I received this book from LibraryThing’s Member Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. And I am going to be honest.
There’s something not bad buried deep in this mess. However, the mess includes wildly eccentric similes, amazingly awkward sentences, a great many words that – with a nod to Inigo Montoya – don’t quite mean what the author thinks they mean, distractingly odd colloquialisms, dismayingly haphazard worldbuilding, irritatingly erratic punctuation … I normally would have made an unladylike sound of disgust and DNF’d this pretty quickly. But I was curious.
The storytelling is a muddle: it’s supposed to be a history sent by someone named Iggy to an unknown patron; she is sending the story in pieces (packets) because she must be on the move for some reason known to the two of them but not the reader. She mentions that she has narrowed down her subjects to five historical figures whose stories she will tell, therefore indicating a series of five books, I assume. The first is Nick, a sixteen-year-old art prodigy who will become “the Marsh King”, a figure of terror.
Okay, now, the art. My first impulse is to mutter mutinously: the folk in this book esteem art highly (that can’t be bad, right?) and hold competitions. But … the first competition described is a speed-painting relay race. I don’t even know what to think about that. Speed is one of the most highly praised abilities in an artist in this story – if you can’t knock off a still life in a couple of minutes, you’re nothing. I was trained by a man who painted trompe l’oiels into which he put a bare minimum of eighty hours, and he taught a class which spent a full semester on one painting. Speed-painting relay races hurt my brain.
Nick is estranged from his parents, famous artists themselves; if this rift is explained at all, I missed it. He’s in great need of psychological help – or help of some kind, at least, because he’s constantly talking to himself, or to voices no one else can hear, and he’s constantly being bullied and beaten up by other kids. (And in the book they’re never “other boys” or anything like that: they’re “kids”. There’s one of the intrusive colloquialisms I mentioned, others being “Awesome!” and the constant exclamations “Woa” [sic] and “Ya” [also, sic]. A man is never a man, but a “guy”; “could have” and “would have” and “might have”are often “could’ve” and “would’ve” and …you get it. I’m not talking about dialogue – this is the narrator’s voice.) The reason no one – kid or adult – likes him is that he apparently brings bad luck wherever he goes. Sometimes. Maybe. Is it his fault, really? If so, why? He gets the blame for broken brushes and accidents and attacks of nerves that happen in his vicinity, at least, although from his point of view there is no mention of trying to do any such thing, or even being aware of it.
And, see, there’s one of my problems with this thing. The story is being told, we are informed right off the bat, by Iggy. Yet within each packet – constituting what seems to be a random chunk of story (the chunks are not distinct sections of the story in any other way, just in the fact that they are divided by interruptions from Iggy) – there are moments from the characters’ points of view which would have to be pure conjecture, pure fiction, on Iggy’s part. The reader “hears” Nick’s thoughts – and his friends’, at times, and his enemies’, and random bystanders’. In other words, this is a fantasy novel which seems to have been written in the form of a omniscient-narrator historical novel presented as history … I think.
Despite all of this, I kept going. Skimming, for the most part, but going. The revelation of the setting did not improve – if anything, as more stray details were piled on, it became worse and worse, more and more muddy. I wanted to reach the end because this … kid (*twitch*) is supposed to become something terrible, and there are a few “had he but known” foreshadowing moments which indicate calamity to those around him. I have to give this tale this much: it’s a unique story. But it’s such a mish-mash of everyday YA bits (being bullied, and liking a girl, and thinking parents are disappointed, and having annoying younger siblings) and not-everyday but still mundane bits (painting contests, and a village in the middle of a forest/jungle, and exotic plants and animals like coconuts and marmosets and such, and a people who know what horses and soldiers are but have never seen any), along with a hefty dose of completely invented bits (plants that grow from their seeds in hours or minutes, and newly invented animals (what’s a badillo when it’s at home? I don’t know, but they talk about them a lot), and paintbrushes that change their shape on command, and so on)… It might make sense, after a huge amount of work was put into making it do so. As it stands, the mish-mash is just a mesh. Mess.
Again, there’s something there, like one of those strange seeds the main character keeps planting to grow strange plants (at lightning speed). It needs a disinterested party to sit down and dissect it and stitch it back together again, with all the plot and setting holes mended and the style and grammar errors and eccentricities tamed. This is one of the great shames of self-publishing: however much confidence he has in his own work, a writer is always going to be too close to it to be able to tell whether what he wants to say is what he’s actually saying. Or to see typos or other errors that spellcheck isn’t going to catch (“wooden statute” instead of “wooden statue”).
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
I wrote most of the above as I was skimming along from about the 40% mark; I couldn’t make myself read it with any depth, but I was still willing to work through the whole thing and see what happened with the story. But then I hit about 66%, and this sentence:
“…his eyes narrowed and a small wave of veins sprouted through his muscles.”
And I raised the white flag. I just couldn’t continue after that. Up to that point I was giving a lot of benefits of a lot of doubts: most of the mistakes I was coming across were of the sort that are usually defended with “You know what I meant!” But this …? I have no idea. It’s incomprehensible – and kind of gross. And to be perfectly honest now I’m a little angry. I’m writing a book (who isn’t?). I would be beyond ashamed of myself if I allowed my manuscript out of my hands in even remotely the condition this one is in.
I would be ashamed to let a text message go out if it looked like most of this writing.
How dare anyone wanting to call themselves an author wrap up their brainchild with a title and a cover painting (which is not bad at all, sadly) and release it out into the world without troubling to have it read through by someone capable of an intelligent, unbiased opinion. I’m deeply irritated that I was guilted – that I let myself be guilted – into spending as much time on this thing as I have. I’m annoyed that this thing is yet another example of Why To Avoid Self-Published Authors – that’s not fair, because I know from some of my friends on Goodreads that there is some wonderful stuff being self-published. But (to wax Scarlett) as God is my witness, this has the general look of a last nail in a coffin. I am going to be so unbelievably careful about the self-published novels I let myself get sucked into from now on. I have literally thousands of books which have undergone editing and proofreading which I could be reading instead.
I read or skimmed to 60%, so I feel fully justified in both rating and reviewing this book. I was foreseeing a two star rating, the second one being a nod to the fact that the idea is unique and might have amounted to something. I can’t do it. I want back the time I spent trying to read it.