Monday, 5 August 2013

Review: James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing

James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing
James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing by G. Norman Lippert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harry Potter fanfic, in which Harry's eldest son James goes to Hogwarts for his first year and ends up learning how he's like his father and how he's not.

I'm giving this three stars partly to give myself somewhere to go when the series improves (which I believe it will; I'm reading the second one now), and partly because the best single-word description I can think of for it is "patchy". Or perhaps "inconsistent".

The very best parts approach (though from a long distance) the quality of J.K. Rowling's Original Series (hereinafter JKROS). The very worst parts, and they're not all that infrequent, reveal this book's status as amateur fanfiction.

In particular, the editing is spotty. There are long passages that are without any errors, but there are errors, and a few of them are significant ones. It seems to get worse towards the end.

Apostrophes are the worst offenders, in all of the usual ways that people get apostrophes wrong, including inconsistency about whether the hall of the title is "of Elders' Crossing" or "of Elder's Crossing". Given that there are multiple elders, the first one is correct.

There are homonym errors: grizzly/grisly (I think, since the goblin doesn't appear to be grizzling), might/mite, effecting/affecting, assistance/assistant, whose/who's, purposely/purposefully, peaked/piqued and born/borne all come up. One character says "foresworn" when he means "sworn".

There are excess commas: "grown to gothic, cathedral proportions", "no, unwanted ears", "from long, distant encounters" (when the author clearly means "long-distant").

And then there are the mechanical errors: extra spaces, extra paragraph breaks, missing letters, missing words. Not many of them, but enough to be annoying.

There are other inconsistencies, too. In JKROS, the spells are usually one or two Latinate words. Here we have a spell that's a rhyming couplet in English. Bill and Fleur's daughter Victoire has her mother's French accent, though there's no mention of her growing up in France rather than the UK like everyone else. The apparently compulsory poem-of-prophecy doesn't properly rhyme, scan or make much sense.

The names are often silly, though that's consistent with JKROS (it's one of the things I like least about Harry Potter). There are a couple of shout-outs to Terry Pratchett: one wizard has the first name Mustrum, and another has the surname Ridcully. I dislike that sort of fourth-wall breaking, personally. The author also misspells both "Maximilian" and "Wilhelmina" in the same sentence.

I'm slowly working my way towards the really annoying parts, via the small irritations that bounced me out of the story occasionally. Firstly, this book tries to explain the whimsical magic of JKROS and make it scientific, which I think is seriously missing the point. I say this despite my great love of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, another HP fanfic which does the same thing but much more entertainingly and in a way that's important to the story it's telling. Here, the explanations don't really make much difference to the plot.

Having made an attempt at a scientific gloss over the magic, the author rather fails at technology. I realise that the timeline of JKROS means that this story is set slightly in our future, but how an electronic device working inside Hogwarts (which it probably shouldn't do in the first place) is able to make a wireless connection when there presumably isn't a wireless router for miles is never satisfactorily explained.

For a long time, I thought that wasn't the largest plot hole. There was something James did (or rather didn't do) that seemed highly unlikely, and the attempted explanations struck me as very thin. In the end it was justified (in the way that I hoped it might be), but by then I'd spent most of the book thinking it was an enormous, contrived plot hole for the sake of manufactured drama, and that inevitably reduced my involvement in the story.

If there's one thing J.K. Rowling can do, it's weave a complicated plot that's exciting and keeps surprising you, and here I never got any of that. I found the setup curiously uncompelling, in fact (I'm not sure why), and didn't get much of a protagonist vibe off James. The fact that he ends up owing a lot more to good luck than good management doesn't really help with this, and that was really the biggest surprise I got: that even though he screwed up significantly it didn't end up mattering much.

So why do I give it as much as three stars? Well, the best moments are inspiring. It is, despite everything I've said, far better than the average fanfic (though I realise that's not a high bar); it steers a course, usually successfully, between the Scylla of being a mere rehash of the original and the Charybdis of not being true to the spirit of the original, but just adopting some of its furniture.

And I love the world of Harry Potter as much as the author obviously does, so it's fun to get some more, even if it isn't that close to J.K. Rowling's standard at times. As I mentioned, I'm reading the second one now, and will probably read the third as well.

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