Friday, December 23, 2016

Let's Get This Over With, or, Two Reviews

Writing difficult reviews isn’t a lot of fun, so this post features two.  Let’s get them out of the way so we can get back to the good stuff.  I’ve got a hard copy of Cirsova burning a hole in my queue.

First up, Castalia House’s Loki’s Child, by Fenris Wulf - one of the all time great names.  This came highly recommended, but it just didn’t float my boat.  It’s a modern day comedy about the music industry, what the film types call a slapstick caper?  I guess?

The set-ups, the characters, the plot, everything about it is extremely well done, but it all rests on an understanding of the music culture that I lack.  Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the music industry, I’m talking about the music culture.  This isn’t one of those books that would only be funny to people working inside the music industry, but to should be appealing to anyone who loves music and follows music culture (or one of the subcultures).  They would catch a lot of references and see the loving tribute to the culture that this book represents.

For me, it just felt like watching a Bollywood movie.  It’s very well done, and it’s understandable why somebody else would like it, but it just isn’t for me.
Why was that so hard?  Well, I love Castalia House.  This is the first book they’ve published that didn’t grab me by the lapels and force me to sit up and take notice.  I wish them all the best, and not just because they pay me to record audio books for them.  I don’t love their works because I do voice work for them, I do voice work for them because I love their works. 

So it goes with JD Cowan’s “Knights of the End”.  Cowan is one of my favorite book bloggers.  His posts are well thought out, appeal to my sense of righteous anger at a culture that was drifted too far from its roots, and force me to think hard about aspects of the culture in ways that would never have occurred to me.  But don’t take my word for that – he made Castalia House’s list of Top Book Bloggers of 2016.
I had high hopes for this book.  Cowan is a smart man who understands the deeper connotations of publishing and storytelling, and I was eager to see how he used his insights and understandings.  This was a prime opportunity to forget about theory for a bit and look at implementation.  Theory is easy, it’s where the rubber meets the road that things get hard.
“Knights of the End” has its heart and its mind in the right place, but it didn’t work for me.  This may be because I am not the target audience.  Cowan has explicitly said that this book is written for younger teens, and as a modern day juvenile adventure it could be that it works like magic.  Everything from the bullied protagonist being granted terrific powers, an exploration of a world beyond the mundane, and a supporting cast that just doesn’t understand the hero of the story seems calculated to appeal to younger readers.
My chief complaints – that the Chekov’s guns are broadcast to heavily, that the mentor’s alternate between acting wise and childish, that the descriptions lack subtlety and nuance – likely result from Cowan’s desire to match the text to the target audience.  If so, this is the one area where we disagree.  He has a great position on heroism, responsibility, and fighting back not just against alien invaders but against a culture that feels wrong.  But these are all conveyed by older works written for more adult tastes and still enjoyed by pre-teens to this day.  The pulp authors beloved by so many of us as youths ( Howard, Burroughs, and I’d argue even Rowling) didn’t scale back the grade-level readability in order to appeal to younger readers, nor should Cowan.
“Knights of the End” has a great super-heroic plot, and a number of high points.  It has the right beats and the right twists and turns in the right places.  I particularly enjoyed the an early switcheroo Cowan plays on the reader with the protagonist’s best friend.  But in the end, it’s really written for younger tastes than mine.  If you have a younger teen in your life that you’d like to introduce to a more modern take on the fantastic, and one where you can feel comfortable that the plot serves traditional values more than those foisted on us by the maintstream culture, then you can be comfortable giving this to him or her.  But I wouldn’t recommend it for more mature tastes.
Perhaps it mitigates my review when I say that I’m looking forward to Cowan’s next work.  He’s doing the right things, his head is in the right place, and my hopes remain high that when writing for more mature audiences, the problems that kept me from enjoying this book will vanish.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Loki's Child when it was tightly focused on the music industry (former musician here - even from my distant vantage point, the music satire was brutal and on point), and less so when it left those squalid grounds.