Monday, 18 November 2013

Review: Celebromancy

Celebromancy by Michael R. Underwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I give a book three stars for one of two reasons. The more common reason is that it's neither particularly good nor particularly bad, just kind of average. The other reason, and the one that applies here, is that it's simultaneously good and bad. There are aspects that deserve four stars, and other aspects that deserve two, and I split the difference.

I read the sample of the first book in the series, [b:Geekomancy|13609386|Geekomancy (Ree Reyes, #1)|Michael R. Underwood||19206590], and didn't find it engaging enough to want to read the rest, particularly since there were so many negative reviews. However, I thought I'd give this one a chance when I saw it on Netgalley, and picked up the ARC (advance reader copy).

That means I didn't pay for this book, but got a free copy from the publisher for purposes of honest review. There's a big disclaimer in the front that says I should compare it with the published version before I quote anything, because it's not the final version.

Well, I didn't go so far as to buy the published version (which is out now), but I did download the sample, and most of the issues I'd found in that part of the book were still there. I was saddened, but not surprised, because the standard of editing at major publishing houses is dropping and I've stopped expecting much. There were still two embarrassing homonym errors ("wretch" for "retch" and "lead" for "led", the latter being repeated twice more in the rest of the book), and there was still a scene in which the characters apparently entered the same car twice. One thing was fixed: throughout the book, there are hyphenated adjectival phrases like "freaked-the-hell-out". In the ARC, the first hyphen was missing, but in the sample of the published version, it was there. There are probably a couple of dozen of these phrases, and they're an annoying enough quirk without also having errors in them, so I hope the editor got them all (and the outright misspellings).

I've been a publisher's editor, I beta read for indie authors, and my observation is this: The best predictor of a clean book is a clean manuscript. As I was reading through this one - not in its final form, remember - I marked 90 passages where there was a misspelling; a word missed, added or substituted; a long sentence that changed grammatical direction partway through; an apostrophe in the wrong place; the wrong homonym or wrong word entirely; a run-on sentence; an apparent contradiction or continuity error (like Room 719 plus two floors taking you to the eleventh floor); a momentary switch from third person into first; or a description of physical action that made no sense to me. That's omitting the missing hyphens, which, as I say, I assume were resolved. I know some of these have probably been fixed, but I'd be very surprised if it was the majority.

That last category, physical action that made no sense, surprised me. Judging from the text, the author has played at least some tabletop roleplaying games, possibly a lot, and I would expect that description of physical action would be consistent, well-thought-through and well-conveyed. It frequently isn't. The main character appears to have an unmentioned third arm to use for moments when she's carrying two milkshakes and walking with a cane, or holding onto someone's waist with her legs, holding a lightsaber, clinging to a cart (presumably, unless she's levitating, and that's not mentioned) and also pressing a panic button. I'm not sure whether these scenes are poorly thought through or just poorly conveyed (or both), but in either case, it's a big weakness, especially in an action-oriented, cinematic story.

The lack of attention to detail I found continually annoying, especially since the author uses a quirky, unusual style that draws attention to itself (and therefore makes errors all the more noticeable). For example, every time a character is introduced, they get a set of stats in what looks like some version of D&D or a similar game. These stats apparently mean nothing and are used for nothing; a man for whom "Gentleman" is his lowest stat is described a page later as "above all things...a gentleman". This makes it simply an irritating quirk, and in writing, unlike gaming, an irritating quirk doesn't give you more points to put into something else. It's just irritating.

So those are all the reasons I wanted to give this two stars. Why did I also want to give it four stars, and compromise on three? Well, the story itself was well done. The issue that the main character was setting out to solve was introduced early, it had personal significance for her but wasn't just a personal issue, she had some satisfactory try-fail cycles as she attempted (proactively) to resolve it, she struggled and sacrificed and experienced the costs of heroism, the secondary characters had some depth to them (mostly to do with people they cared about, always a good one), the premise was fun and offered good fictional possibilities which the author played with entertainingly.

It deserved to be good. It should have been good. If the author, or his beta readers, or his editors (and he credits several of each) had worked harder on the details and ditched some of the more irritating quirks, it would have been good, and I would be recommending it far and wide. As it is, I was disappointed.

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