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Review: “The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents” by Rusty Biesele (LEFT UNFINISHED)

Title: The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents
Author: Rusty Biesele
Series: The Children Of Sophistra #1
Rating: LEFT UNFINISHED
Publisher/Copyright: CreateSpace, 2013

I never leave a book unfinished once I’ve started it. Never. Not intentionally, anyway.* But midway through this book, I had a revelation: Life is too short to waste on books that you have zero interest in. When you find yourself actively avoiding picking up the book you’re currently reading, that’s a bad sign. I’ve suffered through several really poor books on the basis of having won them in a giveaway, and feeling obligated to finish them so as to fulfill the terms of the agreement, but in this case I just can’t do it. Had The Doomsday Diaries or The Tarizon Trilogy come up in my queue following this decision, would I still have finished them? Hard to say. They certainly weren’t good, but they were at least readable. In the case of this particular book, I forged my way through the first third, found myself still completely unengaged, and threw my hands up in submission. The desire to know how the story ends is not at all a factor, since even beyond my disinterest I know I don’t care enough to track down the other three books, and so this serial will end (for me) with a cliffhanger anyway. I received a free copy of the book from the author through the Goodreads FirstReads program, and I’m always grateful for free books. I’m just sorry in this case that he got such a poor return on his investment.

The book opens with a brief chapter in which the book itself tells you how to read it, insults you, and threatens to kill you if you damage it.** See, most of the characters are telepathic, and there are different bullets and typefaces used to indicate whether the text is being transmitted on a private channel, an open channel, is a recorded transmission, or is just plain narrative exposition. This could be cool, I wanted it to be cool, but it turned out to just be distracting. There’s a frame story with a young boy (who is apparently the younger version of the main character) and his mother, who has used her fairy powers to drug her husband so that she can read The Book Of Time to their son. Apparently this is an atrocity, but will somehow fix future events in place in the form she wants them to take, except that “Atreyu” (who I take to be either God or an analog of Him) has already taken steps to prevent this happening. Not creepy at all. Apparently The Book Of Time is a paradox and contains all the stories that will ever happen, because the story that follows is supposedly the future. We cut to the older version of Stephan, the young boy, at age thirteen. He and his lover, the nineteen-year-old Tova2, are just hanging around invisible to observe the beginning of the education of two other boys. Ty is nine, sees “ghosts” who tell him secrets, and has some mysterious connection to Stephan. Tyco is eleven, can fire energy beams from his palms, and was somehow engineered by a group of lizards? I didn’t get far enough for them to explain that. These two are being tutored by Elof2, a Tibetan-American teacher. Oh, and apparently both Elof2 and Tova2 are clones of people that Stephan accidentally killed because he doesn’t have control of his powers. It’s a little jarring to hear someone refer to “the time I killed you” in casual conversation with another character, let me tell you. The world that is constructed here has potential to be interesting, as do the characters, but the writing prevents them from reaching more than a modicum of their potential. Beyond the writing, the off-putting factors go on and on; some I could overlook, others would be harder to do so. There’s a creepy pseudo-sexual (possibly actually sexual as well, between the lines) relationship between the thirteen-year-old protagonist and his nineteen-year-old lover. The numbers by everyone’s names could be tweaked slightly to be less jarring, like in the film The Island–Lincoln Six Echo is much less jarring than Tova2, wouldn’t you agree? The characters themselves, far from being as interesting as they’re supposed to be, just fall flat. Stephan is a whiny little teenager, and we have to be constantly reminded that he’s to be their messianic figure so we don’t hate him. Ty is almost as whiny, and the mystery surrounding his nature is also annoying. You can do mystery well, but that involves actually parceling out information as you go instead of taunting your audience with the fact that they don’t know what’s going on over and over again. The illustrations are supposed to be a selling point, but instead they’re just creepy. Initially I attributed this to the black-and-white copy I have, but after seeing the colorized versions on the website I have to conclude that that just makes it worse–everyone has “Sith eyes!” If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know what I mean by that. I hate to break my record, but I just have zero interest in finishing this book.

CONTENT: Mild language, so far as I read. Some disturbing violence. Disturbing pseudo-sexual content. The metaphysics of this universe lend themselves much more to alien life forms and powers granted by their manipulation than they do to occult explanations, but characters who aren’t aware of what’s going on would probably suspect otherwise.

*There have been a couple books that had to be returned to the library mid-stream, but I always intended to check them back out. It just hasn’t always happened….

**Apparently writing your name inside the cover doesn’t count, because my brain remains un-toasted.

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Review: “The Guild Of The Cowry Catchers, Book I–Embers” by Abigail Hilton

Title: Embers
Author: Abigail Hilton
Series: The Guild Of The Cowry Catchers #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Pavonine Books, 2013

I have to say, I am very conflicted when it comes to this book. On the one hand, the writing was decent, especially considering it was free. I liked the main characters by the end, even the one you start the book hating by default because the protagonist does. The world was fairly well developed, and the worldbuilding exposition not too intrusive. The flipside of this? The world that was so well developed makes my skin crawl. I’ll get to that below. Also, I was under the impression that this was the first book in a series–as in, a complete story set within the larger context of the series arc. Instead, it’s a serial. There’s no resolution, just a slightly-more-final-than-usual chapter break with a vaguely ominous teaser for what happens next. I admire the business strategy, making the first part of the story free to get you hooked, but I’m still annoyed at having to shell out money if I want to find out what happens next. Will I? Not sure, honestly. Not for a while, at any rate. If it’s still bugging me in a month or so I might spring for it. Depends on my book-buying budget. (This is not to slam serials, just to vent slightly because what I got was not what I expected. My fault, not the author’s.) All that said, I would recommend giving this a look. This first installment is free from Amazon in the illustrated version, and the illustrations are undeniably beautiful. They lost something on my B&W Kindle, of course, so my future purchases will probably be the cheaper unillustrated collection. I did go back and look at the illustrations on my computer in color, but they’re not worth the extra money to me. They might be to you….

The islands of Wefrivain thrive on inequality and division. They are populated by humanoid shelts (think the fauns and satyrs of mythology, but with more variety in their non-human half) and unified only by the heavy-handed wyvern cult that has rooted out and persecuted all other religious expression. The dominant species are the Grishnards, griffin-shelts, with other panauns (shelts with paws instead of hooves) living as second-class citizens. The various species of fauns (hoofed shelts) suffer a far worse fate, nearly wiped out on most of the islands save the one that is kept as a game preserve, and even there facing the constant threat of being hunted and eaten. Not surprisingly, there’s a spirited resistance group of pirates and other similar parties fighting to overturn the social order. Each of the varied islands is an isolated kingdom, beholden and answering only to wyverns and their ageless High Priestess.

Gerard Holovar is the High Priestess’ newest Captain of the Police, promoted from the ranks of the Temple Watch navy after a particularly spectacular capture of a pirate vessel. Gerard is tasked with finding and destroying Sky Town, the rumored headquarters of the resistance, but for that he will need the help of Silveo Lamire, his former commander who has tried to kill him on multiple occasions…..

As I said above, I’m conflicted on this one. In the plus column, the world was pretty well fleshed out and seemed pretty real given it’s premise. I even have to grant that the parts that creep me out make a fair amount of sense, given the animal-based biology of the characters and society. But…it’s so disturbing! Now, the characters in the story are humanoid descendants of carnivorous and herbivorous beasts respectively, so the dynamic remains unchanged from ages past. I get that, really I do. But any story where sentient beings are being eaten by other sentient beings just gives me the heebie-jeebies. I like Gerard, really I do. Against my better judgement, I was even growing fond of Silveo by the end of the book. But the fact remains that Gerard and Silveo are working to preserve the horrific status quo. I like them, but I can’t help hoping they fail in their quest to track down Sky Town. I suspect that this is deliberate, and my issues on this count will be resolved in later installments….

CONTENT: I don’t recall there being any profanity worth mentioning. There is a fair amount of violence, sometimes disturbing given the whole eating-each-other thing. There is also some sexual content, not too explicit this time but I gather that it gets more so in later books.

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