Jessica Reeves asked me to read her novel, "The Black, The White, and the Grinning Grey". It's about this girl who tumbles into a world of magi, and in doing so, sets in motion a prophecy that could lead to their arch enemy taking over. I will examine plot, character and polish, and then assign a grade.
The opening to the story is vivid. It is dank, it is smelly, it is painful; in other words, an exemplary case of the merits of Show, Don't Tell, because it establishes the leading lady's state of mind in a way that no amount of talking about it ever could.
After this great opening, the plot that unfolds is basically an Apocalypse Maiden thing. A prophecy (called here a "prediction") says that this girl from another world will lead to the end of their world by assisting the Big Bad's rise to power. The first part of the plot is confirming whether or not this girl is the real deal.
There's a lot of interesting world building in this story. It has some basic building blocks that I am familiar with but on a whole is not quite something I have encountered before.
--->For instance, the "white, grey and black" are not social markers. They are magical markers. The colors of a mage's robe will change by itself during their initiation, and by other factors throughout their life until they die. All apprentices wear brown robes, and during their graduation, the robe will change from solid brown to any color on a gradient of white-grey-black. The qualities of the white are basically Lawful and black is Chaotic; it's not "good" and "evil". There's a fascinating discussion between two mages about the distinction between "black magic" and "dark magic"; the latter of which can used by any color, including the white.
--->The system of magic appears to be a mix of elemental and emotional. That is, practitioners are better called "magical empaths" or "magical psychics" then the standard robe and wand wizard. I would have liked to see more details about that, and Medlar was in training for this sort of thing at one point but plot happened.
The plot is one of the two major disappointments of this book. It's not bad in the first half where Eleusis is investigating Medlar's past. That part makes sense and follows a good progression. Also, Callac's increasing exposure to the unique supernatural nature of Medlar contributes to the other half of the investigation coin. It's the second half that is really disappointing.
-->Callac's turning of the tide against the Crow in a battle that she's already won feels more plot device-y than awesome. The Heroic RROD afterward mitigates this but it's startling how unprepared the mages could be against someone who has been acknowledged as a dire threat for a long time. Also, if she's as powerful as all that, why does she need the help offered in "The Prediction?"
-->The way Medlar remains undetected for so long is also puzzling. All the magic college is searching for her and she evades them by hiding out on their roof. Did Eleusis' grandfather train her in magic and then seal those memories? I don't understand why there was such a delay. Did Medlar have to put up a certain amount of "pain energy" or something before returning?
--> The resolution at the climax feels like an Ass Pull, and again it is because of Medlar's inexplicably greater ability and the professional's inexplicable incompetence.
--> The real Medlar, the one that Medlar (Hazel) was pretending to be, is not explained well. The narration says "The real Medlar " and she starts talking with the two male leads as if they didn't realize this, or didn't know. Then she doesn't appear again. She feels like a plot device for providing a twist and exposition.
In a nutshell, the second half feels sparse.
Finally, there are some plot threads about the magic college and ruling council politics. Class tensions and political corruption; that sort of thing. They feel like hold overs from a previous draft because they're mentioned and then they disappear. They are briefly alluded to in a indirect fashion at the end when everyone takes off their robes and celebrates but that's it.
Medlar is set up well and develops well. Starting off she's like this frightened kitten and gradually connects to her new friends and new world. She's has a mischievous streak when not in an Iron Woobie mode. Then she disappears for much of the later half of the narrative and her characterization goes with it.
Eleusis is this stoic logic guy. He's kind of like Spock from Star Trek, if Spock were a magic user instead of a scientist. Watching his internal struggles was interesting because it was well crafted.
Callac doesn't have much to him. He's a nice guy but that's about it. He's in the middle of the spectrum of white-black.
Kephal makes a good contrast with Eleusis because she is more of a Chaotic Good to his Lawful Good. She makes a big impression for such a small role.
The Crowe, the Big Bad, has little characterization. There's some Vain Sorceress in her background and hints of a Fallen Heroine past but that's it. She is not described physically in the book, which I feel is a cop out. Callac can't have an epic battle against a big blank. "Beyond madness" and a few details about her face is all the reader gets. This is a big weakness in the book because The Crowe is the lynch pin of the entire plot. There's so little to her that the plot itself is diminished.
This is the worst of the three. There are problems with formatting, problems with spelling, problems with grammar. Numerous times there are missing words. There are more pages with these problems then there pages that do not have these problems.
Additionally, there many areas that feel rough or incomplete. Characterizations is sparse for all but a few characters, and those too feel it in the second half. There are many plot holes and many elements that don't feel fully established. There is a chapter that is only a paragraph long. All together, it reminds me of a first draft.
I imagine this book would be fantastic if it was fleshed out more and came to the attention of a proofreader. As it is, it is not.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Black, The White and the Grinning Grey" a D+
This has been a free review request. I received nothing in exchange except a free copy of the book.
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