Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

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The Silent Majority: Or, A Story About Reviews

So I wrote this book a while back (you may have heard of it. It’s called Aurian and Jin). Since its publication in November last year, I’ve sold, given away, lent out, etc. about two thousand copies of it.

That’s not a big number, compared to the number of people in the world–or the number of bacteria colonizing the screen of your phone, even. But it’s pretty sizeable. It’s consideration worthy. Two thousand people out there (more, if they lent it out) have at least heard of my book, probably read it, probably had an opinion on it one way or the other. I regularly hear things like this, day-to-day: ‘my cousin loved your book! She’s like your biggest fan now.’ ‘Grandpa’s been recommending your book to his coworkers. They have some suggestions’. ‘I left a copy of your novel in the bathroom at the strip club, and now the girls can’t stop talking about it.’ (Okay. Maybe not so much that last one. Though, now that I think about it, gratis copies to strippers might not be a bad policy.).

My point is–even if my friends and coworkers and family are just being nice to me, a lot of people have read this book, and said something good about it. And yet, when I look at my Amazon listing, I’ve only got sixteen reviews.

Now, I could get all chappy-assed about it. I could recommend (read: demand) that people write a review when they finish the book. But here’s the thing about that, kids:

The vast majority of people, even people who really loved your novel, aren’t going to leave a review at all.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I mean, think about it for a few seconds. Before you got all involved with indie authorship, when was the last time you left a review for something on Amazon? If you’re like me at all, the answer to that is, well, never. Even books you really liked, products you really used. It never occurred to me to do it. I would see the reviews up there, read a few of them maybe, buy or not buy (usually regardless of reviews). In fact, I was more likely to consider writing a review if I was dissatisfied with something–because, in my mind, a review existed to let other buyers know what sort of experience I’d had. I couldn’t tell you at this point whether or not I realized the maker of the product might actually see that review, and it certainly never occurred to me to take their feelings into account when I wrote it. The internet, after all, is a very big place–bigger, in some ways, than the physical world–and I’m a very small person in the scheme of things.

People see your book. They don’t see the praise-hungry author hunched over a keyboard behind it, dreaming of row after row of five solid stars. They don’t see your desire for validation, your need for emotional support, the bragging rights (or causes for shame!) inherent in your Amazon rankings. They don’t know what it’s like, being an indie author with no publishing support system or nice fat advance to live on. Most of them don’t know about your Twitter or your blog or where you’ll be next signing books, and they don’t care. If your editing’s decent, they might not even know you’re indie. They might not even remember your name.

Your book was something to read at the beach, something to read at the dentist’s office, something gotten for free, something lent out by a friend. It wasn’t graven in gold and presented by a burning bush on a mountaintop. In the 100,000 or so words of your story, if you’ve got any sort of pride and decency, your hunger for approval and tacit support wasn’t mentioned once. The support of your readers comes to you in the form of money, which gets you things like cheeseburgers and another month of power, and is about as tacit as support gets, unless you’re the government.

Much as small pub might feel like a validation game sometimes–especially when you aren’t making the millions you anticipated–you made a product and now you’re selling it. Praise isn’t the endgame–it’s more like a happy side effect. You want to make people happy, and you probably have. The written proof of respect your ego so desperately craves is optional stuff.

And, hard as it is to swallow, dealing with that is your business, not the reader’s. You sold your damn book, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. Somewhere out there, a buyer you don’t know is either happy or sad about it. How happy or sad they are, and whether or not they choose to inform you through the Great Equalizer of Amazon, is their deal. Not yours.

So let’s get Nixonic about this. There is a silent majority of readers–silent, at least, on the interwebs–who probably loved what you have to say. You’ll never hear from them, unless your guys happens to know a guy who knows a guy. But they’re out there.

I’m NOT encouraging you to badger people harder about leaving reviews. That’s not what this post is about, and, frankly, I’ve always found it a little off-putting when people do that to me. Too much of your voice, especially your desperate, pleading voice, detracts from the story you have to tell.

What I’m trying to say–even though you don’t know for sure what these people think, be grateful for them. After all, they bought your book.

And there’s all sorts of life going on in this world that isn’t reflected through the internet or Amazon reviews. You might be famous somewhere in Guatemala right now, where a teacher just loaned a thrift store copy of your book to a kid and made his day. You might never know–but you still, indirectly, made that kid’s day.

So step back, smile, and thank your readers. Not just your reviewers.

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Writing: Indie Ten

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Indie Ten: Ten Good Indie Reads

First off: while I was writing this post, I saw Dylan Hearn on Suffolk Scribblings post something similar. Here it is. More indie authors for you to enjoy, and proof that a lot of folks are doing this. Let’s keep it up!

So I wrote a blog a while back about how, sometimes, your best readers are going to be other indie writers. I believe this–strongly–and I try to do my part by recommending those indie books I read that’re pretty good. After all, if we aren’t all supporting each other, how can we expect to get support for ourselves?

I still don’t read all indies–I have mad respect for a lot of folks who publish through the big houses, and I wouldn’t stop reading them just to prove a point. And I don’t read, review, or recommend anything I don’t like (or haven’t read, for that matter. Some people do this).

But in the sea of six million or whatever the number is now books published a year, there’s a lot more to indie fiction than the big folks you keep hearing about, Hugh Howey and Joanna Penn and such. There are smaller minnows in the sea who SHOULD be big fish, whose writing is good, whose books are well published, and who are, through the crowded nature of the market, not getting a ton of attention (at least on Amazon. I’m an Amazon book hoarder). These are some of those books: my indie favorites with forty reviews or less on Amazon. If it’s a series, I count reviews on the first book and not total, because that damned well wouldn’t be fair, would it.

I’d like to take a second and recommend something as well, something other than books. Are you a writer? Thinking of/already have published your own indie fiction? Do yourself a favor and read some other indies. Read at least five of them this year. Find the best ones and post a damn review. Wouldn’t you like it if somebody did that for you? There’s no promise it’ll happen to you just because YOU did it, of course, but it isn’t about that. Just once, don’t make it about that. Read a good book and let the world know how good you thought it was. It’s that simple.

There’s more to making a community work than tit for tat, review for review. And indie publishers ARE a community, whether we want to be or not–we rely on each other for support, help, sympathy. So let’s do it up right and spread the word when we’re excited about something. Let’s give recognition to the people who deserve it.

(A note: for some odd reason, the tablet I’m desultorily tap-tapping this on won’t let me add pictures. So I’m going to add them in gradually as we go. Sorry, folks.)

FANTASY/SF:

The Grey Heir: Edgewalker Chronicles Book One (Zachary Katz-Stein)
I picked this one up because the cover was so very cool. And the book inside it didn’t disappoint–a thoughtful and descriptive YAish fantasy about the nature and dangers of religion, with some very creative and curious magic.

Southwind Knights (B.E. Priest)
Okay. If you’ve read this blog you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about these books. You shouldn’t be: you should be talking about them too, because you’ve read them and they’re worth talking about. Well written, prettily published, interesting story. This is a series that has it all.

Children of Fire (Mary Fonvielle)
Okay, I admit it–I’m a friend of this author from way back. But these are good stories, friend or no, and her characters are high fantasy with a touch of the rogue thrown in. My favorite so far has been Eye of the Void–well and touchingly told fantasy in which backstory is used to devastating advantage. Plus, it’s a lot about Thalien. And Thalien is the BOMB. The last line in Eye of the Void, if you’ve been reading since Children of Fire, will give you chills.

The Guests of Honor: Tales from the Virtue Inn Book One (Cat Amesbury)
This is another book you’re tired of hearing me talk about. Baroque and magical whimsy in a semi-modern setting: when I read a critical review that said the book sometimes ‘borders on the downright weird and will take a turn for no apparent reason other than to take a turn’, I knew I had to have it. For me, fantasy is ABOUT taking a random turn sometimes. And it can never be too weird: though it can, like this book, be highly original and NOT AT ALL about vampires and werewolves and all that tiresome old drek.

Touching Madness: River Madden Book One (K.S. Ferguson)
Ms. Ferguson and I reviewed each others’ books and, lo and behold, we have similar senses of humor. Ms. Ferguson’s River Madden is a sweet and lovably awkward guy who just happens to sometimes, you know, sort of kind of cause dimensional rifts. Complicated plots, fascinating ‘magic’, and a homeless hero bombarded by unlikely events ensue. River’s awkward moments, especially in Book I, will make you cringe delightfully. When he’s doing the wrong thing, you want to physically SHOUT at him, and that’s a sign the story has pulled you way the hell in.

The World Serpent: A Raimy Rylan Hunt (Kenneth B. Humphrey)
This is another YA series worth a look. Mr. Humphrey’s writing is straightforward, his humor pithy, his characters believable as teenagers as well as characters (one girl, a young teen named Hadley, will have you literally laughing out loud as she kicks ass in the body of an old-school Viking warrior). Mr. Humphrey made the interesting decision to write this time-traveling demon-hunting YA story in first person present, and by God, after reading it that way you don’t want it in anything else. Action packed: your kids (and you) will clamor for the next one.

Aurian and Jin: A Love Story (Moi)
What, did you think I was going to do this totally without self promotion? Hell naw, I’ve got a novella coming out end of April. If you’ve read this, slide me a review and I’ll love you forever. It’s got severed heads and stuff.

NON FANTASY/SF:

Bombed (Winifred Morris)
Okay, so this book isn’t actually out yet. (It will be 4/17/15. You should go ahead and preorder it) I received a copy for review, and I have to say, I am SO EXCITED I’m putting it on this list before it’s even out. It’s totally not my usual bag–present-day romance, ME, what?–but it’s masterfully written, and there’s a lot more to it than just romance, including, among other hilarious things, a bass player named Buzzard, a stoned DEA agent, and a plot to blow up a small town 4th of July parade. The hits just keep on coming, and God, you want them to.

The Fourth Descendant (Allison Maruska)
Just finished this one up, and what fun! Again, not my usual bag, but Ms. Maruska’s characters are so likeable and their conflicts so well drawn it would be my bag even if it had somebody else’s name on it (which I guess it does, since someone else wrote it, but you get what I’m trying to say here). This book well written, and deals believably and well with a subject I don’t often see dealt with well: immortality, and what need we might really (or really not) have for it.

Juggler, Porn Star, Monkey Wrench (Rich Leder)
Not for people under eighteen, but again, a romantic comedy that’s so much more. Soul-crushingly hilarious. I’ve never been to LA, but after reading this book I felt like I had, and I already wanted to never go again. You’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry. Really. Like, I cried a little.

Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor (Allison Hawn)
I’ve talked about this book before. It’s precious–the stories inside are precious–and you come out of it feeling like you know the narrator. While I’m not always sure about the humor, it works when it works, and even when it doesn’t this is a damn good autobiography of sorts. I wish more autobiographical writing out there had this much character and style.

WW: Extirpate All Pirates

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Writing Wednesday: Extirpate All Pirates!

So I’m through with Mistborn now, and I’m on to Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant. First volume, of course. Refugee. It’s–entertaining. It’s certainly that. There’s a lot of blood and mayhem and people getting raped and killed and such, as well as some awkward allegory concerning America’s immigration issues. Very sensational.

And, ultimately, very ineffective.

I should preface this by mentioning I’m not the biggest Piers Anthony fan. (Yes, this will be a writing post. Give me time). The reason for this can, in fact, be summed up in a little nugget about three quarters of the way through the book (if you want to read it, and haven’t yet, stop here, because I’m about to spoiler the SHIT out of it).

Some background: the narrator, who had very few interesting traits save for what Anthony TELLS us but doesn’t bother to SHOW us is interpersonal and leadership ability, has lost his entire family, save for one sister, to space pirates on a lackadaisical and rather drawn-out refugee ramble through the orbit of Jupiter and its moons. He has also, mere pages before, lost his One True Love, who is startlingly beautiful in spite of being in drag for most of the novel, by forcing an airlock open while she is unsuited. He did this knowingly, coldly, for the betterment of his small surviving group. He’s Mighty Fucked Up about it. And, howling his vengeance into the vacuum, he makes this chilling statement:

I remembered my oath: to extirpate all pirates. They surely deserved obliteration.

And, right there–and I was on public transportation, mind you, while I was reading this–I giggled.

Yes, you read that right. I giggled.

Because COME ON. Extirpate? REALLY?

He also, earlier in this novel about the narrator’s fifteen year old self, uses the word ‘pulchritude’ in reference to a sister. Aaawkward.

I have to mention this because it ties in so very well to what I was saying in a previous post, The Right Words, which more of you should’ve read, because ENGLISH. I think I even TALKED about pulchritude. As one of those words which is, overwhelmingly, probably not the right word.

I don’t believe a fifteen year old boy, newly orphaned, his soul struggling to mature under a crunchy candy-coating of rage and depression, looks to the stars and comes up with the word EXTIRPATE. I don’t care how good his education was. I don’t care if he went to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude whilst still suckling on his mother’s teat. I don’t care if the story is actually being told by an older version of this boy. Fuck ‘extirpate’. Just…fuck it.

I do not buy an emotionally charged statement containing the word extirpate. And that ‘remember’ doesn’t help, either. Remember is a distant word, a past-tense sort of word. It doesn’t give the statement any immediacy–the fact that I keep referring to it as a ‘statement’ says something about how I took it.

And the ‘surely’. Is there a need for that adverb? Is there REALLY? ‘Surely’ is almost as nasty as ‘very’, if you ask me. Nothing leaks the immediacy out of a statement quite like an unnecessary adverb. Unless it’s the word ‘extirpate’. Or ‘remember’.

I’ll take the colon. Colons have immediacy. Especially if you haven’t pooped in a while.

But anyway, this is just me coming up from my reading with a friendly reminder and perfect example of why THE RIGHT WORD is important.

As to fixing this paragraph? You can fiddle with it all you want. It’s so awkward and redundant I don’t think anything will do much good. I might try something like this:

I had sworn to destroy all pirates. They deserved it.

But, frankly, I’d just as soon see it struck from the ranks entirely. It’s awkwardly placed, and I don’t think we need reminding that a boy who’s lost this much (whose name, for the record, is the incredibly giggle-inducing Hope Hubris) wants to destroy the people who’ve taken it from him. Especially in the middle of what is, essentially, a laundry list of activities.

Done ranting now. But take this as a living example of what difference the wrong word can make. Take it and learn from it. Learn from it. Learn.

REVIEW: Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor

REVIEW: Life is a Pirate Ship, Run by a Velociraptor

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Can I take a moment and say that this is, easily, the best book title I have seen all month? A close second being the ‘prequel’ to this book, which is apparently Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus, which I need to purchase soon. The cover is downright precious too. Lookit that little velociraptor pirate. Lookit.

I finished this one a few weeks ago, and I’ll be honest, kids. I was torn on whether or not to put a review up here. There are places in this one where the writing doesn’t quite hold up for me. Ms. Hawn gets a little lost in her adpositional phrases. There are occasional sentences where a verb has no subject because the prepositions come in and take over, like spiders in heat. It can get a little bombastic. Some of the similies stretch even my vast simile-reaching patience.

But some of them are spot the fuck on. Some of them are hilarious. And I enjoyed this book. In the end, that’s my criteria for what goes up here. I don’t review because someone asked me to and I don’t do it because I know somebody (neither applies to Ms. Hawn). I do it because I enjoyed something, especially if it’s an indie author. Because there’s so much crap in small press publishing that the good guys deserve some recognition. Even if it’s just me, with my shitty little blog and my large cup of coffee. For this reason, I review without author contact. I want to say what I want to say. I try to pick the good guys. Because, believe it or not, I want to say only nice things, and I want to say only the nice things I want to say.

Ms. Hawn is one of the good guys. Well, good girls. You get what I mean.

Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor is a series of short anecdotes from Ms. Hawn’s life, some of which you really have to read to believe. I don’t want to say too much–again, don’t want to spoil it for you–but the phrase “What have I told you? We don’t kiss people we just met!” occurs in the first couple of pages, and it just goes down(or up?)hill from there. These anecdotes are finished by a brief summary/life lesson section, in which you learn occasionally enchanting (teach your kids to read early) and occasionally esoteric (it takes four college students to move a giant rooster) things.
But what I find enchanting about this book isn’t the humor, which, as mentioned, does occasionally fall flat. It’s the way Ms. Hawn writes these little stories. You can almost imagine you’re on the barstool next to her, and she’s just uttered the phrase “something like that happened to me once. See, when I was (insert life period here)…” This book is close, and personal, in addition to being adorable. You get to know the writer as a character.

This is what first person was invented for, folks. If I felt this close to every narrator in a first-person novel, I’d never read a book written in another point of view again. The anecdotes Ms. Hawn tells take a little setup, but the setup is part of the fun. You learn what life is like growing up with a musician parent, going to college in a tiny town, working with disadvantaged youth. You meet friends (and enemies). You meet sloppily dressed transvestites. You meet LARPers with bad BO. And you meet cats. Quite a few of them.

Ms. Hawn is unapologetic, funny, tender, and occasionally very insightful. She does first person the way it should be done, with unabashed personality, even if her sentence structure gets lopsided and her similies overreach. She’s at her best in the depths of explanation, when she becomes unaware of her audience. You get the feeling this is the part of the story where your friend on the barstool next to you would start making a lot of hand gestures. I wish everybody brought this sort of ‘I can’t wait to tell you what happened next’ vibe to memoirs. I truly do.

For this especially I recommend this book.

REVIEW: Heir Expectant

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Review: Heir Expectant, Southwind Knights #4

Okay, I’m actually just going to talk about this whole series here. I picked it up not long after the third one came out, and I’ll put it this way, I think I read 1-3 twice in one day. These are epic fantasy novellas, folks. And they are classy. Classy. CLASSY.

The fourth novella in the Southwind Knights series, Heir Expectant, came out very recently. I’ve been sitting here like a dragon ass-warming its horde, waiting, so I could tell you to buy these with some reason.

They are also priced at a very affordable ninety-nine cents. And to put how I feel about this into words, here’s a list of things you can buy for that price:

1) A Coke from a vending machine, maybe.
2) An out-of-date phone, if you sign up for another six hundred or so dollars worth of service.
3) One of those teeny packs of gum
4) One of the Southwind Knights novellas, which will ROCK YOU.

Guess what I think the best deal is. No, guess. Hint: it’s definitely not 1-3.

I won’t bore you with a summary, because I hate it when people do that in reviews. Do you like dragons, epic fantasy, tales of friendship, disillusioned youth, and matriarchies? You do? Perfect. Read these. Read them if you don’t, even.
B.E. Priest does so many things right in these I’d be hard-pressed to list it all in one measly review. These books are expertly edited, beautifully covered, carefully considered. And the biggest thing–the most important thing–the story is FANTASTIC. Yes, I am breaking out the block caps.

Asher, our hero, is a fifteen year old boy when these stories start. So far, 1-4 have taken up roughly a year of story time. And man, rarely has a character changed so dramatically, experienced the loss of innocence so deeply. Asher is frequently in just enough trouble–and is just clueless enough, which is a fine and very difficult tightrope to walk–to win the sympathy of any reader. His friends, especially the adorable and quirky (well, until book four, at least) Finn, are just as delightfully cast, in strokes broad and expert. You feel all the pain of growing up in these novellas, the angst of disillusionment, the terrible weight of sloughing off the skin of the boy and becoming a man (or something else. But you’ll get that when you read these). And what better medium to paint this story in than epic fantasy, where the stakes can be true heroism, the life of a queen or a princess?

The decision to publish this as a series of novellas was a masterful one, too. The story has a serial feel to it–best taken in short installments–and, unlike a lot of novellas out there, these really do feel like miniature novels, written in terse, mostly adverb-free prose with little fuss to it and a lot of smart condensed phrasing. In book 4, for instance, Priest uses the phrase ‘a stream of voices’ to describe activity and festivity preparation outside a room. This might not sound like a big deal, but God, that phrase captures every time someone’s sat indoors and listened to a commotion outside with none of the waste-wording, none of the clutter. For a novella, this is key. You’ve less space to impress somebody in, so do it up RIGHT.

In books 3 and 4, the action starts to rise. If I had one small criticism, it might be that it rises a little too quickly. Book 3 comes off, in fact, just a little bit as mere buildup to book 4. But holy shit, that’s mostly just because I had to WORK to find something bad. I had to think about it for a few minutes. And this is me; I don’t think.

I haven’t been disappointed by ANY of these. I hope Mr. Priest (the alias of Ronny Khuri, the author, who writers a very entertaining blog here) continues to do exactly what he’s been doing, because DAMN.
I mean, DAMN.

This is more of a gush than a review, I know. But credit where credit is due, and some credit is definitely due here.

Forgo your daily vending machine crackers and buy these novellas here:

Southwind Knights (Book 1)
The Queen of Grass and Tree (Book 2)
Scion of the Wood (Book 3)
Heir Expectant (Book 4)

REVIEW: The Guests of Honor, Cat Amesbury

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The Guests of Honor: Tales from the Virtue Inn Book One
by Cat Amesbury

This has been one of my favorite indie reads for a while now. I read it once, and then I read it again. A few months later, I read it again. Because of this, it’s today’s review. If I want to read it more than once, it’s review-worthy.

The fact is, Ms. Amesbury combines a lot of things I just LOVE to see in a fantasy writer. Her writing, while sometimes a little clunky for my tastes, gets the goddamn job done with little fuss or (my pet peeve) badly placed commas. Her written voice is unmistakable and a genuine pleasure to hear as you read. Her characters, including her excellent MC Honor Desry, are defined in broad, vivid strokes. And trust me, there are no weepy princesses or ruggedly handsome knights here–though there are some Virgins, but trust me, they’re not what you think. Every character, even the ones (like Mama Desry) who’re no longer there, is their own more-or-less-human.

And her imagination, good God. I don’t want to go into great detail–don’t want to spoil a single stick of it for you–but WOW. Her universe, seen through Honor Desry’s practical and worldly eyes, is absolutely convincing and, more importantly, entrancing. You feel a little bit like the writer not only sees the world before her, but is absolutely floored by how beautiful and strange it is. Ever been on a tour with a tour guide who loves what he or she is doing? Makes the tour a lot better, doesn’t it. It’s the same thing happening here. I read a few other reviews of this when I bought it, and I was amused to see several saying parts of it–namely the very lively kitchen appliances and laundy– ‘defy belief’. Well, this is about the highest praise I can imagine giving a fantasy novel. I want my beliefs defied. Particularly, my belief that an egg timer can’t be adorable.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s original, personal/extrapersonal conflicts layer together perfectly, and Ms. Amesbury manages to write some funny, funny stuff without losing a centimeter of heart or storytelling honesty. Also some of the best romantic tension I’ve seen in a fantasy novel, and this is me, disinterested ignorer of romances, saying that.

A moment to just mention, as well, the stand-alone awesomeness of Honor Desry as a main character. Here is a strong, independent woman who, while certainly able to move forward and lay down the law, still has a lot to learn. There are a lot of Big Five published writers who could learn serious lessons from the believable way Honor reacts to unbelievable situations, from the seamlesness with which her backstory is interwoven with the present. Her interactions with her mother–who is not, save by her absence, a physical participant in the plotline–make for one of the most believable family elements I’ve seen. This is not a young adult story to me, and it’s because of Honor. Honor, like a lot of folks in their late twenties/early thirties, is still trying to balance what she came from with what she is. And she finds, as I think most people do, that the two are more related than you’d think.

Also, the cover is just adorable.

Downsides, though there aren’t many, include:

Sometimes the writing is a little confusing. Book could’ve benefitted from one more draft, I think, with special attention paid to character location and the way characters move through a scene. There’s a scene near the 70% mark, for instance, where two characters start moving down the hall to get coffee, talk a bit, and after what seems like two or three geological ages, get coffee. I understood what was going on after a read or two, but the wording was just awkward, and the conversation was too long for a hallway poised on the brink of something else.

The wording gets, occasionally, a little awkward–Ms. Amesbury tends to sacrifice clarity for voice, and, fortunately, her voice is so clear and lovable she for the most part gets away with it. This sort of thing doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers some folks. If I wanted to spend my reading time hunting for errant adverbs and correcting participle placement, I’d grade English papers for a living.

Also, I do feel like the last twenty percent or so suffers from a serious case of too much, too fast. The plot gets a bit cluttered as Ms. Amesbury tries to clear up loose threads. Again, I’ve seen it handled in far, FAR worse ways. The main villain is introduced far too late, and as a result the ending feels a little tacked-on. But, again, the fun of this story for me had nothing to do with the actual plot and everything to do with the digressions and discoveries along the way.

Great read if you’re looking to get lost in a world nestled right inside our own, with some relatable characters who take lessons from everyday life into a fantasy setting with them. If I didn’t frequently use this word as an insult, I’d use the word ‘whimsical’. Since I don’t want to insult the totally undeserving Amesbury, I’ll instead say she combines contemporary fantasy and old-school Southern Gothic elements with flair.

God, ‘flair’ isn’t much better, is it. Shit.

It’s funky. There we go. We like funky.

This has been your seven AM chronically nonsleeping review. Now I’m off to edit more and drink coffee straight from the pot. In the meantime, if you want to spend your money on something worthwhile, forgo your morning cup of Starbucks and buy Ms. Amesbury’s book right here, right in the kisser, c’monnn, you. You’ll be pleased to know she’s got a second one coming out (named, just as punnily as the first, ‘With Honor Intact’,) though I couldn’t for the life of me find a release date.

Review: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

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Q: Did I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind this week?
A: You bet your balls I did. And here’s what I thought.

I am, honestly, uncertain what verdict to give it overall. Did I enjoy the baroque detailing, the legend and myth, the way the story was told? Yes, I did. Especially the old-school story-within-a-story aspects. It provides, I think, a great buttercream frosting of indirect foreshadowing, hearing the beginning of Kvothe’s story and seeing him as he is present-day. I’d read the next few volumes just to connect the pieces. And the detail–lawd, the detail! Rothfuss does a great job describing the University, creating the structure of society in which it exists through character interactions (especially, of course, those of Kvothe and Ambrose). It’s good, I must admit, to see a fantasy hero have troubles with money. Rothfuss very realistically evokes just how terribly being broke can get in the way of your hopes and dreams. It’s interesting how many other orphan hero/ines in fantasy don’t seem to have these kinds of troubles, and it’s good to see a case where even inordinate amounts of talent don’t get you everywhere immediately.

Also–people dislike Kvothe. There is, honestly, a lot to dislike about him. Someone as driven, bright and ungovernable as the man is would have a lot of enemies, as well as a lot of to-the-death loyal friends. I liked that Kvothe doesn’t always get away scott-free with doing things his own way. Again, a lot of writers forget that this sort of behavior makes you enemies. Good on Rothfuss for remembering.

And Kvothe himself? Well, Kvothe’s a determined bastard, though his determination seems to shift in focus throughout the novel. By the time the Chandrian come up again, about eighty percent through the book, I had honestly forgotten he was focused on finding them, what with how focused he was on staying in school/his playing/Denna. I understand that Kvothe, epic fantasy hero extraordinaire, is a man of burning passions and nearly monomaniacal needs. But if i had to write a fifth grade book report about this novel, I’m not certain I’d get an A. I’m still fairly up in the air on what Kvothe’s driving force actually is: there are just too many choices. To Rothfuss’s credit: I’m not sure Kvothe himself would get an A either, for this reason. I can’t, in fact, decide if this is intentional or not. But honestly–if I, the reader, can’t decide, a little more attention to this aspect of character development was probably necessary.

I didn’t like the romance here. Sorry, but I just didn’t. I think Denna’s a well-developed character–and once again, props on a well-thought out and realistically detailed portrayal of how beauty might affect the life of a bright, young, none-too-upper-class woman. Also props on realism concerning how hard it would be to find someone, in a world without cell phones, who doesn’t always want to be found. But I at no point felt the driving force of love in this relationship. Rothfuss spends so much time detailing how Denna plays with and uses wealthier men that I was left wondering if she had any real feelings at all, and if she did, how much of it could be in any way bent towards Our Hero of the Burning Passions. I liked Denna as a character, but, try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to like Denna. Is it necessary to like a character for a story to be good? No. No, it isn’t. But there needs to be something loveable in a main character’s love interest, and with Denna I just wasn’t feeling it.

I have trouble liking Kvothe, too, at times. Again, this may not be the best way to put it–perhaps it’s better to say I feel he wasn’t properly developed, but that just makes it sound like he’s missing a testicle. But the fact remains, when I see character flaws, I expect a character to either suffer for them or learn from them or some bizarre spam salad mixup of both.

But Kvothe–oh, Kvothe. Lorren says you need to learn patience, and he isn’t wrong. You’re a little bit too clever, a little bit too quick to quip. In spite of the inordinate amount of trouble you have with day-to-day life, the big things–not getting expelled, which I’m frankly amazed never happens to you, especially after straight up skipping school for four days in a row–come pretty easy. Yes, sir, I know you’re a hero. I know you’re painfully bright. I know something horrible happened to your parents, and you’re in love with a woman who is Grade A unsuitable in many ways. But these things do not internal conflict make. If I had to put it simply, I think this is what Kvothe as a character lacks–internal conflict. There’s never much feeling Kvothe worries he’s making a mistake.

For instance, when Elodin refuses to teach him because he jumps off a roof. Instead of thinking that maybe, just maybe, he failed a test by being too eager to do a stupid thing, Kvothe dismisses the whole scene as Elodin being batshit crazy. Which he is. But still. He never learns from this. Lorren tells him he’ll get archive access back when he learns patience, and what does he do? Use a girl who likes him to sneak in. He could’ve attempted to cultivate some of the p-word, but no. Too complicated.

I understand that this is probably intentional, part of his character. But it makes him hard to empathize with. I have difficulty caring about his story because, at least in the course of the first book, Kvothe stays very much the same person, just sort of doing whatever Kvothe wants to do. This is, perhaps, the primary flaw in Rothfuss’s novel for me. I suspect, in the second one, there are more consequences in store for Kvothe, but the second one comes too late. It’s not a consequence when someone busts up your lute if you immediately make back the money to pay for a new one.

One last, minor, thing. Rothfuss harps WAY too hard on how Kvothe’s story is not a work of fiction, not a grand epic tale about a mythological hero. He harps on this so hard, in fact, that I would honestly have preferred he took an eighteen wheeler to the fourth wall and pissed on the rubble. This sort of thing only makes the mythological nature of a story MORE evident, only puts the reader at a GREATER remove from the story. Sorry. One of my pet peeves.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. Don’t get it twisted. Will I read the second one? Hell yes. But I want more from Kvothe. I want more consequences. And overall–overall–I want higher stakes, preferably in the form of some answers.