Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Never Trust a Dead Man" is a solid mystery.

I've been reading Never Trust a Deadman by  Vivian Vande Velde lately. It's part of my effort to clean out my personal queue so I can focus more on the reviewer one. I wasn't disappointed; this is a great book. It's basic premise is a whodunit; Selwygn investigates the murder of a fellow named Farold because he was accused of the murder himself. What attracted my attention is that this is fantasy style whodunit; Sewlwygn revived Farold in the former of a bat to aid his investigation by making a deal with a witch. I find it the mark of a great mystery that its appeal is not solely in suspense and the identity of the culprit and this has much more besides.


The story begins in-media res with a mob coming to arrest Selwyn. I like this as a starting place because, for all the reader knows, Selwyn might have done it. As the evidence mounts, I found myself siding with the mob against him because it is a convincing case. This makes them seem less like assholes despite their behavior. On the other hand, it is a scary thought if he is innocent because there's nothing he can do about his kangaroo trial and sentencing.

Another thing I like about the start is that is takes its time. 70 pages before the premise is fulfilled 'investigating a murder with a bat'. The whole book is 194 pages. I like it because there is no rushing and everything is fully set up for the main event.

Overall I like how the mystery developed and information was revealed. Selwyn keeps a running tally of suspects and their motivations.  There's one Contrived Coincidence that stretches my Suspension of Disbelief but other than I don't see holes in the story.


This is why I like the book so much; characters and their interaction. I did not read this book to find out the killer's identity but to watch the leads interact on their way to their conclusion. Their bickering cooperation is funny and I enjoyed seeing them develop as the town itself was developed through retrospective information. 

From the back cover I was afraid Selwyn would be a This Loser Is You sort of guy but he's not like that at all; the book spends zero pages making him relatable or 'average' or anything like that.

Twists of character were also a delight. This is the kind of story that opens up a can of worms and makes other things come to light as Selwyn digs deeper for the one truth he's interested in.


This story is written from Selwyn's prospective and in limited third person. This is a good tone for this book because the reader sees the world as Selwyn perceives it but without the self-conscious 'I' getting in the way. It works because it is consistent. 
I didn't see anything in the way of grammar or spelling errors.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Never Trust a Dead Man" a B+

Click here for the next review (which was a review request) Blade Song

Click here for the previous review (which wasn't a review request) Eragon

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Making the Most of Trouble

I was going to post something about writing back cover premises last Tuesday but stuff came up and so I wrote my weekly post today. Initially I was bothered by the delays and other tasks but then I realized something and decided to make that my post for this week. Making the most of trouble.
A lecturer in college one said "Plot is nothing more than a character in trouble".  If your character never have troubles or encounter problems, then it will likely be a boring story. It's not impossible to write a story that has no serious or minor trouble but it is harder and it narrows the field of possibilities for the writer to explore. .
It's also glass half full sort of thing. When something bad happens one should strive to make the best of it and in my case that means looking for a way to apply the situation for a storyline. Using this trouble to my advantage made me feel better about the trouble. "Not a waste of time" sort of thing.
For instance, waiting for a pick up at an airport can become the frame narrative for a story; Forest Gump did something like this. Computer trouble can become a metaphor for plot conflict; rooting out viruses becomes identifying and resolving the problems plaguing a town (for a Tomato In the Mirror , you can reveal that the town is a computer, or visa versa.)  Alchemy was born in the kitchen, and because Alchemy is Magic, one can turn a cooking disaster into fodder for a magical mishap in a fantasy story or something more science based for a science fiction or historical fiction.

While my troubles this week delayed by writing progress on Looming Shadow, it provided the impetus for a frame of reference that I otherwise wouldn't have thought of. There's a scene I've written an outline for but lacked meat for it and this frame of reference provides that meat. I'm almost glad that it happened because I used it to my advantage.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Eragon" Middle of the Road Fantasy

I don't understand why some people hate this book and I don't understand why some people love it. I myself am 'meh' about it. It's an ok book.

I'm not going to discuss its orginality or lack thereof in this post. I already addressed that in another post (Originality and Tradition). This review post will be exclusively about the book itself, standing alone.


I find no fault with the plot. There's a cause and effect from point A at the farm to point B on the road and point C traveling to the Varden's HQ. Even the reason for Arya to send the dragon egg to Eragon's general location is given a reason.

The book gets extra points here for the development from Farm Boy to Rebel Fighter. Instead of jumping straight into fighting The Empire, he's more into revenge. Considering his uncle has been killed by agents of The Empire he's more interested in killing them then heroics. For a boy of his age and upbringing, I can imagine he would more interested in that. A good deal of the book is spent in this regard. In addition to character action I also like this because it provides time for training. A few months while traveling isn't as a good as traditional knight training but it's more realistic than sending him straight into combat fresh off the farm. He learns about the empire outside of his remote northern village and comes to the conclusion that fighting the empire is a just course of action but this takes time. 

Some parts are dry and some are boring. Training and traveling are interesting but after a while I'd like something to happen to move the plot along. There is not enough to sustain my interest with world building and at the same time enough to bog down the plot.

Other parts I'd like to cut out entirely. The one about the three mountains and their cult was interesting from a world building perspective but it was made to be more important than it was and the plot point connected to it wasn't significant enough to qualify as red herring.  The search for the uncle killers dragged too long for so little plot movement. I'd shrink that by a third or more.

The final battle is pretty cool but the book ends on a mysterious not-quite-cliffhanger moment. The battle is won but there's little sense of resolution. It's a prod into the next book which I always find distasteful.


 Characters are good too. I don't understand why Eragon is called a Gary Stu. Yes he has magic and a dragon and is a fast learner but he still needs help from allies and can't resolve anything by himself. At the end of the first book his list of solo acomplishments is zero. Brom does a fine job as the Mentor Archetype. Murtagh makes a great foil; world weary, iron willed but non-magical, etc. Arya distinguishes herself beyond the role of Herald or Damsel in Distress and takes part in the final battle.

The problems are the villains. They're missing for some 90 percent of the book and that's why a lot of it is boring. Villains provide conflict and without conflict there is less of a plot.

Eragon is not present at his uncle's death and only catches glimpses of his murderers before the plot moves on.
The Shade is not formally introduced until way into the plot (some 200 or so pages) and only makes two appearances.
The Big Bad, Emperor Galbatroix, doesn't appear at all. I once read about a fanfic that uses this to support the notion that Galbatroix isn't involved in any of these events, that everything was done at the Shade's orders and Galbatroxi isn't evil at all. In my experience, that is an easy argument to make.


I was wary while reading this book because I've heard of clumsy scene changes and purple prose. I found little of either.  Spelling and grammar looked good too.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Eragon" a C

Click here for the next review (which wasn't a review request): Never Trust a Dead Man

Click here for the previous review (which was a review request): "The Amber Treasure"

Monday, October 7, 2013

Inspiration Day: Author Independence

From now on I'm going to celebrate Inspirational Monday on the first day of the month (If not on the first then within the first week) because for the last several months I've missed it.  The first Monday could be the 7th and I would either go early or miss it entirely.  Thus, I will call it Inspiration Day.

When I thought about this it reminded me that I control every aspect of my writing. I have been an independent author for almost two years now.  It has been time consuming but I love the degree of freedom that comes with it. This Indie Freedom is my inspiration post for October.

1. Publishing

I have no deadlines but those that I set for myself. If I don't think the book is ready then I don't publish it. This way I can make it the best it can be. Naturally I'm not always correct on when that time comes (see the posts on beta reading and editing etc) but I choose who and how many opinions I seel and what I take away from them.

2. Pricing.

I control how much the book costs.  A publisher would not necessarily have my book's best interests in mind because they want to make a profit. If I want I can schedule days where the book is free and there's also a way to make it free every day in order to move more books at the expense of profit. It depends on my priorities. Since I'm more interested in getting my book into the hands of as many readers as possible, I chose a low cost; 99 cents.

3. Promotions

If I want to schedule a free day for this coming Friday, I can do that on my own initiative. If I want to buy a span of advertisements, then I can because it's my budget. Just the other day I decided to enter a contest (Reader's Favorite) and I'm considering a second (Wise Bear). I don't need anyone's approval because I am the Editor-in-Chief.