What got me interested in this book was mainly the presentation. The idea of breaking up a larger book into smaller snackable pieces of around 100 pages each and enjoying mini episodes at a time instead of a saga.
It’s something I’ve enjoyed recently in video games having gotten myself re-hooked on Telltale Games and their episodic gaming. Why am I comparing games to a book? Bescause despite the flaws of Telltale Games (come on guys, fix your save system) they have perfected the formula for narrative pacing when releasing their games in small chunks. It’s a very different skill to writing a story as a whole because not only do you need the overarching plot that drives the ‘series’, as it were, but each individual ‘episode’ need’s its own mini-narrative exclusive to itself. If you think about TV shows for a second, I think we can all agree the worst episodes are the one’s which meander through, giving tit-bits of information but have no real conclusion or revelation.
That’s the main problem with this book. The pacing’s just all around a bit strange. Even if you ignore the fact the overarching narrative is rather meandering (rather like the above paragraph) the introduction lasts for over half the book. What’s even funnier is we get two bog standard fantasy intro scenarios one after the other, first Ben, our protagonist is at school, then he gets sucked into another world and becomes a farm boy for a while. Why is the book not starting yet? I’m over 75% of the way through!
I’m trying not to harp on about the length issue but honestly, it’s so frustrating by the time you get to the end of the book you’re more relieved than interested. Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if the writing was solid or Ben was worth investing in, but neither of these things are the case.
Ben is fine, but he’s one of those main characters that is obviously walking around with a shirt saying ‘I’m the protagonist, look busy.’ When people are talking to him it’s like they’re auditioning for the ‘Voice Actors who love to vomit Exposition’ agency.
Credit where credit is due, some effort has clearly gone into giving Ben emotions about things, but the style of writing in which a short sentence is taken after an event to peg an emotion on a character is not a style that appeals to me. I find it rather upsetting.
Okay, no more bad jokes.
I’ll get back around to the writing as it gets 50% of the blame for the first part of this series going absolutely nowhere. There’s so much useless information being thrown at you all the time (like the fact that we sit through two introductions) but if we take it down to a sentence by sentence basis I can give you an example: In the farm area, there’s a point where everyone is celebrating and they cook a great stew. Fine. But why are we wasting time talking about the pot the stew was made in; what it’s made of, who it belongs to?
It sounds like a petty niggle but when everything is like that it completely disconnects you from what is going on and makes it hard to concentrate on the plot. So yeah, I’ll admit it, I zoned out, because half the book is just words in the wind. The other half could be the best fantasy book in the world but I wouldn’t know because I’m just not engaged.
This is otherwise known as the George R.R. Martin problem.
You can find the book here!
Ben Silverstone has just moved away from everything he knows to an old cottage in the London village of Hulstead, and is about to start secondary school at the ancient Hulstead College nearby. Everything is changing at once, and Ben is worried, but anxious to make new friends and do his best to settle into his new life.
As his classes begin though, Ben begins to suspect the aged school and in particular its impossibly deep swimming pool hold dangerous secrets, and it isn’t long before he is swept away from his family and new friends and into a mysterious land of fierce battles, weird creatures and powerful magicians, where he feels even more helpless.