Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Why Book Reviews Are Oh So Very Important

8774134-important-rubber-stampBook reviews are, first and foremost, for readers. But they're also for authors…and advertisers.

As a reader, I use book reviews to help make buying decisions. I write them because I want to help others make that same decision.

As an author, I sometimes read reviews because I want to know what I'm doing right or wrong. There are different camps on this one. Some authors never read reviews because they feel very strongly that reviews are for readers. Also, they don't want to become upset or distracted by a negative review. On the other side of this are authors who read every single review, good or bad. They use this knowledge to (hopefully) make themselves better storytellers.

Which brings me to the last group that uses reviews: advertisers. Before I get into that, though, let me talk briefly about why advertisers are important to authors.

As a relatively unknown author, I rely on advertising to help get my books in front of people. Sounds simple enough. But the field of effective advertisers has narrowed considerably in the past 1-2 years, and so has the competition to get listed. It used to be that advertisers took anyone and everyone. Pay them the money and they'd feature your book. But readers soon grew wary of these sorts of 'email blasts' because there was no guarantee of quality. So along came a new style of advertising where advertisers started curating the books sent their way. No longer was it acceptable to have poorly designed covers, content riddled with grammar and other errors, or, getting back to the point of this post, poor ratings and reviews.

Not only that, but advertisers began to require a minimum level of stats before they'd even consider a book for listing. Many of them now require a minimum of 4 stars for a rating and 10 reviews. Further, they look at the content of those reviews, weeding out any books with 'too many typos' or those that 'need editing.'

I can only deal with one of those criteria: the last one. The quality of the work is entirely on the author.

But the reviews are entirely on the reader. Sure, I can help it along with review copies, which I have done, but you still reach a point where you need the reader who you didn't contact or don't know to step up and leave a rating or review.

So, the next time you finish a book, think about taking a few minutes to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or elsewhere. Reviews don't need to be long or in-depth. A sentence or two is sometimes enough. A review doesn't have to be positive, either. Sometimes a negative one is just as beneficial as a positive one.

And if you've read one of my books, why not leave a review now? I'd really appreciate your honest opinion. I'm pretty sure other readers will, too.

Book Review: The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien) is the tragic story of the scions of Hurin, Turin and his sister Nienor. Step into the wayback machine; this tale takes place long before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, when the First Dark Lord, Morgoth, sought dominion over all of Middle-Earth.

Morgoth has fled from his Valar brethren, taking up residence in his dark fortress, Angband, There he plots to conquer all of Middle-Earth. At first, only the Elves oppose him. But then Men revolt against Morgoth. The Elves welcome their new allies, most of all Hurin, who above all others defies Morgoth to such an extent that the Dark Lord takes a personal interest in him. Morgoth captures Hurin and places a curse on his children. He then forces Hurin to watch as Turin and Nienor's lives unfold. Always, there is Morgoth's curse hanging over them and, ultimately, leading them to tragedy.

Unlike The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin is readable. Where the former requires a classroom of Tolkien scholars to help interpret exactly what is going on, the latter is told in an easy narrative style. Christopher Tolkien, who edited the drafts and notes of his father to put this story together, says in the preface that he wanted to tell the story in a more accessible fashion, recognizing that The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales were anything but. That being said, The Children of Hurin, while readable, is told in a distant narrative style. Don't expect a lot of character viewpoint here; it's all told in third person omniscient. It's all telling, in other words, and no showing.

Much of the story has to do with Turin, son of Hurin. Turin comes to realize the curse he carries early on. As a result, he becomes a wanderer and wears many hats (and false identities) as he moves from one part of his life to another. He is often recognized as a natural leader, a stalwart ally, and a fierce combatant, though, and always he is thrust to the forefront where eventually his true identity comes to light. It is then when tragedy strikes as Morgoth's curse inevitably finds him time and again.

Turin uses many names corresponding to the false identities he takes on in an attempt to in some way forestall the curse. I found all of the names added to the already difficult names Tolkien bandies about. Fortunately, there is a "List of Names" in the back of the book which I found myself referencing often just to keep the various characters straight.

I enjoyed The Children of Hurin. It's a good addition to the Tolkien legendarium, though if you're looking for something as entertaining as, say, The Lord of the Rings movies, you might be disappointed.

Book Review: Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword by Tee Morris

Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword by Tee Morris is a melding of two of my favorite genres: traditional fantasy and the noir, hard-boiled detective tales of such characters as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. In many ways you get what you expect here: a tough but endearing detective, plenty of buxom babes, and a colorful cast of villains, some dim-witted, others cunning. Taking place in 1920's Chicago, the kicker and what sets this novel apart is the fact that our hero, Billibub Baddings, is a four foot dwarf from another world.

Seeking to save his own world from a plethora of powerful talismans that have fallen into the wrong hands, Billibub makes a final, desperate attempt to destroy them by casting them into a magical portal. In the process, he is also sucked into the portal; he figures his life is worth the price. But instead of dying, Billibub finds himself transported to our own world. Later, as the story unfolds, he learns that the talismans, like himself, live on.

As the story begins, we find Billibub already settled into his new life; the above is given as back-story. He faces many of the daily headaches we might expect: finding the next client, paying the rent, keeping his secretary and assistant happy. But the story really begins when the rich and beautiful Julia Lesinger enters Billibub's office. Our dwarven detective is hired to investigate the death of Julia's boyfriend, a man who Billibub soon learns has mob ties and, more ominously, a link to an artifact found in a Egyptian burial dig that is a bit out of place. Billibub takes the case, following the trail until it leads him to the artifact that is the Singing Sword, one of the talismans he thought destroyed when he hurled it into the portal.

I have to mention that I listened to this novel in audio format. Hailed as the first ever podiobook—that is, a reading embellished by sound effects and an ensemble of voice actors portraying the novel's different characters—it was an absolute joy consuming it in this fashion. The production quality is top-notch, the voices excellent and, in most cases, very fitting, and the use of sound effects was just right.

Whether you read or listen, you have to consider that much of the humor and storytelling is tongue-in-cheek; Morris embraces many traditional fantasy tropes, but they exist only as embellishments and oftentimes for humor as the principal story takes place in the "real" world. But, of course, even that has its own set of stereotypes, especially as the story follows the typical formula of most hard-boiled detective novels. But Morris injects plenty of dwarven wit into the telling that I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times.

I do have to wonder why Morris chose a name so like Bilbo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings fame, but that's a minor qualm. This is the kind of audio book that I'd listen to again, and I've already told my wife she needs to hear it, too.

Tee Morris has podcasted many of his other books. He was the man behind The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy, a writing advice podcast which is now defunct, and he was both a contributor and editor of the books in The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy series. The next novel in the0 Billibub Baddings Mystery series is The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant.

Book Reviews: The Complete List

This is an always updated list of all the book reviews I have written, organized by author (alphabetized by last name) and title for ease-of-access. Alternatively, you can browse the content of all of my book reviews.

If you are an author or publisher, and would like for me to review your work, please see my review guidelines.

Joe Abercrombie

John Joseph Adams (editor)

Peter V. Brett

Tobias Buckell

Lois McMaster Bujold

S.C. Butler

Orson Scott Card

Glen Cook

James Clemens

David Drake

Dave Duncan

Randall Garrett

Christopher Gravett

Paula Guran (editor)

Robin Hobb

Washington Irving

Richard Kadrey

Paul Kearney

Paul S. Kemp

Kay Kenyon

Stephen King

Joe Konrath

Ellen Kushner

Mercedes Lackey

Robin Laws

Jane Lindskold

James Mallory

Paul Malmont

Graham McNeill

China Mieville

Tee Morris

Tim Pratt

Norman Partridge

Cherie Priest

Brandon Sanderson

John Scalzi

Karl Schroeder

Jon Sprunk

Denny Swartzlander

J.R.R. Tolkien

Harry Turtledove

Jack Vance

Jo Walton

Peter Watts

David Weber

Connie Willis

Robert Charles Wilson

Book Review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is a modern day science fiction mystery of sorts. One night, the stars disappear. Twin brother and sister, Jason and Diane Lawton, and friend Tyler Dupree witness the phenomenon from outside the Lawton family household. While their initial claims go unheeded, over the next and subsequent nights the world comes to recognize that powerful forces have moved against them, but for completely unknown reasons.

That is the thread Wilson weaves throughout most of Spin: we know what has happened (on a superficial level, anyway), we just have no idea why or who’s responsible. Tyler Dupree is our narrator; much of the mystery unravels from his perspective. Wilson does a fair amount of jumping around from one time to another, so while we start with Tyler, Diane, and Jason’s childhood, the reader is quickly launched forward to an unspecified time where, as adults, Tyler and Diane are in hiding and on the run. Other jumps are made, always with the intent of revealing information and moving the story forward.

Wilson does a nice job here, revealing just enough through various plot devices to keep the reader interested. The overlying mystery is perplexing enough, but once some headway is made into what exactly has happened, Wilson keeps us hooked with the attempted solutions.

Jason Lawton and his father, E.D. Lawton, are at the forefront of these solutions. The Lawton family was already well-to-do and influential, but when satellites are suddenly rendered inert by the “Spin membrane” (membrane because while the stars are blotted out, sunlight is allowed through during the day), as it is come to be known, the Lawton’s aerostat business takes off. Soon they’ve formed their own agency to work alongside NASA in their investigation of the Spin membrane. Eventually, with Jason at the head of this new agency, they’re running the show.

They launch probes, study data, and do what scientists do best, eventually discovering many things about the membrane. I won’t go into any of that here, though, since much of Spin’s attraction is finding these things out as you read along.

I found Jason to be the strongest of the characters in terms of having a sense of purpose. He’s really the one who pushes to discover what has happened and why, and I wondered at different times what this overachiever might have done with his life if not for the destiny laid down for him by the appearance of the Spin membrane.

While Tyler tells the story, it is only because of his close association with Jason that he (and thus the reader) learns what's really going on. In many ways, Tyler is a flat character. He spends much of his life watching the actions of others, on the periphery without ever really getting involved. While this may make for a good narrator, I was often more intrigued by Jason and his sister, Diane.

As for Diane, I thought she possessed a lot of potential that was left unexplored. She disappears for large chunks of the story as she becomes involved with one of the many doomsday cults that spring up following the disappearance of the stars. There's not much religion or fanaticism in the novel per se, though given that the Spin membrane winds up threatening the future of humanity it's understandable that such things creep into the story.

Spin is one of those books that isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t necessarily good, either. Wilson followed up Spin with Axis, but I’m not inclined to continue on with the series at this point.