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: Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens

Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens is one that I just couldn't finish. In fact, I didn't get very far at all with it.

The story begins with a foreword; never a good sign. Info dump (i.e., background story of a bygone era where bad things happened) ensues. The problem with a forward like that is that the reader isn't invested in any way: not in the world and certainly not in the characters. I'll admit I skimmed through most of it.

Then the story begins. The writing is competent enough, but, ah, the story. It's your basic farm boy girl who discovers she's the heir to an ancient power that if she learns to control will no doubt save the world. Someone is after her, too, which I suspect means she'll have to flee and will probably meet some nice people who will help her not get killed, or something.

Wit'ch Fire was published in 1999, which is about the time when these sorts of tales were beginning to go out of style. Perhaps if I'd read it back then, I wouldn't feel so detached from it. Perhaps it would have grabbed me and not let go. Perhaps, or perhaps not.

In any case, chalk Wit'ch Fire up as a "not finished."

Book Review: Draculas by Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, & Wilson

Joe Konrath of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing fame posted an offer giving away free ARC's of an upcoming horror eBook he and three other authors wrote in exchange for a review here and on Amazon.com. I've gotten a lot of good info from Joe's blog, so I figured I'd do him a favor, read the ARC, and give him a favorable review. So much for good intentions…

Draculas was written in record time (2 months?) as an experiment to see if an online only novel could reach Amazon's Top 100 in Kindle eBook sales supported solely by online reviews and marketing. The experiment worked. Draculas hit the Top 100 in its first week, if not sooner. The novel received a phenomenal number of 4 or 5 star reviews. From what I read, it's selling very well.

That's all great, and I wish the authors best of luck and mucho dinero. There's just one problem I had with this book: it just isn't that good.

The writing is fine. It's the soulless characters and superficial storyline that ultimately led me to abandon this novel after reading just 10% on my Kindle. It mostly reminded me of a bad Sci-Fi channel movie (you know, like Sharktopus). Amusing for brief moments as you're channel surfing, but not something you're going to stay tuned into for long.

Given the rushed quality of the novel, I have to wonder how many of those 4 or 5 star reviews on Amazon were put up as a favor to the authors. I know Joe helps a lot of people out with his blog (perhaps the other authors do as well; I don't know), but I can't in good conscious give Draculas anything more than 2 stars.

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: Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler

Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler is a story that reminded me most of a cross between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. The former because the cast of characters includes a young girl and two young boys, and the latter because the world of Reiffen's Choice is very much traditional fantasy though with some flavoring of its own.

The young adults in this tale are Reiffen, the exiled heir to the throne, Avender, a commoner who is also Reiffen's friend, and Ferris, the headstrong girl who rounds out our Harry Potter-like trio. This edition of the novel was published in 2007, so I don't think I'm being unfair in making this comparison.

Butler distinguishes himself by adding in a Shaper by the name of Redburr, who most often appears as a bear but also as a bat, an eagle, and even a man. Presumably he can take any shape, though these are the ones he makes use of in this first novel of what is a three book series. Also, there is Nolo, a Dwarf who is a bit unlike the usual dwarves we are all familiar with. Dwarves in Butler's novel are limited in number; there are only eight hundred or so, and no women. Their skin is as hard (or harder) then rock and they are completely immune to the effects of magic.

The villains in this tale are three wizards determined to use Reiffen to gain the throne that Reiffen himself will never possess. To this end, they kidnap the boy, setting off a chain of events that culminates in Avender, Ferris, Redburr, and Nolo setting off to rescue him. While Reiffen is tempted by the three wizards, those four make the arduous journey to the wizards' stronghold. Some of the story is taken up with this journey; it's easy to see why tales of this nature fell out of favor as once you've read enough of these sorts of stories, well, the traveling and discovering new places wears thin. Still, while there is definitely some text that could have been cut, it all flows along well enough.

The novel is billed as "YA". While I would recommend it as such, I also didn't think it was only for young adult readers. It's a good story with some interesting characters and ideas. If you're looking for a three book series that has hints of the traditional fantasy many of us grew up with, I'd give Reiffen's Choice a look.