Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: Crooks and Straights

Crooks and Straights
Crooks and Straights by Masha du Toit

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, this is something out of the ordinary: A contemporary YA fantasy set in South Africa. For a non-South African, that means that cultural distance is built right in, to a greater degree than in most fantasies set in other worlds. That's a feature, not a fault. It adds interest, though I was glad that my Kindle dictionary has a good vocabulary of South African words. I could mostly tell from context what a word meant in general - this is a food, that's a term of address - but to get the full significance I had to check the dictionary.

The book itself has potential. It's free from plot holes, stupid tropes and characters acting like idiots in order to advance a predetermined sequence of events, which is itself refreshing. The world, which is not our world exactly (magical beings and magic use are common and almost everyday), is well imagined and well conveyed. The characters are varied and diverse, and I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head.

I did feel, though, that there were either too many characters and plot threads, or the book was too short, because a number of the characters and plot threads didn't end up being that important to the main thrust of the story. I realise they may be getting set up for future books, since this appears to be the start of a series, but especially in the first half of the book I felt that the plot lacked direction and a sense of urgency. A lot of things happen, a lot of characters say and do things, but the time devoted to them doesn't always seem proportionate to their ultimate importance in the primary plot, and that primary plot doesn't really get going in earnest until about halfway through.

I'd also like to feel a little more of the struggle that the main character goes through. As the book goes on, issues, threats and losses pile up, but I didn't get as full a sense of their weight as I thought they deserved. At one point the main character has to give up a long-held dream in order to protect another family member. I needed to see more of both the struggle and loss of giving up that dream and the love that led to doing so. Like the author, I come from a British Commonwealth country where emotion is not always shown, and I've had the same criticism of my writing, so I understand where it's coming from, but it's an aspect that I think has room for improvement.

The writing style is generally competent, though I did find a few issues, mostly typos and a bad habit of putting an excess comma before the main verb. It's better than many native English speakers write, and I think the author has English as a second language.

On my sub-scale within the four-star space, from 0 (just above mediocre) to 9 (just below amazing), I give this book a 4. It could easily be a 6 or 7 if there was more clarity in the main character's stakes and emotional reactions, starting earlier in the book. It's a well-imagined setting, the characters are interesting and the writing capable.

I know the author on Google+, and she provided me with a copy for review.

View all my reviews

No comments: