Wednesday 26 June 2013


BEFORE HIS TIME by Darren Craske

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the first in this series a few months ago (review here:, and so I had some expectations going in. I expected it to be funny, I expected it to be silly, and I expected it to have some editing issues. All these expectations were fulfilled.

The editing issues are easily fixed, and there isn't one on every page or anything, so let's move on to the funny. I enjoy the distinct voices of the station guard and the rat (the author pulls off the difficult move of never naming his main characters; the station guard almost introduces himself a couple of times, but never gets his name out before being interrupted, and the rat always calls him Gramps). The station guard is a semi-retired British public servant, inclined to go into trivial detail and state the obvious, but at the same time the embodiment of "keep calm and carry on". The rat is foul-mouthed and streetwise and dramatic. The banter between them is consequently hilarious.

There's a lot of silliness in the setting. Sharks are in fact fish, not mammals, contrary to what the intelligent python says early on, and wouldn't last very long at all out of water, let alone the several days that the station guard has been gone from London at the start of the book. The 18th-century Swiss village has a greenhouse, but a compass is apparently a mysterious object to them. A forest-dwelling 18th-century kobold talks about injections. Fortunately, having read the first book, I didn't go into this one expecting much resemblance between the setting and any aspect of the real world (though the author does claim to have done research on Swiss legendary beings, so good on him for that).

Pop culture references abound. The author doesn't just stop at references for the songs, though, but quotes large chunks of lyrics, which will get him a serious nastygram from Sony or Warners one of these days. There are small-minded, humourless people whose daily job is to persecute such culture-jamming, and if this book becomes at all successful (which it ought to, in my opinion) there will be trouble.

Above all, though, it's a fun light read, so if that's what you're looking for and you're not going to be picky about realism, this is a good book for you. Unless you're an IP lawyer for a music company, of course.

The author gave me a free copy of the book because of my previous review, in exchange for another honest review. I received no other consideration.

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Saturday 22 June 2013

Review: Strange Metamorphosis

Strange Metamorphosis
Strange Metamorphosis by P.C.R. Monk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very unusual book, mostly in a good way, though I will discuss some issues with it first that deprived it of a fourth star from me.

I'm no expert on the (often fairly artificial) marketing and demographic divisions of books, but I couldn't decide what age group it was targeting. The talking insects make it seem more of a children's story, the theme of a boy becoming a man suggests YA, and the vocabulary (and the large number of character deaths) suggest an older readership again.

Let's talk some more about vocabulary. I generally don't recommend authors go for a "high" style or use uncommon vocabulary, for three main reasons. The first is that it can distance the reader from the characters if they talk in a very formal way. This book avoids that problem; the characters talk in various dialects, about which I'll say more in a moment, and only the narrative tries to be "high" and formal. However, it does have the other two problems.

The second problem is that most people don't have as big a vocabulary as they think they do, and when they try to write a "high" style they use words that aren't quite the right words for what they mean. I spotted a number of instances of this, and so will other readers, thanks to the fact that on a Kindle you can get a definition of the word very easily. Readers, especially young readers, will look up words they don't know, and they'll often find that they don't mean what the author is using them to mean.

The third problem is that most people can't sustain a "high" style consistently, and will drop what I call "clanging colloquialisms" at intervals. This book has that problem too.

While I'm on language, there are a number of very tired cliches in the book as well, especially at moments when someone is giving life advice. This doesn't help to make the life advice sound profound. Rather the opposite.

The dialects serve to distinguish characters from each other, and each character does have a distinctive voice, which is a good thing, but there's not a lot of logic to the dialects, and one of them is broad Californian surfer/stoner, mixed in with (reasonably credible) attempts at British dialects. The setting is France, sometime not long before or after 1900, judging by the technology, and there are details which are authentic to France, but also a few that aren't (such as the currencies that are mentioned; to the best of my knowledge, kopecks are Russian, and ecu was briefly the name used for the Euro, before it was introduced, but long after the time the book is set in).

There are other, mainly minor, editing issues as well. It's the usual stuff, commas and homonyms and apostrophes, and I won't bore you by detailing it. It's at a level most people would find tolerable if they noticed it at all, and easily fixed.

So much for language, which is where most of the book's problems lie. Now, characters. The characters, as I mentioned, have distinct voices, not only because they speak different dialects from each other but because they have different personalities which show through clearly. This isn't easy to do, and congratulations to the author for achieving it. As I also mentioned, there's a bit of a Game of Thrones situation with the characters: you shouldn't get too attached, especially to minor characters encountered in passing, because the body count is brutal.

As far as plot is concerned, this is a straightforward tale of a boy going out and having the adventure that helps him transition into being a man. The physical metamorphosis that accompanies his maturation is a sustained metaphor for his inner transformation. While somewhat obvious and rather literalistic, I think it works. There's certainly always something happening, always fit opposition for the hero and his companions, always danger, and a clear goal with a number of sub-goals and a deadline. It's not groundbreaking, of course; it's been done thousands of times, but I think it's well done here.

Finally, the setting. Apart from the problems noted above of American colloquialisms and other non-French touches, the turn-of-last-century French setting was believable. The insect part showed that the author knows a lot about insects, how their bodies work and their place in the ecology of a field. If you accept the central conceit of "boy is shrunk, talks to insects, gradually transforms into an insect" (and isn't accepting such things for the duration of a story what speculative fiction is about?), it's a convincing setting, and reminds me a little of Watership Down in a way.

With some tuning up of the language, I think this could be a solid four-star book. I certainly enjoyed it.

I received a free copy of the book via the Kindle Book Review site, in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday 20 June 2013

Review: Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective

Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective
Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective by Christine Amsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big urban fantasy fan, and a big indie fiction fan, but it's very seldom that the two meet. There's plenty of paranormal romance in the indie world (too much, I think), but not so much UF for some reason. So I was delighted to find this well-written piece of urban fantasy with a strong and appealing main character published by an indie author.

The cover looks a little YA to me, but (one of the advantages of indie publication: the author gets to decide these things) the female protagonist illustrated on it isn't showing large amounts of tattooed skin. On the YA issue, this book is what is now sometimes called "new adult", meaning that the protagonist is out of high school but still young. Personally, I think the age (and gender) of the protagonist is a silly basis for genre classification, or audience segmentation, for that matter, and as a 45-year-old man I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Further on genre, just to get it out of the way: yes, there is a strong romance subplot. It is a subplot, though, placing this on the urban fantasy side of the UF/PNR line. The main plot is the mystery of the vampire attacks which the protagonist, a self-described "normal detective" working her first independent case, must solve in order to protect her town.

She's "normal" because, unlike the rest of her family and a number of other people in town, she has no sorcerous powers. This is a major plot thread, as you'd imagine. It's tricky to place a non-powered normal human in a setting where just about everyone else is more powerful than she is and have her remain a viable and believable protagonist, but this author pulls it off.

She also pulls off the tricky combination of a confident, capable and independent-minded young woman who is also self-doubting, worried, inexperienced and used to being dependent on her powerful and wealthy family. I felt she kept that balance well, and it didn't break my suspension of disbelief at any point.

At one moment halfway through, I was very much afraid that we were going to get the trope of "young woman protagonist makes stupid, headstrong decision that puts her in harm's way in order to ramp up the plot tension, and has to be rescued by a man to ramp up the romantic tension". It's a trope that occurs again and again in UF/PNR, and, my wife tells me, also in the non-paranormal female forensic investigator genre. I hate that trope with a burning hatred, and was deeply relieved when the author turned out to just be messing with me. I felt that the trope was successfully avoided, or at least softened enough that it fitted with the character's generally sensible and practical demeanour.

I found the minor characters believable as real people and not just cardboard cutouts, too. The plot was sufficiently intricate, and the mystery progressed at a good pace. The setting was a fairly standard UF one, with magic-users and vampires (I think werewolves were alluded to as well, and contact with the dead), but with some nice variation in terms of the "talents" that people exhibited. It put me in mind of [a:Jim Butcher|10746|Jim Butcher|]'s Dresden Files or [a:C.E. Murphy|8695|C.E. Murphy|]'s Walker Papers, and I can't really offer higher praise than that.

There were a couple of dozen mostly minor editing issues. I've connected with the author on Google+ and let her know about them, so they will probably be fixed before too long and I won't detail them here. Otherwise, great stuff, and I'll be getting the next one.

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Sunday 16 June 2013

Review: Forged in Blood I

Forged in Blood I
Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's always a pleasure for me to read a new Lindsay Buroker. She is one of the authors that, if Amazon had an "automatically buy everything this person writes" feature, would be on my autobuy list. The combination of humour, action, decent editing (though not perfect; see below), quirky and interesting characters and unpredictable plots is a winner for me.

I'll talk about the imperfections first, though. By indie standards, the books are well edited, as well as many big houses (and better than HarperCollins, of course), but there are some errors. In this one, besides a few more minor issues (typos, punctuation, sentences with missing words and the like) I spotted several homonym problems and other word confusions: "ducks" for "ducts" (yes, really), "fortuitous" for "fortunate", "apt" for "adept", "who's" for "whose" (which I've also noticed in an earlier volume, fortunately only once per book), "success" for "succession", "site" for "sight", and "breech" a couple of times for "breach". There's also an instance of "trolley" spelled without the "e".

The names irritate me a little, particularly the noble families' names, which always seem to reflect something about the current family member who is being introduced. For example, a character sees an artwork by "Ansil Inkwatercrest", reminding me of Ansel Adams and also containing the word "ink", as in art supplies.

Aside from these irritations, the main problem I have with this one is the useful coincidences. One of the characters picks a meeting place for no particular reason except that it's a landmark she's familiar with, and another character therefore randomly happens to be in a position to intercept a secret communication from their enemies that enables them to infiltrate. Later, while shopping, a character randomly finds herself in a position to eavesdrop on the leader of another enemy faction, who happens to be shopping in the next-door shop.

The reason I don't facepalm and swear off Lindsay Buroker is that these opportunities are not used to get the characters out of trouble, but into trouble. It's still cheeky, but it's not lazy. The second one, with Amaranthe hiding under a rack of clothes, trying not to get spotted while also cleaning up dust bunnies, is both suspenseful and funny, which is a difficult combination to pull off.

There are some wonderful lines, or rather conversations, as always in these books. "Droll" is the word that comes to mind, though they also reveal character and develop relationships. The way in which there's always a second viewpoint character (apart from the team leader Amaranthe), with a different one in each book, works well to round out the secondary characters, and this time it's the turn of the taciturn assassin Sicarius. It's well-timed that this is his book, not only because leaving him mysterious was a good move for the first few books, but also because he's now reached a point where he's actively attempting to develop relationships with two of the other characters. He's not very good at it, which works well, because he's inhumanly competent at everything else.

The Emperor's Edge series is definitely on the "cinematic" end of the fiction spectrum, with human biology straight out of a Michael Bay movie. I'm choosing to consider that a trope rather than a fault. There is, at least, a recognition that training and practice enhance skills and abilities, though all the characters shrug off injuries to an unrealistic degree.

Imperfections aside, though, I do enjoy these, and it'll be bittersweet when the final volume comes out soon. I look forward to whatever the author does next.

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Thursday 13 June 2013

Review: Rodger Dodger

Rodger Dodger
Rodger Dodger by Tonia Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So the problem I have with steampunk fiction is this: far, far too often, a great concept is let down by poor execution. Unfortunately, this book is an example.

I was hopeful when I noticed that an editor was named on the title page, but there are significant editing issues. Having been an editor in the past, I know that when a manuscript is bad, it's hard to catch all the errors, but I would have expected "apposed" and "axels" to be picked up by a spellcheck. I would also have hoped that an editor would have caught the fact that the main character's name is spelled incorrectly four times.

Then there's "condensate" instead of "condense", "aiming there weapons" instead of "their", "many a folk", "a might bit" instead of "a mite bit", "I suppose its part my fault" (should be "it's") and "he switched the guns places" (should be "guns'"). There are several incompletely revised sentences, too, that change grammatical direction partway through.

That's all at the basic level of copy editing. At the next level of editing, I would expect the editor to pick up that the author is using "locomotive" to mean the whole train (it just means the part that pulls the rest of the train), and may be doing something similar with "bogie" and possibly "holster".

An editor with a good general knowledge might also point out that the supposedly English Professor has a very American-sounding name, uses the phrase "I guess" instead of "I suppose", and in fact has nothing about him that is remotely English.

She might think to check for anachronisms, too. Now, I expect some technological anachronisms in steampunk, since that's more or less the basis of the genre, but sociological anachronisms annoy me. The main character was in the American Civil War, and someone he knew in that war says it's been five or six years since he saw him, which places this story not much later than 1870.

Yet the text refers to both "steroids" and "hallucinogens". A few seconds searching the Google Books Ngram Viewer, which goes through a large number of English books looking for words you specify and shows when they started to be used, tells me that "steroids" was first used around 1935, and "hallucinogens" around 1955. Now, this may be deliberate anachronism for purposes of worldbuilding, but the main character is also described as reading the novel Ulysses. Presumably this is Joyce's novel, which was published in the 1920s.

Now, it's not all bad. The train is cool. The nine-shooters are kind of cool. There's a nice piece of description of the absent-minded professor as 'the kind of man who remained so unaware of his surroundings that he could be ambushed by a ten-piece brass band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”' But it's too little, for me, to make up for all the issues. Besides which, I usually say of novellas that they're too short and I wanted more. This novella, I felt, dragged. Not much happens in it, and it could probably have been told a lot more crisply.

The ebook is based on a website, and has "return to top" links at the end of each chapter. I'm not sure what the point of these is (they take you back to the table of contents), since it's a linear story and nobody would read it out of order. The title page mentions an illustrator as well as an editor, but the ebook doesn't have illustrations, so the illustrator's contribution is as notable by its absence as the editor's.

Overall, this is another piece of steampunk fiction that could have been good if it had been better executed. I'm growing a little disillusioned with how many of those there are.

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Tuesday 11 June 2013

Review: Invisible Justice

Invisible Justice
Invisible Justice by Kim Jewell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At the core of this book is a competently-told story with some likeable characters. Unfortunately, there are issues, both with the editing (relatively easily fixed, though there are so many errors it would be a lot of work), and with elements that are convenient for the story but not, to me, believable.

Language issues first. One of the most reliable ways I know to spot a book that's been professionally edited is that it will consistently have commas before terms of address: "As you know, Bob", "Hi, Senator", "What up, bro?". Comparatively few indie authors seem to know this rule, and this author is no exception.

Then there are the homonym errors. We have "discrete" where the author means "discreet" (wrong twice, right once), "phased" instead of "fazed", "peaked" for "piqued", "jam" for "jamb" (wrong three times, right once), "affect" for "effect", "pour" for "pore", "lent" for "leaned".

There are phrases that change grammatical direction partway through: "They were both too caught up in their celebration that neither one of them noticed", "when the game was over and victorious", "information of activities and information", "the drawer contents were filled with".

There are slightly misused cliche phrases: "an advanced notice" instead of "advance notice", "first thing's first" for "first things first", "a living quarter" for "living quarters", "if worse came to worse" instead of "if worst came to worst" (twice).

There are two words where it should be one word: "with out", "earth shattering", "ground breaking", "bomb shell", "fool proof", "tip toe".

There's also one instance of "twin's" where it should be "twins'", and an outright misspelling: "bonafied" for "bona fide".

At one point, the business-speak "deliverables" is used. I really hope kids don't say that, that they still say "goals" like normal people.

The oddest thing, which I noticed in another book I reviewed recently, is the avoidance of "had". What I mean is that when you're narrating events in the past tense, and you want to indicate that something had already happened previously to the past moment you're describing, you use the word "had" (like I just did in this sentence: "had already happened"). This author rarely does that, which makes for many moments of temporal confusion. I think that somewhere out there someone is advising indie authors not to use "had" for some strange reason. That person is wrong, and should stop.

There are also a few cases of "may" where (to keep the past tense consistent) it should be "might".

Any of these issues individually are mildly annoying. All of them together were highly distracting.

There's the odd spoiler from here on in, because I'm going to talk about events in the book that broke my suspension of disbelief.

I'm not talking here about the superpowers, of course. I found this book by searching Amazon for "superhero novel". I'm expecting superpowers. What I'm not expecting is that one of these 17-year-olds happens to be a security expert with a private pilot's license who's allowed to carry passengers, and another is such an accomplished hacker that he can break into the visitor logs of a secure federal prison.

(He's no detective, though. He says at one point: "Plus, he went to jail for something - we don't know exactly what - but whatever it was, it must have been illegal." Astonishing, Sherlock!)

The other big problem I had with something that was plot-convenient but made no real sense came right at the end. The kids have successfully restrained two thugs. They know the villain has found them out, that he knows they know. They know, because they've just seen clear proof, that he would have no problem going after their families. They know, because they've just seen clear proof, that he will kill ruthlessly. He is almost literally holding a smoking gun, and would be eminently arrestable if they restrained him, which, again, they can do. Sure, explaining to the police without giving away their powers would be tricky, but weighed against the obvious threat to their families, that would seem like a minor problem to me.

Here's the conversation:

"Why don't we just immobilize him like we did the other two earlier? That way we know he can't hurt us."
"Because he'll know we're here, watching him. If he realizes that, he'll suspect we're up to something."

That's the reason they don't stop him? Because then he'll know they're onto him? He already knows that. And if they stop him and get him arrested, which they could totally do, then...

Then the author won't be able to run the same villain in the sequel. That's the real, utterly transparent reason. The villain must escape so that he can threaten them again.

It's like a poorly planned roleplaying game. The excessive abilities of the characters (again, not the superpowers, the other abilities), and the villain escape at the end.

I persevered through all the editing issues because the story seemed promising, but that ending killed it for me and dropped the rating from three to two stars.

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Friday 7 June 2013

Review: A Bad Spell in Yurt

A Bad Spell in Yurt
A Bad Spell in Yurt by C. Dale Brittain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend put me onto this one when we were talking about magical telephones (as you do). She said it was funny and a good read, so I gave it a shot.

She was right. It also has a protagonist who starts out as a slacker and a poser, but turns out overall to be a decent, good-hearted person, a promising wizard, and a hero.

Despite everything about it signalling "fantasy" (which it is), it's also a mystery novel. The wizard has to figure out the source of the evil magic that's threatened the king's life and brought down a dragon on the castle, and then do something about it. Along the way we meet a number of enjoyable characters, most of them fairly one-note, but it's an appealing note.

The setting is odd. It's medieval-style, but there are the aforementioned magical telephones. Also, unlike most fantasy settings, the religion is not paganism-lite but Christianity. It's not notably medieval in its features, reminding me more of modern Anglicanism than medieval Catholicism, but it is treated with respect, and the chaplain, whom the wizard befriends, is clearly a good and pious man - fortunately for several of the characters, whose lives are saved by his prayers.

The cover shows an incident that doesn't occur in the book. Nothing remotely like it occurs in the book, either.

There are just a couple of editing glitches, but the OCR, if that's what was used to transfer it to ebook format, is well done. I spotted the word "looked" where it should have been "locked", which could be either an original typo or an uncaught OCR error, and "revery" as a misspelling of "reverie". There was a small continuity error where the first-person narrator talks about the "number" of the school telephone, when it's been previously established that the telephones work by speaking the name of the person or place you want to communicate with. Otherwise, the editing is at a good standard, and the text reads smoothly. Unfortunately, though, the ebook isn't divided into chapters.

This is the first of a series, and I'm planning to work my way through them slowly. I say "slowly" because they're priced a little higher than I usually like my ebooks, especially given that they're short. On the other hand, decent professional editing is probably worth a couple of dollars to me.

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Tuesday 4 June 2013

Review: Henry Wood Time And Again Henry Wood Detective Series

Henry Wood Time And Again Henry Wood Detective Series
Henry Wood Time And Again Henry Wood Detective Series by Brian Meeks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, when I read this book the punctuation was kind of a train wreck, which I found extremely distracting. However, I've talked to the author about it, and I'm sure he'll have it updated soon. Punctuation is easy to fix.

Something that's much harder than punctuation is writing a genre book in which the characters grow beyond their tropes and types, and that is something Brian Meeks has definitely achieved here. Even minor characters change and develop, something I don't often see. They have a richness and a depth that's unusual, as well, giving a sense that they have backstories, interests, relationships and motivations outside the story itself. It's a relatively large cast, but it's easy to keep track of who everyone is, because they all have their individuality.

Dialogue, as in the first book, is not a strong point. The precise Professor says "whacha" instead of "what are you", the grumpy German refers to "guys". It's a testament to the strength of the characterization that this doesn't completely break the book. Again, the author may fix this in future, but dialogue that sounds natural and fits each character is definitely an area where his writing needs work.

I found the plot well structured and well paced. The detective gets a couple of lucky breaks, but he still has to apply his intelligence to capitalize on them. The sting at the end is beautifully set up.

I still didn't get a strong 50s vibe, somehow. Maybe more description of clothing and hairstyles would have helped.

Despite my complaints, it's rare enough to find a book with such good characters that I'll definitely be buying the third volume (coming soon). And I think the author needs to raise his prices, though fixing up the editing issues and improving the covers probably comes first. This is definitely worth more than 99c.

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Sunday 2 June 2013

Review: Henry Wood Detective Agency

Henry Wood Detective Agency
Henry Wood Detective Agency by Brian Meeks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because it happened to be on free promotion at the same time as my book. I thought it was a straight detective story, but in fact there's a mysterious closet that dispenses woodworking equipment and advice from the future. It was a rewarding read, and I'm now reading the sequel, which I bought.

One of the best things about noir for me is the language, and this book has some lovely turns of phrase. "She wore a Dior dress that would make an hourglass self-conscious", "Henry's flash of genius was looking more like a flash of imbecile" and "The falling snow painted a layer of clean on the city" were three that I highlighted. I wish there had been a lot more of these. On the downside, there are a number of small language errors, few very major, and the dialogue is stiff (mostly without contractions) and doesn't always fit the speaker very well. The Frenchman doesn't sound French, and the Italian gangsters don't sound like Italian gangsters. The author doesn't always put his commas where they belong, either, especially around names. It's pretty much a wash between that and the wonderful phrases for me, so three stars for language.

The characters, apart from their dialogue, are good. The main character, Henry, has more depth than the average private dick, with his woodworking hobby and his love of books, and he also, apparently, makes good money at it, since he has an office, an apartment and a house. The secondary characters also seem like real people with emotions and motivations and concerns, and aren't just cliches out of Cental Casting. Four stars for characters.

The plot is adequately mysterious and suspenseful, and the detective makes steady progress on solving the puzzle, which is important got me in a detective story. Four stars.

The setting is 1950s New York. It somehow doesn't give me that strong a 50s vibe, though it's certainly New Yorkish. The science-fictional element is neither explained in the book nor, really, essential to the resolution, but I assume it becomes more important later in the series. Three stars for setting.

The cover doesn't do the book justice, and needs improvement. Almost anything would improve it.

Overall, I liked this book and will be following the series, so it gets an overall four stars from me.

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Saturday 1 June 2013

Review: The Divinity Paradox

The Divinity Paradox
The Divinity Paradox by Vincent Vale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author gifted me this book because he'd seen my other reviews, knew I liked space opera, and wanted to know what I thought of it. I read the sample before accepting the gift, because it didn't sound totally my thing. I discovered from the sample that it was in a "high" style reminiscent of the recently-late Jack Vance.

Now, I don't like the Vancian style at all. It distances me from the characters through the formality of their speech, and it strikes me as a little ridiculous and, frankly, pretentious. I can live with it, though, if it's competently done (the author really does have that large a vocabulary and writes the style consistently) and if everything else about the book is working for me. From the sample, I thought that would be the case, so I downloaded the whole book.

Before I go further, here's an example of the style I'm talking about:

Maurice released a foreboding moan. “Nothing will be the same after you pass through the dimensional gateway, this I guarantee.”
Theron looked with reverence down upon the ring of eighteen dimensional augmenters. “Humankind will no doubt see preponderant change.”
“You have no idea,” uttered Maurice.

Now, as I say, if the author is up to the task of pulling it off I'm willing to go along with this style, though I don't like it much. Unfortunately, the book contained at least 30 homonym errors (that I spotted), including such basic ones as "wastes/waists". I'll be giving him the list, so he can fix them if he wants to. It also contained a smaller number of what I call "clanging colloquialisms", which are another hazard of attempting a "high" style: words like "kids" and "chug" from informal American vocabulary that are dropped into the middle of the high-flown prose.

Instead of my usual approach, for this review I'm going to start with 100 points and deduct for things that annoyed me. So, for attempting something that (in my view) shouldn't be attempted, minus 10 points. For failing, minus another 10 points.

Let's talk about characters now, and specifically about female characters. There were about half a dozen named female characters in the book; everyone else was male. The roles those characters played were as follows:

- Women In Refrigerators (look it up if you don't know what that is)
- Bait for traps
- Objects of lust
- Perfect objects of idealized romantic love
- Subjects of torture
- Inspirations
- Prostitute
- Damsel in distress
- Shrewish hag
- Wise old crone
- Evil sorceress

There's a significant omission from that list: protagonist, fully realized character with own motivations and agency. To be entirely fair, the main female character does hold the post of Prime Minister of Earth, though she doesn't seem to actually do anything; and the secondary male characters are not fully realized either. One is the muscle and the hero's occasional encourager (and is markedly lacking in empathy towards the female character's sufferings at the end, by the way); the other is a comic relief and cautionary example. The latter seems to be having a moment of growth at one point, but it later turns out he wasn't.

Only the main character has any kind of arc, and in a book this length I would usually look for some change and development (and some roundedness) in the secondary characters too. Furthermore, for much of the book the main character himself is either a tourist (watching events rather than impacting them) or a chess piece, only becoming a true protagonist occasionally, and mainly towards the end.

Minus another 10 points for the gender role issues, and 5 for not a great job of characterization overall.

The plot is fine. Nothing much annoyed me about the plot. It's complex enough for the length of the book, it unfolds on a reasonable schedule, there were mysteries for about the right length of time to keep me interested.

The setting is space opera, with no attempt at hard SF. That's fine by me. If the author sets out to write a book in which the technology serves the plot and provides a sense of wonder, and doesn't try to explain how it works, I don't have a problem with it. That is what this book does. There's rapid acceleration to light speed, there are events visible across millions of light years as they happen (the author hangs a lampshade on this: nobody understands how it's being done), there are neural implants that apparently are not tracked in any way, there are brain nodes that provide limited telepathy/universal translators, and it's all powered by handwavium. It's not a book about the technology, so that's OK, as far as I'm concerned.

Now, a few words about the theme. The plot involves beings of vast cosmic power masquerading as and/or attempting to become gods, hence the title. Nothing wrong with that in itself, as a premise, but I found the way it was handled a little shallow, as far as theology and philosophy was concerned. It ended up with a bit of vaguely Buddhist-like New Agery, and along the way we had a passing swipe at Christianity (Jesus was one of the the evil, manipulative pseudo-divinity's earthly manifestations) and a few, mercifully short and non-preachy, conversations about the meaning of life, good and evil, free will, the nature of the soul and similar topics. Because they were short and non-preachy, though by the same token not especially deep, the author mostly gets away with them as far as I was concerned. I am a Christian, of a particularly flexible and laid-back kind, myself, but I felt only mild annoyance at the anti-Christian reference, largely because it was made in passing and wasn't beaten into the ground (or, indeed, followed up). Other people would, I'm sure, be more offended. To me, it was like a few yaps from a small dog, more amusing than annoying, whereas other books with a similar theme are more like a dog that barks all night.

I will take off 5 points, though, mainly because when something is as important as this to the plot I like to see some depth to it. If it's a historical book, I like to see plenty of history, and if it's a hard-SF book I like to see plenty of science - or evidence, at least, that there has been effort expended on getting the history or science right and doing justice to them. I didn't feel that there was much in-depth philosophy or theology on display in The Divinity Paradox.

By my count that takes us down to 60 points, which translates to three stars. That rating reflects, clearly, my personal taste to a large degree. If you like Vancian prose; don't mind or don't notice homonym errors and clanging colloquialisms in it; aren't especially worried about how female characters are portrayed; aren't looking for great depth of characterization or a lot of setting development; and either sympathize with or at least don't object to a vaguely New Age theme, everything else about this book is perfectly fine and you may well enjoy it. I still enjoyed it somewhat, despite those issues.

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