Stephen Reeves asked me to read his novel "Curses of Scale". It is a fantasy novel and the basic gist of it is this druid trying to save his wife from a dragon but it is more complicated than that....a lot more complicated, and I'm not simply talking about the plot. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish, and then assign a grade.
As the story begins In Media Res (sort of), Calem, a druid, has just acquired the final ingredient he needs to complete the spell that will save his wife, Nina.
It is an exciting opening. He is being pursued by the henchmen of the guy he stole from, dodging them and killing them with a mixture of magic and metal weapons. It is this opening that convinced me to accept the review request. It is after this point, where Calem casts the spell that will save Nina, that things get confusing.
You see, the narrative is split between three view points, Calem, Nina, and Nina's grandfather, Marny. They alternate chapters but not every chapter switches perspective. The reader has to figure it out each time. This is the first of the confusing points.
The second point is the abstract nature of the narration. It suggests what is happening more than directly stating it. The out-of-universe reasons for this are in POLISH. Right here are the in-universe reasons.
1. Calem has occasional magical hallucinations, and/or extremely vivid flashbacks that overwrite parts of his narration. He also spends time looking through the eyes of his cat familiar, which obviously has a different viewpoint than a human mind.
2. Nina spends some time in the Eldritch Location known as the Fairhome (that is, home of the Fair Folk) which is influenced by imaginations, and hers is very strong so it is very weird when she is there. She is also constantly narrating backstories for the places she sees or the story she's writing, and the distinction between what is going on around her and what is in her head is not always clear.
3. Marny is apparently going senile, and spends as much time on Memory Lane as he does on solid roads. His wife dies off-screen and neither he nor anyone he interacts with recognizes this. I didn't realize it for dozens of pages because he keeps seeing her. Like many things about the narration, I had to infer it long before it was stated.
The third point of confusion is the style of the narration, which is also in POLISH. The fourth point is a minor point. Nina's grandfather calls her "Squirrel" but this is not immediately apparent. It is left to the reader to realize that Squirrel is actually Nina. The fifth point is that this Nina is not the same Nina that married Calem but a younger version that hasn't even met him yet. Even Calem has to figure this out on his own, because the only person who is aware of everything that is going on is Oberon, a fairy who spends 85% or so of his dialogue on non-sequiturs.
In the background of this story, there is trouble with the local empire. Apparently, it is disintegrating, or being conquered, or something. I couldn't figure it out because only Marny talks about it, and he doesn't seem to care.
Personally, I felt it was a slough to read this book. It is confusing. It is slow-paced. The triple-part narration breaks up everyone's progress and makes the book feel longer than it is. Making all of this worse is that none of these events are relevant to the initial plot. Oberon is basically waiting for the crucial moment where Nina was cursed so he can make sure it doesn't happen while Nina and Marny are working on something entirely different from Calem.
The ending is both closed and open-ended. Like the rest of the story, it is weird that way. I like it. I consider it a good ending.
Calem is an interesting guy because he is a flip of an archetype. At the start, he appears to be the classical action hero risking his life on a mystic quest for the sake of his beloved wife. Then he becomes more unhinged and possessive and ruthless with the implication that he may have always been that way. Declaration of Protection and Yandere merge with this guy.
Nina is an aspiring bard. She wants to travel to a college and become a professional. She is a Plucky Girl and a Guile Heroine, but she is also really naïve. Her romantic ideal of the bard's life is a subject of frustration and scorn to her world weary grandfather. Not helping her case is that she is also spacey, drifting off into her own fictional worlds so thoroughly that it is not immediately apparent that she has drifted into a literal alternate world. At that point, she is torn between using it as an opportunity to run-away to bard college or run just as fast back to her grandfather.
Marny, Nina's grandfather, is the ranking officer of a military post that may or may not still be active for an empire that may or may not still exist. I recall him calling his garrison a collection of scarecrows. He is old, grouchy and cynical. I get a general feeling of "burned out" and him waiting to die. Looking after Nina/Squirrel is all he lives for these days.
The cause of all this trouble, the dragon, receives no characterization beyond "maybe it is looking for a new lair". As far as I can tell, it exists solely to start everyone's subplots and then appear at the end of the story for the climax.
The narration is written in present tense, rather than past tense. This is a little jarring but not bad. It is easy to get used to it. What I dislike is the deliberate refusal to use conventional grammar.
There are sentences fragments everywhere. Seriously, they are on every single page. It has the effect of isolating phrases and emphasizing certain words. I feel this is meant to evoke a sense of flowing, and add an ethereal feel to the narration in support of the three viewpoint characters. In other words, Painting the Fourth Wall.
It is a creative technique, and not one that I have seen before (at least, not since reading experimental modernism in college) but I can certainly see how it can be confusing. Personally, I felt it was better to skim it for the "feel" of the section rather than to learn exactly what was happening, which felt increasingly like bailing water with a sieve.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Curses of Scale" a B
This has been a free review request. The author asked for an honest review, so I provided one.
Click here for my previous book review (a request like this): Poisoned Princess
Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).