Thursday, July 05, 2007

Flames of Herakleitos - Bob Lock

Bob is a regular reader of this blog, who has kindly sent me a copy of his book to review. Kindly, and also bravely, as any regular reader will know I give very little quarter to books I dislike. Unfortunately, I disliked this one quite a lot, and I'm now torn between giving an honest review and trying not to be too nasty to a poor writer just trying to get some publicity for his first novel. Getting a proper balance between truth and politeness is going to be a tough call, but I'm giving it a shot.

Starting with the good points, there are some decent ideas in here. The action mostly takes place in a fairly standard alternate-universe-fantasy-England setting, but the main use of magic is quite original - unpleasant thaumaturgists use it to create golems, powered by real human souls. Our first sight of magic in practice is as a difficult, dirty procedure that takes a great toll on the magician's physiognomy, and it's unfortunate that this idea is rapidly lost as the novel progresses and everyone just starts throwing round hexes and creating golems at the drop of a hat.

Our heroine, Lucy Fenton, is out for vengeance on the magician who stole her father's soul for a golem when she was a child. Again, not a bad concept; where it starts to fall apart is the fact that Lucy is a girl from the Real World, and is in addition such an embarrassingly sassy, sexy, leather-clad ninjitsu chick that she's almost a caricature of herself (she's also a horror writer who stars in her own TV series and spinoff movie with samurai-goth boyfriend Raven.) Lucy is dragged into the parallel world, where her awesome combat skills enable her to fight the good fight against the thaumaturgists, who are otherwise occupied in running around trying to kidnap and/or kill each other for no particular reason. The plot turns into a series of captures and escapes, with the odd deus ex machina to keep the story going, and ends with a convenient resolution that is both contrived and unlikely.

The main problem is, this is not just a first novel, it reads rather like the first draft of a first novel. It's not self-published, which is a point in its favour, but the publishing house is a fairly small one and obviously has a limited budget for editing (or possibly just a chronic comma shortage). Lock fills his pages with over-explanation, unnecessary detail and obvious rookie errors such as the thesaurus approach to dialogue - characters rarely say anything, instead they remark, or instruct, or mutter or moan. The dialogue itself is painfully clunky - the slang used by the real-world characters slips unevenly between British and American (for example, the phrases "I'll sue your ass" and "You silly sod" are uttered by the same character); the fantasy-world bad guys talk in nothing but standard fantasy-world-bad-guy clichés, even muttering their evil plans under their breath; and the cosy Lucy'n'Raven love scenes are worthy of latter-day George Lucas at his very cheesiest.

My advice to Bob would be to chalk this one up to experience, find yourself a more honest critique group, and next time rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. A few more points to note:

  • Grown men calling themselves "Raven" are not cool, they are deserving of our ridicule;
  • Bad guys with terrible dark secrets don't usually write them all down in a diary and then leave it handily lying around for the good guys to steal;
  • Any feminist credentials your kick-ass heroine may accumulate are rather undermined by other female characters who are grateful for being raped (though we are fortunately spared the details, this more than anything made me less inclined to be charitable to the book); and
  • Supposedly hard and capable characters probably shouldn't make quite as much fuss about things like eating frogs, getting their coats dirty and not having real toilet paper.

Sorry Bob, and better luck next time!



Blogger Rogue Blades Entertainment said...

Yes, reviewing the work of a friend or acquaintance or even simply a nice person who asks you to review his work is quite hard. Especially when you do not enjoy the work in question.

I feel your anguish, Alice, and commend you for a job well done. While you did not pull any punches, you did attempt to refrain from ridicule and even offered a helping hand.

1:51 am  
Blogger Alice said...

Yes, it was quite a hard one to do, and I think I slipped further into the negative than I was intending... but I firmly believe that people shouldn't shy away from criticism, as it's often the only way to improve. Too many critique groups seem to be just exercises in mutual backslapping and confidence-boosting, which is no good to anyone.

9:28 am  
Blogger Bob Lock said...

Hi Alice,

Bob is a regular reader of this blog, who has kindly sent me a copy of his book to review. Kindly, and also bravely...

I knew from reading your blog I'd receive a 'no punches pulled' critique of 'Flames', (don't mistake madness for bravery!) I jest of course, I had expected no less, and even though it's my first negative review I'm glad you took the time to read and comment, you've raised some great points (the fact that my comma key is broken for example, fixed that now,,,,, <- ahem...)


11:03 am  
Blogger Tony said...

I have read this book and found it a joyy good story, one that moved forward at a pace and kept me interested and enthralled.

I look forward to more by the author.


6:16 pm  

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