Sunday, 12 October 2014

Review: Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf

Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf
Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf by Sherry Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this book with low expectations. Everything about it, from the premise to the cover, said that someone was having some fun with a few tropes. I expected to be mildly amused, and hoped (more than expected) that it would be basically competent.

Well, I was mildly amused, but the author didn't seem to be trying for comedy; the absurdities of the tropes were played completely straight, not in the sense of "the author is apparently unaware of the absurdity" but in the sense of "the narrating character is unaware of the absurdity, because this is her everyday reality". Female dwarves with beards, dwarf/elf tension, axes - played completely straight. Even the obvious Tolkien references were slipped in as if they were the most natural thing in the world, not with a huge wink and a grin, which I appreciated. It was neither an unreflective tropefest nor a meta deconstruction, but something else, and I'm still not sure what, but I think it worked.

As far as competence goes, the basics are certainly there, particularly in terms of the story. The author credits an editor; as a former editor myself, I know that even a very good editor can miss things in a manuscript with a lot of errors, and this appears to have been the case, since some of the missed edits show evidence of fairly significant sentence-level writing problems in the original. There are a couple of comma splices and a dangling participle, the tense is frequently off, the author uses "anymore" when it should be "any more" (three times), apostrophes occasionally appear in the wrong places, we get "waivered" for "wavered" and the usual finger-slip typos, but I've seen plenty of books much worse - including several from major publishers - and on 90% of the pages I didn't notice any problems at all. There's a continuity error when double rooms somehow become singles, but apart from that, the story makes sense in its own terms. (Note, too, that I'm reading a Netgalley copy, supplied to me for purposes of review, and the final version may not have these issues.)

One of the odd things about it is that, while it's clearly a Tolkienesque, even D&D story, it's at the same time YA women's fiction. The young female dwarf who narrates it is fascinated by movie magazines (they're magical movies), believes she's in love with an elf film actor, has to deal with a bitchy, self-centred best friend who's more attractive than she is, has trouble balancing dating (or rather not dating, and worrying about it), sports, work and trying to figure out who she is while resisting her family's attempts to define her, and gets genuine help from a self-help book. As a man in my late 40s, I'm not the target audience, and I can't say that those particular concerns swept me up into her story, but that's no failure of the author's. It's a perfectly good story, well told.

I did wonder, going in, whether the premise was going to be enough to sustain such a long book. It sounded more like a novella. But I didn't feel that the pace dragged at all, or that it was unnecessarily padded.

Is this my new favourite author? No, but she's not writing for me. For the people she's writing for, she's done a fine job, and I think she'll find success.

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