Category Archives: Reviews

In Which I Expound On Reviews and Awareness

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Do reviews matter?

The answer depends on who you ask, how you define “reviews,” and what you mean by “matter.”

Ask a trade-published writer, and you’ll likely learn a review is first and foremost something written by a pro or semi-pro reviewer that will appear in an industry-supported or industry-centric publication.  That sort of review is expected to (fingers crossed!) boost enough interest and offer enough praise to filter down to the general readership in time to impact sales in the first week (or month, on the outside) after publication.

Ask a self-published writer, and you’ll likely learn a review is first and foremost something written by a reader, directed at other readers, that will appear on the online retailer’s sales page for the book or (second best) on a site like Goodreads.  That sort of review is expected to (fingers crossed!) boost enough interest and offer enough legitimacy to immediately impact the reader’s purchasing decision in the first week, the first month, the first year, and far beyond.

But no matter who you ask, the truthful answers all share one critical element:

Fingers crossed!

Like most other authors, I cross my fingers a great deal (when not using them to, y’know, write).  That’s why I put Sand of Bone in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off hopper.

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Stranger and Hostage — Reviews!

I don’t write reviews often.  Review-writing puts me in book-report mode (always hated those in school!), and then I’m certain everything comes out sounded as stilted as a nervous non-actor reading the opening chorus of Henry V for the first time.  But I love talking about books, and deeply truly want to see more readers connect with books deserving of their attention.  So, in the spirit of keeping 2015 as The Year of Giving Up, I present you with an actual review:

Stranger is the first book of The Change series, a collaboration written by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  Getting that book in print through traditional publishers was a many-year battle complicated by the fact the YA novel had, as one of its viewpoint characters, a gay teenager.  (Publishers Weekly provided coverage on the matter.  The article and its comments are well worth reading.)  It took an additional three years for Stranger to make it into print.

Stranger gave me a book hangover.  I stayed up way too late to finish it.  It has all the elements I love: real and conflicted characters, a fast-moving plot, and really smart writing.

The relationships between the characters evolved, broke apart, and came together without falling into the trap of melodrama. Rather than rely on a cliché of rebellious young people in conflict with their parents and culture, Stranger shows us working and healthy relationships between the generations. These are real young adults rather than over-the-top caricatures, and it’s refreshing to see them respected by the world’s adults as well. With action that moves so quickly, there’s no time to waste on false conflicts.

The world is familiar enough to feel comfortable, but I learned early on I shouldn’t for a moment let my guard down. I loved the unpredictability. Even in the midst of the novel’s climactic final third, revelations developed that completely changed my perspective on earlier events.

And once I finished Stranger, I wanted to pick up the next book… but it hadn’t yet been released.  How thrilled I was to get my hands on an ARC of Hostage, set to be released on January 6.  (It’s available for pre-order now.)  Why, yes, the sequel is self-published.  Details about the reasons will be discussed by the authors on the release date, and I’ll put up a link when it goes live.

Just like the first book of this series, Hostage kept me up reading far too late. The plot moves quickly and the worldbuilding delivers cool surprises, but it’s the characters who keep me engaged.

I absolutely love that so many of the adults of Las Anclas are determined to include and support the children and teenagers. The society is one where the young people are included as equals-who-are-learning rather than excluded as too-young-to-know-better, and the result is fully realized throughout the story.

And all those young people are clear and distinct people, which makes it easy for the reader to move between multiple viewpoints. I’m used to reading multiple-viewpoint novels, but usually find there’s at least one character whose viewpoint I want to skim. Not in this novel!

I do admit a special place in my heart for Jennie, who must face the emotional wounds she endured in Stranger. Her journey is portrayed with amazing empathy and realism that never slips into convenient resolutions. And she isn’t the only one struggling to figure out who she is in the aftermath of one battle while preparing to fight another.

Most of the major plot threads left open in Stranger are taken up and resolved in Hostage, but there is one notable exception left hanging. That exception is teased out now and then, so I expect it’ll entwine with the new threads that’ll carry forward into the next novel.

I don’t know how many novels are have planned, but do hope the series continues for some time. They’ve established plenty of unknowns to explore, and fantastic characters to do the exploring.

New Sand of Bone Review

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Really, you can’t be much more satisfied than when a reviewer recommends your dark fantasy novel to fans of KJ Parker.

To my great happiness, reviewer Marissa Lingen chose to give a full review to Sand of Bone, just as she did for Sword and Chant.

I love that she speaks about the themes of loyalty and personal motivations.

In SFF fiction in general, and epic fantasy in particular, the writerly temptation to attach broad and noble motivations to our characters is massive.  We want to believe our own heroes and grand historical figures were motivated to struggle and fight and at last achieve greatness by lofty ideals alone.  It just sounds better to say, “He wanted freedom for everyone!” than to say, “His son was insulted again, and he just couldn’t see his son cry one more time.”

The first one is the “public” face, the motivation that will rally others to agree and act.  But the second one is the real reason, and is equally noble despite the fact most folks won’t give a damn about what happens to his son (outside of its PR value as an origin story, that is).  It’s the public reason, the noble reason, that connects the empathetic few with the self-motivated whole.

With Sand of Bone, I didn’t want to create characters motivated from the start by Grand Notions that would later be revealed as having personal underpinnings.  It’s a valid storytelling method, to be certain, but backwards. I wanted to use my viewpoint characters to carry out the real-life version of what leads to dissention: start with deeply personal reasons for standing up to authority and, if enough people agree, maybe it’ll be deemed noble.  If even more people agree, maybe it’ll be a movement.  But for the characters, backstory is never backstory.  It’s the reason for every breath.

And the fact Lingen touched upon that in her review makes me even happier than the Parker-reader recommendation.