in which character was telling me the story.
In the beginning, the characters are pretty standard, but as the story progresses we realize there’s more to them than meets the eye (especially one of the villains). As backstory is revealed, we see a motive for villainy I hadn’t seen coming that added layers of depth to these people and this world. I also enjoyed the characters of the protagonist’s parents, who for once were allies of the youth character, not villains.
Personally, the world might be the best aspect of Mr. Parsons’ creation. With a fresh (to me) concept of fantasy, the mechanics and mythology of the universe in the book were interesting and internally consistent. It’s worth experiencing for yourself.
I can’t recommend this book without a few caveats. Gore isn’t usually my thing, and there’s plenty of it here. Mr. Parsons has no qualms whatsoever about who he kills, or how he kills them. Guttings, eviserations, ribcages cracked like carmel popcorn, brainings, and impalings…you name it. Obviously, with text the mess is only going to be as vivid as your imagination creates it—but there’s no holds barred in this vicious slaughter.
If you can read through that, however, you will find an engrossing story where characters struggle against internal demons and monsters of their own making.
The twists and turns kept me on edge. As I mentioned, nothing is sacred when it comes to killing. I knew this book was intended as the beginning of a series, but I still didn’t feel secure that any particular character would survive. After all, sequels can run in all sorts of directions. I didn’t know this author well enough to trust what kind of ending the book would have. Happy? Bittersweet? Maybe they would all die, the protagonist would surrender to the evil possessor inside him, and it would be a so-called “mature” or “edgy” ending, like a Shakespearian tragedy. I wasn’t sure. But I kept reading anyway. [spoiler: happy ending]
It does resolve at last (with a few final corkscrews of fate), and in a way that satisfies while still setting up for a following book. While contrary to my own worldview, the climax flows logically from the construction of the world and the personal epiphanies of the various characters.
The main villain was dealt with, and the other issues of the village seem to be resolved (at least for now…cue Book 2). While it’s certainly not a second Lord of the Rings (who is?), or even Lewis’s Space Trilogy, it’s got a lot of potential, and with another editorial sweep or two, perhaps one more draft, it would have been a fascinating book with a professional, polished feel. It’s still an enthralling story (less some gut-splattering), and could have been a lot more if the distractions mentioned above were resolved. Perhaps there’ll be a second edition…?
Disclaimer: I received my ebook copy of Blott for free as part of a promotion via the author’s Twitter. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise, and all views expressed are my own.
Note: This ebook file contains Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. Although intended to protect authors’ intellectual property, it frustrated me as I tried to conveniently read this book (meaning the copy I owned). To read a fuller discussion of DRM and how it hurts readers, check out Calibre’s page explaining DRM.