Yes, it's been a while since I've done one of these, and I'm not doing a very good job at having at least one a month (my own, personal goal), but there have been... extenuating circumstances. One of those was the month of April. I did almost no reading in April that wasn't related to research for A to Z, but I'm almost all caught up now.
Before I get into the review, though, I want to make something clear: I don't believe in reviewing or rating a book that I didn't actually read. I don't mean tried to read, either; I mean completely read. It's fine to state that you couldn't get into a book and, therefore, didn't read it, but I think it's wrong to place a value judgement on something that you didn't actually experience. Why, yes, I do have an example! I'm going to go back, once again, to my son reading Treasure Island (yes, yes, I know! I've been stuck on Stevenson big time, lately! I was even telling my wife the other night that I'm somewhat fascinated with him, but that's a discussion for another time (and not soon since I just posted about him (this is not, after all, a blog devoted to RLS))).
Anyway, my (younger) son has been (mostly) receptive to reading the books I've suggested to him. But we had an issue when it came to Treasure Island, and, since I've talked about this before, we'll just say that I really had to prod him through the first couple of chapters and had to say (more than once), "Have I ever suggested anything bad to you?" The answer to that is "no," by the way. Long story short, he ended up loving the book and (unprompted) thanked me for "making" him read it (which I didn't actually do, I just strongly suggested that he give it a chance). The point, though, is that his initial impression was that he didn't like it and, if I had just allowed him to not read it, any "review" of it would have run somewhat along the lines of "this book was so bad that I couldn't read it." Of course, that was not reality.
So I don't believe in reviews or ratings based off of an incomplete experience of the product. And that story is not meant to imply anything about the quality of the work I'm about to talk about; I just want to make it clear that I read the whole thing, so the following review is not based off of the first chapter of something I decided I "couldn't" read.
Which brings us to The Last of the Venitars by Matthew Irvine.
Matthew is sort of the perfect example of why I wanted to do this whole unexpected applause thing. He doesn't have any internet presence to speak of, but he's written and self-published this book, and I thought, "hey, it would be neat to help this guy out and point people at his book."
The problem came when I started reading it. He's also a good example of why people think that self-publishing is for people that can't make it in "real" (traditional) publishing.
So I started reading his book and realized pretty much right away that it wasn't ready for public consumption. I contacted the author and gave him my thoughts, the main one being that he should pull the book and get some real editing assistance before making it available. I went on to say that I was fairly confident that I would not be able to give the book any kind of positive review if I took it in the state that it was in. Yes, I know: I hadn't gotten any of the story, yet, but the grammar issues were that bad. Bad enough that the first paragraph needs to be completely rewritten.
I do have to admire Mr. Irvine for his response, though:
"Please review it as it is and be as objective, open and critical as you would if you were describing the work privately to a friend. I know there's little point putting your work out there if you're not looking for honesty."
So... That is what I'm going to do. Not that it's an easy thing to do, but it is by request. I even re-made the offer after I finished the book, and he stuck by his first response. At this point, even though I'm going to be giving a review that holds nothing positive about the work in question, I feel it would be wrong not to give the review.
As usual, let's start with the technicals. If I was an English teacher (and I've been that upon occasion), and Matthew Irvine was one of my students, I wouldn't even accept this. I'd hand it back and tell him it's not finished and to get back to work on it. [That's kind of what I did with the offer I made.] However, being a work that's been turned in, it would get an "F" on all of the writing aspects of writing.
The author, evidently, doesn't have even a decent grasp of punctuation and how it works. I'll use the first sentence as an example:
"Once more it stood before him; this ancient beast."
Leaving the sentence itself aside, let's just look at the punctuation. A semi-colon is for separating independent clauses from other independent clauses, not from dependent clauses, so the first correction is to get rid of that semi-colon. Also, you need a comma to set off the adverbial phrase that the sentence opens with, so you'd have:
"Once more, it stood before him, this ancient beast."
And that's... well, it's just not a strong sentence. Heavy on the melodrama, light on substance. I'd re-write it, but I'm not personally into telling people how they should actually write, but, well, if he was a student in my class, I'd make suggestions about rewording that would give the sentence more clarity.
Let's just leave it at "the work is rife with punctuation errors." And not in a good way. These are the kinds of errors that inhibit understanding. It's not style, it's just a lack of knowledge.
The next huge problem is misplaced modifiers, and these can be difficult for an author to spot in his/her own work, because, of course, the author knows what he means. The key here is, if you can't do it yourself, get some help from someone who can, which means, again, an editor. Here is the third sentence:
"Just to look upon its evil again made his fearful pounding heart feel as though it held it in a vicelike grip with its fingers."
There are so many "it"s scattered through, it's difficult to tell what's being referred to at any given point. Not to mention that "vicelike" should be "vice like."
Along with the modifiers, there are just poorly constructed sentences, so we get things like:
"Her eyes fell to the floor."
"He threw his arms off of him."
"Her eyes were absorbed by his face."
Every time. Just ouch.
These aren't direct quotes (because I'm not going to go back and find them), but they are some of the ones that stood out the most, and I've given you the essences. Sentences like these can be used for effect but only if they are used sparingly. This work is full of them. Again, not style, lack of knowledge.
To compound everything else, the entire work is written in a very passive manner. I would imagine the author finding at the end of the day that his hands and fingers had managed to type out some words that he would need to go back and read causing his emotions to fluctuate madly and without reason. Sometimes, he would smile at the words he found on the page; sometimes, he would frown, finding that someone actually did something, because he'd find that he would need to go back and change it so that the action happened to the character as opposed to the character actually doing something as simple as walking across a room. Yes, walking across a room is rarely something you will find one of the characters doing, because they have legs that just get up and carry them across the room, and they are somewhat surprised by these actions on a regular basis.
Yes, I'm being facetious, but, again, having a character doing something without realizing it, like crossing a room, can be effective occasionally, it's tedious to read when all of the action happens in that manner.
And I'm not even going to start on the dialogue tags. Not to mention that the author was rarely satisfied with a simple "said," he frequently used words that didn't apply to the emotions being described, especially "teasingly."
Of course, none of this touches on the story.
And the story is where the real issues are, because, honestly, I can put up with some bad grammar for a good story. Well, except for the issue of it being told so passively. That's a real issue for me. But beyond that, things happen for no good reason, and that, from the beginning, was where the problems came in and why I contacted the author to begin with. Again, a good editor could really have helped with these issues by asking one simple question, "Why?"
In the first chapter, there is a prisoner interrogation happening. The author makes it very clear that this interrogation happens every day in almost exact detail. They have the same conversations, go through all the same arguments, everything. However, on this day, the interrogator decides he's had enough and tries to kill the prisoner. Why? Well, of course, it's because the author needs something to happen to start the story up, but that's not good enough within the context of the story. Why that day? If everything was the same as it had been every other day, a fact, as I said, the author makes painstakingly clear, why would the interrogator do this? There is no inciting event, and it doesn't make any sense.
And the book is full of these moments. And continuity issues. And logical inconsistencies. And characters that serve no real purpose. Well, I think two of them are supposed to serve as some kind of comic relief, but, if that is their purpose, they fail at it by not being funny. The author also goes off on philosophical tangents that don't serve the story at all; they're just there so that the author can debate things like the existence of God in front of an audience. However, he never draws any conclusions from these things and they don't impact anything that's happening, so they come off as "listen to me talk about God."
There is one conclusion, the point of the whole thing, human greed and lust for power is bad and will destroy the world. I don't disagree with his moral, but very few people are ever going to hear it.
I really wish I had something good to say about the book. I kept hoping that a story would emerge that I could be interested in, but it never happened. That there would be some character worth caring about, but that never happened either. Even if all of the grammar issues were fixed, I'm not sure the remaining story is interesting enough to have compelled me to read it. The book is a noble grasp at... something, I'm just not sure what. And it's a good starting point, but, in the end, that's what this book is, a starting point.
There are glimmers of what this book could become if the author looked at it as a starting point instead of an ending point. From that perspective, I think, it's too bad that he's decided to release it before its wings are strong enough to carry it anywhere other than down. I also find it unfortunate in that it makes self-publishing that much more difficult for the rest of us; although, that might not be quite fair to say, because Mr. Irvine is far from the only writer to throw something out into the world before it was done. Put it back in, and let it bake some more! Gooey grammar isn't something anyone wants to taste.
Unfortunately, all of this combines into a final grade of an F. This isn't a book I could ever feel good about recommending to anyone in its current state, and, actually, I'd feel guilty if I let someone buy it unawares, so to speak. This is certainly a book where any potential buyer needs to use that preview function that Amazon has before making a purchase.