Advanced Reading Review- Reapers of Soul and Magic

I’m doing something new, which is signing up to be an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) reader for a debut novel which has already gone live at Amazon . Here’s a picture of the front and back covers.
Below is my actual review which is already up on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m not big on stars since I don’t think they capture the entirety of opinion on a book and neither Amazon nor Goodreads have a star system that accounts for 0.5 increments that I’m used to assessing things on when dealing with a 5 point scale. So I’m just going to omit them entirely on my blog. If you really want a summary of my opinion on this book, here it is below in bold which is also the title/subject line of my review on Amazon
A complex book with fresh concepts but some issues with characterisation and pacing, an overall like
Note: I was given a free copy of this book by Between the Lines Publishing in exchange for a honest review.
Overall Impression and Distinguishing Features
This debut novel sets up a good person (Tetra as alluded to on the back cover) and a bad person (Lavalor) together as they work to achieve their goals. I think this is a relatively fresh concept in fantasy. Similarly, while the central plot involves a prophesy, this novel shows most of the key actors in this prophesy taking actions out of self interest as opposed to fulfilling some kind of preordained destiny according to the prophesy. Somewhat to my surprise, it also sprinkles in elements of alternate history (although it’s speculation on future Earth history rather than looking to our past) and soft science fiction. I’m not a fan of either but I rather like the speculative history parts of this book for throwing perspective on society systems in a non-intrusive way.
What I like:
The fresh concept of a good ‘guy’ and bad guy working ‘together’ to achieve separate goals is the main attraction of this novel to me. In addition, I appreciate good dialogue, humour and reflections of morals and values that are elements that I’ve always loved in fantasy and have enjoyed in this novel.
What I dislike:
This novel goes off to a relatively slow start, which may partly be due to the descriptive details sometimes getting a tad too much. I also have an issue of bonding with any specific character among a main cast of 5 separated via 3, sometimes 4 parallel plot streams.
Other comments and Final words:
This is a complex novel. While I think aspects to do with character interactions between Tetra and Lavalor, our main good ‘guy’ and bad guy respectively, can be improved upon (currently it feels a tad rushed), I recognise that the author has handled most of the complexity in switching between different perspective and plotlines and other aspects well. I wish the author the best in his future endeavours and hope to see him grow continually.

No-show Alpha/Beta Readers: What do you do?

I do nothing (besides trying to contact them to find out why and show understanding if that’s due to their life circumstances and basically letting it go). Seriously, then why blog about this, you say? Well, while I basically just accept it as an occurrence that I have to be prepared for as a writer, this doesn’t mean that I cannot develop workarounds to this problem.

So what’re my workarounds? Well, firstly, I’m going to ‘over-call’ for alpha/beta readers. Some people set a definite number for how many alpha/betas they want. I don’t except for making it an odd number so that if they don’t disagree in their feedback on the same point on my work, I can always go for the majority. So my ‘over-calling’ is just to put up a request on as many places as I can get my hands on: within my own social circle, on multiple Facebook groups basically as things stand now.

The next part of the workaround is at a more microscopic level, based on a personal observation: those who came on board explicitly for a swap arrangement is less likely to be a no-show alpha/beta. So the take-away is, be prepared to invest in reading others’ work if you want reliable, dedicated feedback on yours.

Is my workarounds a cure for all? No, it isn’t, and I don’t believe in such things existing because everyone is different, unique. I’ve heard of writers going through what a daunting task it is to alpha/beta read with each alpha/beta before they formalise an agreement and that’s a feasible alternative approach to mine. And actually, it’s in relation to this other alternative approach that partially inspires this particular post.

I won’t bore you with details on the actual incident but let’s just say that I think this alternative approach can lead to a misunderstanding that a writer has no trust in his/her alpha/betas before the alpha/beta even has an opportunity to display their reliability through deeds (as I experienced myself when I signed up to be a beta-reader, I end up as a beta-reader for this author eventually but at one point, I seriously felt we had gone off on the wrong footing with each other and I called off my expression of interest) and I never see a value in a relationship or correspondence of any kind where the starting point is already one of apprehension and mistrust. This is just my personal opinion, of course, and heavily influenced by personal experiences. I believe in “to each his/her own.” And if you would like to comment on this particular aspect of dealing with a no-show alpha/beta reader, I’m all ears.

2 Lessons I learnt from “Fast Food” Reading

So before I go into the 2 lessons, let me first provide the context for this post: the ‘fast food’ reading in the title referred to the serial fictions written in my mother tongue of Chinese that I had been reading on the Internet in my period of ‘unemployment’ after I broke away from PhD. I still read them now. Why do I call them ‘fast food’ reading? Because most of them are written poorly, there’s a lot of trend following and in general I would say they are exactly what a biased stereotypical view of self published work is. Why do I still read them then? Well, for pure entertainment value, light reading and plus I get to pick up and drop a story at whim, allowing me to venture into a broader set of genres than I normally do with physical novels. And also, I guess, the serial nature of them works on me just like TV dramas work on me.

Anyway, back to the meat of this post. Here’s what I learnt from reading this type of fiction:

  1. Character driven fiction- a lot of the novels I had been reading have no prose, full of internet speak and felt like someone had written an outline and then filled out the details via a factory production line. But I was sucked in by the MC and actually kept coming back to read these serial novels.
  2. Emotion as a driver for fiction – despite the roughness of some of the novels sometimes I was touched to the verge of coming to tears. And that’s a big thing for me- I’m normally mild-tempered, cool-headed, rational and driven by logic.

Writer’s Achievement Diary- What I learnt from this Exercise

So I’ve stopped updating the diary but I will just say that I reached all of my set monthly goals for the novel that I was outlining and now it finally had a tentative name- The Convergence of Paths belonging to a series called the Seekers’ Chronicles. Basically, round 1 outline for book 1 is now done and I’m getting some fresh eyes on it so that I can use such inputs to work towards round 2. Anyway, I thought I will also give a summary on what I learnt from this exercise just to wrap up this series:

  • This exercise really helped me to stay accountable on a day-to-day basis
  • I can also keep track of my progress over a long period of time as those who saw my prior posts from this series would know since I also compare each week’s progress with the week prior. For comparison over longer terms, I will have to keep flipping pages of course but at least the raw data will be there.
  • It’s also good for my morale since I learnt to recognise every minor things as an achievement. This is important since I have a tendency to not properly recognise my own efforts sometimes and generally give myself less credit than others might give me 

Overall, I’m fairly happy with this exercise and I think I will incorporate it into my arsenal of writer self-discipline/accountability tools.

P.S. If you are interested in author interviews, they will come back soon but lately I have less opportunity to do them because it’s close to the end of the year and I’m busier at work.

The Short Story and Me (2)

As a change, this week we are skipping author interviews. It will come back next week though.

Thought I will do a re-run on this since my stance on it has changed yet again now that I have broken off my association with the epub completely.

Previously, I’ve talked about myself as a writer and the pros and cons of short story writing as I experience it. In this post, I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that I’ve now definitely decided that for now, short story won’t be my focus unless I am doing a collaborative piece with another writer. Not only am I less experienced with the short story form but through personal experience, I’ve found that I really enjoy planning and writing a short story far less than I do of a novel.

I have a sprawling mind as I think Robin Hobb puts it, my natural tendency is to think up multi-plot stories held up by a substantial side cast. As such, I feel that it’s just a hassle to limit myself to the short story form which I feel, given my current expertise, is better for single-plot stories.

However, here comes the twist to the short story and me. Through chance, I’ve met another author on Facebook who has chatted me up to do a collaborative piece with him which is a short story/novella. We are going to finalise the story concept this month and then start writing this collab piece.