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I think this may be the very first time I’ve read a book not entirely because the story was engaging, but largely because I needed to finish it so I could review it and offer, I hope, some sound advice. I started in on Ember Rising Light here, but now that I’ve finished the novel, I’d like to give it a full and thorough review.

First, a disclaimer of sorts: I admire self-published authors greatly. I think what C. K. Mullinax has done here is an impressive and noteworthy feat. She spent a summer writing something she loved enough to put out there for the whole world to see. There is a level of achievement and accomplishment that should be noted and celebrated when a person can make a story come to life. Mullinax did this. In fact, it seems she did this many times over as, apparently, there are six books in the series and a reader’s companion on the way (see author’s website).

I should also mention that the story is not without its compelling moments. At more than 1300 pages, I could not have made my way through the entire thing without at least the smallest amount of interest in what was going on. In fact, I think there are strong bones for a very successful story here. That being said, there was a substantial amount of meat and fat choking those bones to death.

In something akin to Twilight legacy, Ember Rising Light is described like this:

A shrouded world – hidden in plain sight. A place where darkness hides evil and pure light veils extraordinary power… Tray and Ember Pateman are gypsies gifted with epic supernatural skills. They must learn to use their amazing powers as the shadows approach. Unearth a secret culture. Discover the unknown. Unravel the mysteries. There’s no way to prepare for – this… 

If you read my previous post, you can see already where my punctuation meltdown was born. In just the teaser, you get two hyphens and two sets of ellipses. I won’t reiterate at length, but this is truly indicative of the body of the novel. A lot of the technical errors in this novel could have been solved by hiring a professional editor. I understand that this isn’t a cheap endeavor and self-publishing leans on minimalizing initial costs, but I could have easily put the book down without finishing it based on the seemingly random and occasionally forced use of awkward punctuation had I not been so invested in making this a reviewing pet project.

The protagonist is a high school freshman who narrates in the first person with occasional switches to her brother’s first person point of view. The bulk of the novel takes place set in the high school and, more specifically, a lot of it takes place in the cafeteria. This is where I really started to feel influence from the Twilight novels. Add in the discovery of magical powers, a secret society of supernaturals, and an inherent introversion that lends itself to all the manias and social pitfalls of a school-aged outcast. Keeping in mind that this is a first person narration, pepper the novel with wholly unbelievable slang (flippin’ and ginormous are used to distracting excess) and an unreal level of self-doubt and self-judgement in the protagonist. The result, unfortunately, is a character that borders on manic depression, is self-involved to the point of nearly killing everyone else, and endlessly bemoans her extreme modesty (regularly five layers of clothes), lack of sexuality, inability to pick up even the most basic social cues, and hyper manic attachment to anyone that doesn’t punch her in the face upon meeting her. Although I do not condone violence or consider myself a particularly intolerant person, I leaned heavily toward punching her in the face from start to finish.

None of the other characters are as utterly unlikable as Ember. Even the characters you should abhor have more in common with an actual person than the amalgamation of crippling traits that is Ember. I can assume that there is a subset of readers that will find one or more of her flaws endearing or familiar enough to empathize with her, but I think it must be a very small or very narcissistic subset. I think even the greenest agent or semi-well-read beta reader might have pointed out the problem with an unlikable hero. Mullinax’s acknowledgements suggest that there were readers or editors among her friends, but this is another instance where a more professional eye could have done wonders for the novel as a whole. The character is vital to the story, but a reasonable balance of positive qualities with a significantly shorter list of flaws would have done wonders.

The plot moves surprisingly well. There is a fluidity and ease in which the story progresses that supports my hypothesis that Mullinax is actually a very good writer with very bad habits. There were moments that I had to remember my early days as a boy trying to puzzle my way through endless Judy Blume books just so that I could validate the importance of who likes who and hiding an iPod from school administrators. Truthfully, those moments seem rather mundane and meaningless to me when compared to a burgeoning new and completely alien power growing within that is capable of destroying, according to the author, an entire county by accident. However, summoning up memories of budding breasts, nocturnal emissions, and peer gossip in Blume’s novels did wonders to remind me that young people don’t always prioritize as an adult would.

Even with a respectable skill at pacing, Ember Rising Light spends 1300+ pages without experiencing any real conflicts or, much to my dismay, reaching any sort of conclusion. Like nearly every chapter, the book ends in an ellipsis. Cutting out a healthy portion of the least significant details (an entire unresolved story line of evil goth kids) and most (please, really, all) of the internal dialogue that is truly redundant to this first person narrative could easily trim the novel down to a more reasonable length and give plenty of room to actually resolve at least one of the conflicts.

All in all, I won’t be suggesting the book to anyone outside of the already existing Twilight fan base but, truthfully, there are enough of those to give Mullinax meteoric rise among self-published authors. If she has grown as a writer between this first novel and number six (seven counting the reader’s companion?) then there is reasonable evidence that she will do quite well for herself despite the pitfalls of Ember Rising Light. If anyone has read this book or further into the series, I’d love to hear how that went.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions of other free ebooks, please let me know. I am on a budget after all.

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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Recent Reads

So, last week I was given the opportunity to review a book before its October release. Apparently someone was doing their homework and noticed my brief review of Shelley Adina’s Magnificent Devices novels. As such, I was contacted by her lovely promo person and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the third installment: Magnificent Devices.

Normally I would re-read the first novels before delving into the newest in a series, but it hadn’t been that long since I’d read the first two and I was abnormally excited to get a sneak peek before the rest of the Steampunk world. Luckily, there was little to no difficulty in becoming reacquainted with the characters and, refreshingly, I got to know some returning characters much better. Specifically, the roguish and entertaining Mopsies. Whatever spark of inspiration brought Adina to refocus her attention on these two served her well. They are enduring characters, to be sure.

For me and the rest of you that prefer American Steampunk to its counterpart across the pond, the third novel is where the series really lifts off. Unlike the cartoonish underworld in the first two books, the criminal element in Magnificent Devices is much more edgy and threatening. The devices are far more magnificent, the characters (both primary and auxiliary) are more fully fleshed, and the story is more rife with action. As with the previous books, it is a quick read at about 200 pages, but you won’t regret the afternoon you spent on it.

Since I’m on previously read books, I also finished China Miéville’s The Scar. I’ve been keeping myself in order, reading his novels as they were produced even if there was a bit of a hiccup. His 2002 fantasy story The Tain is seemingly only available in anthologies and none of those were available on the nook. I am certainly not opposed to searching out printwork, but I’m on a budget and I’ve still got holiday gift certificate credit on the nook. So, you know.

At any rate, The Scar is a continuation of his New Crobuzon series. It has all of the weird and amazing and deliciously described details of Perdido Street Station with about 40% less fat. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Perdido Street Station with the sort of reader-passion that should be reserved for erotica. Even so, it had moments that were so convolutedly detailed that it took several read-throughs to understand what was going on. In The Scar, Miéville mastered the art of the self-edit. Still engrossing and descriptive, he manages to keep to the meat and trim the extraneous descriptions.

The character development, I think, also took a strong step forward. The protagonist, Bellis Coldwine, is my favorite sort of person. Self-absorbed, superior, and utterly disillusioned with humanity. Call me crazy, but I can relate much better with “flawed” characters than heroic caricatures. (“flawed” is stuffed into quotes because I find it disheartening that her most endearing characteristics are considered flaws in most literature.)

Either way, if you gave Perdido Street Station a chance and came out less than happy, try again with The Scar. Miéville makes it easy to read on its own and without much prior knowledge of New Crobuzon anyway, so you can start anew without any prejudices you might have developed initially.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Recent Reads

I try not to read much when I’m writing because I fear accidental inclusion of someone else’s ideas in my own writing. The last thing I need is to throw myself into editing and find out I’ve incorporated a hobbit or a warrior polar bear into my story line without realizing it.

That being said, while I work on edits I’m less likely to incorporate new components into the manuscript, so I read. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, so I take to these opportunities as if the only sustenance that will keep my withered heart beating is book after book after book.

Much like everyone else that was not currently in the know, I read The Hunger Games trilogy. I haven’t put much effort into reading other reviews, however, because I have plans to see the movie on Wednesday. Since one wrong Google could lead me to a movie review, I feel safer in waiting until I’ve seen it to see how other readers received the books.

For my part, I was initially very put off by the first person, present tense narrative. I get this feeling that someone, somewhere decided this was a good idea and I couldn’t agree less. Even so, I thought the book was very well written, the characters easy to love or hate as required, and the world so easy to envision that I almost suspect our own world tip-toes a fine line with that conjured up version.

The second and third books were good and I didn’t find myself liking the characters any more or less than I had, but the change from personal story to epic struggle was less endearing to me. I love a good epic adventure tale, but the stark shift from one life to all lives in balance created a bit of discord in the series for me.

Afterward, I tore through Shelley Adina’s first two novels in her Magnificent Devices series. Lady of Devices and Her Own Devices are available now and the third, Magnificent Devices, is expected this year. I found these books to be the best sort of thing to satisfy an afternoon with little else to do. They read very quickly.

Unlike the American Steampunk that I’ve been gravitating to more recently, these are unapologetically British. True, the third promises to take place in the Canadas and the States, but most traditional Steampunk fans will be pleased with the class structure, ever-present bustles and corsets, and a power struggle between the Wits (educated class) and Bloods (nobility). If you lean more toward the gritty and dystopian brand of Steampunk, there is an almost cartoonish underworld of crime central to the story. It isn’t exactly believable, but it didn’t diminish what was really just a fun read anyway.

 All in all, I do not count the time spent reading either series as time wasted. I expect that I will not purchase another NOOKbook until I have completed a short story or two to submit somewhere, but I am thankful for the respite they gave me.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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