Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Answering Review Request: "Ballad of the Nameless Traveler"

I was asked by Tomeki Piorkowski to review his story "Ballad of the Nameless Traveler". It takes the form of an epic poem narrating the traveler's adventures across the Eurasian Continent. It's a nice set up but the execution was horrible because of the overpowered protagonist.

There are five individual story arcs in five different regions with an overall story arc connecting them. The first arc is awful because the Traveler does everything; the only characters other than minions are a Distressed Damsel and her incompetent brothers. The second story arc is better because all he does is wrestle a golem. The conflict is resolved by others. The third arc is also great because he does nothing more than keep the enemy mage busy while the locals deal with the villain. The fourth story arc is bad for other reasons including this one; a lot of fumbling and idiocy on all sides, hero and villain both.  The fifth story arc gets a paragraph to itself.

There are a number of things wrong. 1.) As usual only the Nameless Traveler gets to do anything important but this case is especially bad because he's supposed to need five companions. There's a prophecy and everything but all they can do is draw away mooks that he could easily beat on his own. In the end they are Team Cannon Fodder. 2.) The Nameless Traveler is suddenly weaker. In the previous story arcs he fought off armies single-handed and didn't need to rest for days while fighting armies single handed. Here he tires easily before the Drama Preserving Handicap, which, by the way, is the first time he has been injured. 3.) Tangents; each time one of the five has served their purpose the story goes on a long tangent that could be its own story arc but is compressed and squeezed in here. It throws off the pacing and the narrator apologizes for it. If he felt that way he shouldn't have digressed in the first place. I can only presume that he did this to provide closure for the characters without interrupting the hero's own ending, which brings me to my next point. 4.) An author can not use The Adventure Continues and The Hero Dies simultaneously. It doesn't work that way. It must be one,  the other, or involve Passing the Torch. 5.) Conclusions are about wrapping things up but this one only brings up more questions. In the first four, the Nameless Traveler was a mystery; a void; now he's some kind of holy warrior on a mission from God whose doesn't use his name because that somehow keeps his true power sealed and releasing it would kill him. It sounds Messianic Archtype-y which adds to the Marty Stuness.

I have never seen a more blatant one than the Nameless Traveler. Inexplicably this guy is a martial arts expert, a master mage, has an aura of charisma that makes everyone like him instantly (unless they're stupid or evil) and is so handsome that even heterosexual guys are attracted to him. The first major villain is defeated as easily as his minions. All the other villains fare just as well so the most interesting stories are the ones where the Traveler can't fix the problem by punching someone. All this is made worse by the narrator referring to him as 'wonderful hero' and other such terms. The only way he could be worse is if he rode a mythical creature like a unicorn or a dragon instead of a horse.

Speaking of the horse, she has more personality than he does. I picture the horse as a Type A tsundere; sweet to the Traveler but cold and haughty to everyone else. The Traveler himself has no personality. There is nothing more to him than bland heroism and there is no backstory to explain the source of this heroism; there are no quirks or traits that could distinguish him. He is nothing more than a moving ball of conflict resolving power. Secondly the horse is not as overpowered as him; she does nothing that a real war horse could not reasonably do. For this reason I like the (also nameless) horse much more than I like the nameless traveler.

The third major character is Dundee, a vampire that follows the Traveler for revenge and is far more interesting than the Traveler. For one he has a name. For two he is not showered with praise by the narrator. For three he has a personality and a dynamic one; on one hand he wants to kill a hero for killing his evil father but he himself is a hero. Indeed, he has his own subplots where he delays his vengeance in order to stop by a local village and save Innocent Bystanders. For four, he is not all powerful. Like traditional vampires he is vulnerable to sunlight and his enemies take advantage of this on three occasions. As a reader, I would have preferred The Traveler to be a Decoy Protagonist and have the story follow Dundee instead.

There are other characters and they are also more interesting. In fact, the Traveler is the least interesting character in this story. They all have backstories and personalities and, of course, names. However, only once are they allowed to resolve the conflict themselves. Every other time they are quickly reduced to either begging the Traveler to save them or could not do it without him. He has all the subtly of a Deus Ex Machina because his appearance is often preceded by an appeal to the gods. Not 'God' but 'gods'; plural.

My opinion of the poem's mechanics are more mixed. On one hand, the poem gives the feeling of listening to a minstrel at court or a storyteller at a campfire. An atmosphere like that is suitable for an epic poem. On the other hand, the author is slavishly devoted to the same meter (AA, BB,) and for this purpose mangles sentence structure and uses anarchic words. This led to groaning on my part because it was painfully obvious and ruins the tension. On a third hand, the dialogue is usually good; there are badass boasts and cunning quips, etc.  It is the narration that suffers.

Determining this book's rating was a unique challenge. It was a like a rollercoaster; first arc (F), second arc (A), third arc, (A), fourth arc (D), fifth arc (C). To create an overall review I had to average them all together. Between the good and the bad I was going to round up and give the author a C for having the guts to write in epic verse but then I read the final lines. I would have been fine with an Unreveal-nothing wrong with keeping the mystery-but this was the most corny and trite method possible to end the story; the wonderful, powerful, handsome, charismatic hero's name is the reader's name. It so disgusted me I thought "D!". If the Traveler had some catchphrase like 'you are the real hero' then it would have been okay but this comes out of nowhere and feels like a cop-out. I thought about it and wanted to give the book a straight up F. This author clearly knows how to write a conflict driven and engaging story without a single overpowered hero (the second and third arcs prove this) but for some reason chose not too. I wavered between F and D while writing this review and finally came to a decision.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Ballad of the Nameless Traveler" a D-

Click here for the next review request: Flames of Ether

Click here for the previous review request: Forever Gate part 1


  1. Hey, thanks for the thorough review!

    A few comments, if I may...

    Well, the narrator is not the author. The narrator is a balladeer who has his own agenda, and is clearly making some stuff up to excite the crowd. I suppose I could have put in a framing device, such as in Sir Walter Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel, but I've never liked framing devices - they are either unnecessary fluff, or awful (such as in E R Eddisson's The Worm Ouroborus).

    My hero character draws inspiration more from folk stories, which does have the overpowered hero as a genre stereotype. I suppose I should market the novel more as a collection of tall tales, much like some of the obscure stories I drew inspiration from.

    I suppose I could have explained the situation a bit more clearly for part 5, maybe you accidentally skipped the relevant. The hero only has x amount of magic power, which is more than enough to defeat most beings, but unlikely to be enough to defeat Uzoom. He therefore tries to conserve as much power as possible; he can't afford to waste his ammunition on the mooks because he needs it all for the big boss, as it were. In the end all it did was makes things more difficult for him, but he was trying his best not to have to use his name, I can't really blame. I based this arc somewhat on real life people I've met that only made their lives worse and more miserable in trying to cheat death, eg cancer patients who refuse chemotherapy to try other remedies and then come back for chemotherapy when it is too late.
    So the hero in the story, in trying to keep his power intact, only ended up becoming sloppy and opening him up for a possible injury.

    As for the revealing of the name, well, the Balladeer needs to give some props to his patron. Ludivico Ariosto, author of Orlando Furioso, for example, cast his patron's ancestor as a too-good-to-be-true mighty warrior knight. The Balladeer at this point would look his patron square in the eye, implying that the name of the hero is the patron's name, and that all the qualities of the hero are really the patron's. Even Shakespeare had to suck up to his patrons in a few of his plays, so it's part of the things that inspired me and were incorporated into the book. Don't be too hard on me for that! I suppose some sort of stage directions could have been incorporated into the book, but that would have made it awkward.

    "The only way he could be worse is if he rode a mythical creature like a unicorn or a dragon instead of a horse." - That was actually quiet funny. I like your sense of humour.

    "On the other hand, the author is slavishly devoted to the same meter (AA, BB,) and for this purpose mangles sentence structure and uses anarchic words." I've read a lot of narrative rhyme stories and this is par for the genre. Pretty much every long narrative rhyme story in English will have to take liberties in sentence structure and word usage. It's no mystery to me now why this sort of storytelling technique is not popular in English (the way it is, say, in Italian) - English words are just not built for confident sustained rhyming. For me the worst culprit is Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queen' which even in its day drew similar criticism. As for the couplet form, I picked it up from reading Alexander Pope and decided to run with it and stay with it (in contrast, I disliked Sir Walter Scott's narrative rhymes because he would constantly be shifting metre styles and this at times would quite disrupt the flow of his stories). My favourite Rudyard Kipling poems were also the ones in couplets, so that was another inspiration for me to stick to that metre.

    "This author clearly knows how to write a conflict driven and engaging story." - Thanks, good to know there's some hope for me! ;-)

    If you don't mind, could you put this review up on Goodreads, and if possible on Amazon?

    Otherwise, good luck for your writing career!

  2. First of all, I'm glad your taking this review so well and wrote such a detailed response.

    A framing narrative would have been wonderful. If I knew that there was a balladeer taking artistic license I would have been more lenient, especially if I knew he was sucking up to a patron. I agree that putting 'tall tales' in the description would also help in this regard.

    I would have loved to see that 'cheating death' thing in the story proper. It is a flaw that makes the traveler more human and less Marty-Stu.

    I know the AA,BB meter is common but that doesn't mean I like it. I also know its justified because your balladeer would say something like 'couplets are easier to remeber'. I guess we have different tastes.

    Good luck to you as well!

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