Author: Brian D. Anderson
Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
Length: 344 pages
Read: February 2-15, 2013
Summary: Fun teen epic fantasy
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publications. This being my favorite genre, I figured I’d give some a try.
The Godling Chronicles: The Sword of Truth (don’t confuse with Terry Goodkind’s series of that name) adheres to many of the classic tropes: a sort of Indie The Book of Three meets The Eye of the World. Plotwise, we have a kind of Dark Lord, and we have a young guy from the country with a destiny. He has a mentor, he goes on a journey. There are girls (but no sex – boo!). The (relatively) unique element is that he’s really a god — albeit a reduced in-human-form god who doesn’t know it.
I liked this book, and if I were 13-14 again, I’d have loved it. The plot is straightforward but fine and it’s actually a bit refreshing harkening back to those classic “Shanara type” fantasies of the 80s. With the exception of the brief prologue, the narrative sticks tightly to a single protagonist and that keeps the pace up. As an added bonus, the story was co-written by the author’s 9-10 year-old son, which is very cool.
It’s not a long novel, 344 pages, and represents an opening salvo, more of a “first part” than a traditional “giant chunk” like a Wheel of Time book. This is fine, as it’s inexpensive and you can just download part 2 when you get there. I actually like that changes in publishing are allowing for more flexibility of form.
But I do have a few problems with the mechanics. The sentence work itself is fine. Workman like, but never awkward. However, the novel is simultaneously both over and underwritten. Let’s start with the under part. The book is written in 3rd person omni with no strong narrative voice and a focus on a few of the characters. Fine. But, the author mainly uses two tricks from his narrative toolbox to advance the plot: dialog and inner dialog. There is some action, but it’s fairly thinly painted. There is almost no narrative description, or description at all for that matter. This keeps the story lean and moving, but leaves us with a very thin sense of place and world. We pass through several cities and various countryside, but I was left with no particular sense of any of them. Most of the words are devoted to conversation and almost all plot points are revealed (and re-revealed) this way.
Which comes to the overwriting part, which isn’t so much at the sentence or fragment level (this, as I said, was decent) but occurred as (often) characters felt the urge to repeat news and revelations to new parties. Of course this happens in real life, but as a reader, once we know something we don’t usually need to hear it again. This is a first novel, and probably not HEAVILY edited, so I expect this kind of thing has improved by book 2, but in general fictional dialog (in books, movies, TV, etc) is like a facsimile of real dialog. It gets the point across in an ideally witty way (probably with more arguing than in real life) and stripped of a lot of the glue that real conversations contain. Those mechanics like “hello” “how are you?” and “Meet me at the fountain.” “You mean the one past the statue around the corner from the butcher shop?” “No the other one, um, um, past the Inn with the greenish turtle sign and the tree that got hit by lightning the other year.” I.e. Stuff we don’t really care about.
The whitespace style in this book is very horizontal (i.e. few line feeds) and I think actually having more can make this sort of thing clearer to author and reader alike. Each line must strive to say something new — ideally even several new things. These things can be plot points, details about the world, revelations of character, or general nuance. If a line can’t defend its right to exist, several ways, well as Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
But that being said, if you’re a young fantasy fan, The Sword of Truth is still a fun little romp. It’s straightforward, and unapologetic about the genre. That’s fine with me. I’ve got nothing against some good Dark Lord action.