Sunday, September 26, 2010

REVIEW: "Hemlock and the Wizard Tower" by B. Throwsnaill

Within the Prologue of this story, you are immediately drawn into a magical world where practitioners can heal or harm with the use of magic. But the magic is fading in the Warrens, and Hemlock is impelled to find out why. With a bravery known only to a few, she sets out on an epic adventure to infiltrate the Wizard Tower in the City. There, she plans to destroy the machine she believes is sucking all the magic out of the Warrens. This adventure takes on unexpected turns, as Hemlock finds herself joining forces with a series of magical beings, in a variety of unexpected places.

This book is truly an epic, following Hemlock through many adventures to accomplish her main goal. It is set up to be a serial, and there is plenty of room for the adventure to continue. Hemlock's story is not over yet. While reading, I was reminded of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, although I must admit I haven't read them for many, many years. The worlds created in this book are rich with detail, and this initial story could easily be divided into two stories. After such detailed adventure throughout the story, the ending seemed quite rushed to me. It felt like the pivotal scene with Falignus would actually be better served in a second story. There are seven Wands, perhaps seven stories would be realistic?  

As I began reading this book, I immediately noticed that the writing, though fluid and obviously well thought out, was quite dense with description. In trying to decide if I liked the extremely detailed and descriptive writing, I soon realized that it left nothing to the imagination. I think one of the wonderful things about reading is the ability to let the reader infer some of the storyline. When the reader is inferring, the reader is engaged in the story, and it becomes that much more enjoyable. We all want to lose ourselves in great books, this is why we read. In this story, there was nothing to infer, as it was all spelled out quite clearly. Although I think the writing was well-constructed, I really wanted a bit less, so I could engage more. I wasn't able to truly immerse myself in the story; I felt as if I were reading a clinical reporting on an historic adventure. This detached feeling I got from reading was disappointing, as the storyline was ultimately one in which I could have truly engaged. The rich details were engaging, the extensive explanation so there was nothing to infer was not.

In addition to the very detailed writing, there were a few inconsistencies that were confusing. The author used flashbacks to give us much of the backstory, which I think is a helpful writing technique. The flashbacks were used inconsistently, however. In the beginning, there were many flashbacks in a short amount of time, and then none for quite a while. I think spacing the flashbacks out more evenly would be a more effective way to use them. Allowing us to become part of the Hemlock's journey on the way to the Wizard Tower would eliminate the need for some of those initial flashbacks, and engage the reader. Flashbacks were written in italics, which was helpful for distinguishing what was happening now versus what had already happened, but at one point in the story, we are given a "side flash" to see what Falignus was up to. Because the side flash was also written into italics, it was difficult at first to see that this was happening in present times rather than in the past. Other "side flashes" were written without italics, so I wasn't sure why this one was in italics.

Another technique that really threw me off was the use of quote marks to mark what characters were thinking. It was very distracting, as quotes to me say that someone is speaking, and it wasn't immediately clear the the character was only thinking inside her (or his) head.  In one part of the story, it is clear that the writing is referring to Hemlock's thoughts, and then suddenly one of her thoughts is in quotes. I wondered why use quotes at all if her thoughts could have continued to be given without them.

There were several small typos throughout the story (e.g., Coty for City, "it's" instead of "its," a missing letter here or there); enough that I noticed, but not enough to really detract from the story. The use of commas, or lack of commas, in places was distracting, however. There were many commas missing in direct addresses, such as "It is fine Hemlock, we can wait for a time" he replied (p. 357).  Are we speaking here of "fine Hemlock," or telling Hemlock it is fine? Also in that example, there is no comma at the end of his quote (inside the quote marks). It's always been my understanding that punctuation is necessary at the end of quotes, and it comes within the quotation marks. In this case, a comma would be appropriate after the word "time."

I really think that revising would take this really interesting storyline to the next step and become the epic adventure the author intended. If you like detailed epic fantasy, this book is right up your alley. Either way, I do think this is a story with great potential, and I was glad to be on Hemlock's adventure.

3 /5 stars

Edited on 9/29/10 to add the following:

This review has been on my mind lately. I know that I wrote the review shortly after finishing the story, while it was fresh in my mind. I edited the review several times before hitting the "publish post" button. I really thought about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to rate the book. It's one of my most detailed reviews. Yet, for some reason, I am still pondering what I've written.

There is such substance to this story, such rich detail, such an intricate, well-thought out storyline. There are symbolic parallels that can be drawn to modern-day issues (e.g., energy crisis/magic crisis, for one). There are characters that are interesting and deep, sometimes leaving you guessing what "side" they are really on. The writing in this story is fluid and descriptive. And yet I felt (and still feel) that the finished product, for me, falls within that 3 star range.

Is it that there was so much in there that it was hard for me to focus on the main idea? Is it that the excessive explaining prevented me from really fully engaging, as I indicated in my original review? Is it that the inconsistencies and/or typos I noted were enough to deter me from fully enjoying the book?

I'm honestly not sure. I think, to me, it feels like a work with so much potential that somehow didn't hit the mark I was expecting. I was drawn in from the beginning, and I loved the path I saw the book initially taking, but somewhere along the way I became a bit lost in the details. I really think my main issue was with the excessive explanations, and the fact that it made me feel more like I was reading an accounting of an adventure, and not totally invited to share in the adventure. I suspect some people really enjoy that type of detailed writing, and, to be honest, I did enjoy the book (a 3 star rating for me is a book I'd recommend to others). I really wanted to see how it ended, I really was interested in the characters and the plot. I just think perhaps, in the end, I didn't feel a part of the story. Am I the only one who feels that's an essential part of reading? To lose oneself in the story? I'd love to hear your comments!

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