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: The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett got off to a great start, but ultimately didn't do it for me. This is a book I'd read a lot about, and so I began reading with a certain amount of pent-up expectation. The concept is great: humans have lost much of their past, including technology and magic they once used to nearly drive the demons that rise from the ground each night into extinction. They survive now only because enough of the warding magic was preserved to protect their houses where they are forced to hide each time the sun goes down. Once, there were attack wards, but those have long been forgotten. Until the Warded Man returns, a legendary figure from a bygone era who not only walks the night, but preys on the very demons who hunt humanity.

If only Brett had launched into the story like that, I think it would have worked much better. Instead he takes us on a long voyage beginning with Arlen's childhood (Arlen eventually becomes the Warded Man), the loss of his mother, and how it drives him to leave his village one day with no concern for the demons that he knows will kill him as soon as the sun sets. He survives that first night, and others, until he arrives at a city where he is taken in by a Messenger, someone who braves the night to bring news and supplies from one village to another.

The story also deals with the upbringing of two other characters: Leesha and Rojer. Leesha becomes a medicine woman and Rojer a Jongleur, a companion to Messengers and an entertainer. Their individual stories are interesting enough. Suffice to say their paths cross with that of Arlen's or, rather, the Warded Man, since that is who Arlen has become by the time the three meet, and together they stage the largest assault on demon-kind the world has seen in a very long time.

While I did enjoy Arlen's transformative journey, I felt that introducing the Warded Man as a more undefined entity might have worked better. Instead, by seeing the Warded Man's origin story laid out in such detail, it takes away all of the mystery surrounding him.

Rojer seemed almost an afterthought at times. He fills up some pages, but was he truly needed? I have my doubts.

Leesha… a likeable character with a deep personality but I had an issue with a plot point in which Leesha is raped. I don't know what the deal is, but this is the second time I've read a somewhat recently released fantasy novel where a rape "happens" (I won't even call them scenes because they are both dealt with after the rape has occurred; the event itself is completely skipped over). The other was Sprunk's Shadow's Son. In both novels, the rape is so unnecessary to the story that I have to wonder if it wasn't the publisher who strongly encouraged (made) the author put it in. In Leesha's case, in particular, the character goes to great lengths at times to "save herself" for that perfect man she might meet someday (she winds up finding herself attracted to the Warded Man, something I did not get at all; it seemed really forced) only to find herself in the most ridiculous of circumstances and raped. The ridiculous circumstances are when Rojer, an experienced traveler, tells a group of perfect strangers what route they intend to take and, oh, by the way, I'm the only one guarding this fair lady.

Not that The Warded Man is all bad. The whole idea of demons rising every night is top-notch. Brett explains their existence and how humans lost the ability to fight them well-enough, also. I think he really had what could have been a grand series here. Unfortunately, I think he fails to execute and I don't think I'll be picking up the next book in the series.