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This is a difficult book to recommend to anyone because of how scattered the style is. In the first third of the book both the characters and the plot seem to come right out of a preteen novel with laughable dialogue and very little substance to keep the reader interested. Follows a high school soap opera of sort filled with two dimensional unlikable students. At that point, the only thing keeping me from deleting the book was the frustration of having spent money on such a poorly written novel. Finally, the last third became more bearable with a darker and more mature story line.
Nevertheless, none of it was what could be qualified as adequate, leaving the awful feeling of having wasted not only my money, but my time also.
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Overall: D+ (68/100), and I think that’s being nice. It’s too meaningless for being as bleak as it is and too bleak for being as aimless as it is. I really WANTED to like it, but Swanwick disappoints.
The Narration (72/100): Eileen Stevens gave an adequate performance. Narration pace was good and tone was decent. The problems (specifically/especially larynx dissonance) arose when she assumed a male voice, particularly an authoritative male. I’m sure you’ve seen some girl/woman imitate a male voice by adopting an exaggerated baritone, tucking in her chin, and—for some odd reason—making every “s” sound more like “sh.” Well, that was the picture in my head every time there was an authoritative male in this book. While there were a few of male characters that were a little less ridiculous, most of the time I would’ve just preferred for Stevens to play it flat. I’d rather complain about flat delivery than having almost comical male voices that sound pretty much the same for several characters. The dragon’s voice was done as a sinister whisper, which was fine for a while, but got old about 2/3 of the way through the book.
The Novel (64/100): The story opens on a girl (Jane) in a child slave labor factory, where she plans an escape, and then we follow her tale from there. Numerous characters are introduced through different stages of the journey, and several are used to decent effect in reflecting something about Jane.
- THE GOOD:
(1) Several characters served worthwhile roles in either the concrete plot or, more frequently, the less concrete symbolism, implication, or reflection on Jane’s life or psyche.
(2) The general premise and broad outline of the plot is a really good idea (the execution was flawed—see below).
(3) There was an interesting cyberpunk aspect of the book that was pretty cool (e.g. you find out within the first chapter that "dragon" is the name for apparently sentient machines that people pilot—like a conscious fighter jet with a chip on its shoulder).
(4) For the most part, I enjoyed the way the book unabashedly delved into the ‘darker’ side of fantasy/fairy tale lore. The author doesn’t shy away from: explicit language; sexual content (don’t worry, not florid descriptions like those erotic romance novels); or other subjects, activities, scenes that are uncomfortable and/or illicit (abuse, theft, assault). Some examples: A conversation with a gargoyle casts a gritty realism on their role in an urban “ecosystem”; Magic that involves cutting/blood; Magic that uses sex (or uses people for sex) in order to direct energies; Ambiguous good/bad roles/characters/schemes; Violence; etc.
- THE BAD:
(1) To say that the story meanders a bit would be a major understatement. Like I said, the broad outline was interesting, but the story could’ve easily been broken into 3 separate tales that had very little to do with one another.
(2) There were more than a few occasions when an apparent tangential portion of the story dragged, and I started getting impatient, waiting for it to—and wondering how it could—tie back into the broader arch. In several instances, this proved anticlimactic.
(3) The aforementioned adult content did get to be a little excessive. I’m all for dark fantasy, New Weird, and gritty realism, but there were more than a couple parts that just seemed to be graphic for the sake of being graphic. This was especially true of some of the sexual components. A few times I thought “WTF is the point here? ...Oh wait, there wasn't one."
(4) Anticlimactic ending that left me thinking “Well, then what was the point of all the trouble? Is this just a poorly executed climax and dénouement or is it SUPPOSED to ring with tones of nihilism?” This wouldn’t bug me so much, but the REPEATED intimation was that there was to be some great event that would make all the bleak parts of Jane’s life worth it. For a more complete explanation with major spoilers, see the 1-star Amazon review by Dur'id the Druid.
- THE REALLY BAD:
(1) Incongruities in the basis for much of the plot‼! For a more complete explanation with minor spoilers, see the 1-star Amazon review by Adam Beece.
(2) Jarring jump-cut style transitions between “Acts” 1, 2, & 3 in which we’re introduced to a litany of heretofore-unknown (and seemingly pointless) characters in the middle of things (i.e. well after the getting-to-know-you period that Jane went through). This would be OK if either: (a) sorting out who’s who and why they matter didn’t take so much effort; or (b) knowing who’s who actually turned out to make an iota of difference! Maybe that should've been a caveat at the beginning of each act... "Confused? No need. Don't worry about getting to know most of these characters, because it won't matter in the end."
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