Once upon a time, I decided to support a local author that I’d seen at a city festival for several years in a row. I’d had sour grapes each time I’d seen him, with his fancy table and his fancy books and his fancy signs. “Why can’t I do that?” I thought glumly each time I saw him. “Why can’t I get my books published and get a table at a city festival or two and sell my books?”
Well, I finally grew up and out of my self-centeredness and decided to try his books. I’m always ready for a good epic fantasy, and I was ready to try this one. I bought the first book, Book One of The Earthsoul Prophecies: Veil of Darkness, and added it to my to-be-read pile, where it’s sat for the past six months. I finally decided to try it out the day after I posted my review of The Agitated Heart. That was exactly a month ago today, and I’m about ready to call it quits on this book.
Mr. Park, creative writing teacher at a high school, has imagination. And, as it’s been over ten years since he self-published his first book (although he insists it’s traditionally published, the company, Bladestar Publishing, has only ever published his books and is named after a type of weapon in his books), his writing may very well have improved over those ten years. However, all the imagination cannot save this book. His students love it, as shown by their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but then again, his students know him. They see him daily, and, as far as I know, he is an inspiration to them, encouraging them to get out and write, to dream, to reach for their goals. I have no problem with this. Kudos to him! Great teachers, inspiring teachers, are often hard to find, and I applaud any teacher who gets a child interested in reading and writing.
For me, however, reading this book was painful. Literally, physically painful. I’d sit down to read, and before half an hour had passed I’d find myself reading at a snail’s pace, my head aching, completely disinterested in whatever I was reading at that moment–be it a romance scene, an epic battle of magic, a secret council, whatever. The worst part was, I couldn’t figure out why. This story has all the elements that usually draw me in: a young protagonist, intriguing magic system, political machinations, a fight of good vs. evil against impossible odds. There were the obvious flaws: the fact that he would throw references to historical events or words that would be common-place to the inhabitants of the world without any sort of hints to clue the reader in (aside from a glossary in the back that I quickly tired of referencing); the gargantuan cast of characters, many of whom were given so little development that they all blended together, and many of whom died before I could care that deaths were taking place, or who came back into the story so randomly that it took me many long moments to remember who they were and to mentally check myself and say that, yes, they must be important; the different intelligent species (at least, I think they’re different species, since they have different life-spans and weird markings appear on some of them as they go through puberty) that are given so little detail and page time that I don’t even know if they’re all humanoid or not; the lifestyle of a young nephew-prince (or something) that made no sense whatsoever; the lack of a coherent or cohesive magic system that, apparently, anyone with the ability can and should learn to use entirely on their own (even though they could inadvertently kill anyone at any moment). But even with all those flaws, even with those flaws, I should have loved the story. There was enough to interest me. But instead, I was getting a headache.
It took me a while, but I finally got it: I cannot stand the author’s writing style. There are no variations in sentence structure. All the sentences can be split into two or three without problem (and yes, I’m very aware that I created a gargantuan sentence last paragraph, but that was entirely on purpose and I apologize to any who found it annoying), and many have segments that should have been split since they were only vaguely connected. Many of the scenes are written in this by-the-way style that would be considered passive voice without any of the words that immediately labels something as passive voice. Not only that, but the writing is rife with telling instead of showing–the very first thing any good creative writing teacher tries to hammer out of their students. This by-your-leave sort of writing creates a large disconnect between the action and the style. It muddies the imagery and bogs down the verbiage. There’s also no emotion present during anything. Events happen. Characters act and react. More things happen. Oh, by the way, the person is angry now, and I just told you that anger filled him. Okay, the emotions are over now. For example: the main character, Jase, at one point is being chased by creatures called shadowspawn. He’s trapped in a tree, and it begins to fall:
“The tree fell impossibly slow, the snapping of branches muffled and distant as he watched the forest and sky rotate at odd angles around him [why is he watching this? Why isn’t he immediately thinking, “Oh crap, oh crap, I’m gonna die?”]. The illusion of slowness vanished as the tree crashed roughly to a stop. The force ripped him from the branch, and the wind blasted from his lungs as he slammed hard into a thick bough beneath. Pain shot the length of his back, and he rolled to the side and lay draped over a branch.”
It’s hard to pinpoint just in this paragraph what’s wrong, but let me try to rewrite this for you:
“Jase’s stomach lurched as the tree began to fall with a dreaded moan of wood-on-wood. It inched downwards, every moment a lifetime, and the forest and sky tilted sideways as Jase sat and watched, frozen, unable to do anything but hold on. He tried to yell, but no air escaped his lungs. Then, with a jolting crash, the tree slammed into another trunk. The force ripped him from his perch, and he slammed hard into a thick bough beneath him. The wind blasted from his lungs, and pain shot through the length of his back. He rolled to the side and lay draped over the branch.” (I’m not sure how he didn’t fall off this second branch, but we’ll keep it)
Obviously, this isn’t perfect. I might’ve tried to include the snapping of branches, but they most definitely wouldn’t have been muffled and distant. I also kept the Jase watching things happen bit, if only because it’s entirely possible that he would’ve frozen in this instance and been unable to anything but watch. And the perception of time slowing is always difficult to write. But I believe my edits made the story more immediate, made effect follow cause, and made it easier to tell what was going on. Finally, by adding Jase’s perspective, it made it so we care more about Jase and about what happens to him. You may not agree with me. You may not think there’s anything wrong with the original paragraph. And there’s not, not intrinsically. But imagine reading pages and pages of this. Without variation. Without emotional investment.
And you just might understand why I have a headache.