Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Answering Review Request: Leah and the Jackhammer

Adam Ortyl asked me to read his novel "Leah and the Jackhammer". It's about a girl who goes into an abandoned mine in a mini mecha because a monster stole her semi-sapient stuffed bear. It was darker than I thought it would be but more on that later. I will examine plot, characters, polish and then assign a grade.
Overall I have good things to say about the plot.  It has character driven conflict, a well developed mystery, and a satisfying conclusion. However, I have issues with certain scenes that feel like padding and scenery description can be vague. 

First of all it develops organically; Leah goes into the mine with an objective, she accomplishes it, and in the process starts on a second one. Always she is driven by her own desires. "Prove I'm not a demon" is a compelling emotional background and is backed up by her actions. This keeps the plot on track and believable.
 While she travels into the mine's depths, she unravels the mystery of its abandonment. One hundred or so years ago, all the miners vanished without a trace and to this day no one knows what happened. Leah puts the pieces together as she pilots the Jack-hammer through lizard monsters (gnasher) and human monsters (Saggah). It unfolds bit by bit until the climax. 

The Reveal isn't shocking and it shouldn't be. In my opinion, I'd rather read something along the lines of "I KNEW IT!" than "Where'd that come from?"  I'm not a fan of Shocking Swerves for the sake of originality but that's for other posts. The bottom line is that this story does a good job of building up to the reveal instead of trying to keep the reader in the dark the whole time.  

The darkness I mentioned earlier comes from the Saggah's society. It is bloody and grimy and just-human-enough to be especially disturbing. (On Tvtropes we call this "Uncanny Valley"). Harold has to fight gladiator-style against monsters while the reader is constantly aware of the fact that the only thing between Leah and monsters is a thick sheet of glass.

Also, there's a theme of Corrupt The Cutie. A purple light attacks Leah early on and after that struggles with hatred that is 'not her own'.  She begins to enjoy the power and invulnerability the Jackhammer provides in the manner of a bully. As I read the book, I wondered if the previous miners were mutated by hatred and this purple light, and if Leah was going to turn into a Saggah.
I like the way the book's conflict is resolved.  For one, it was a surprise; a surprise separate from the main plot and yet still believable if one pays attention. For two, it neatly resolved a conflict that would have been difficult and messy to resolve otherwise. For three, with the same motion it points to the new conflict with a 'The Adventure Continues' vibe. It made me excited for a sequel.
However, I have more than good things to say about the plot. There is this one area that feels like padding because it does nothing for the plot. It's good for atmosphere and some character spotlighting but it drags on too long. There are things I'll mention under POLISH that bother me about it.
Also, the scenes with Harold don't do much for the plot either. One could cut them out and do little harm to the story. His scenes mostly serve to provide a glance at a society (indeed it's existence at all) that becomes important but even in that case it is background information.  

Leah is a girl ostracized by her community because of her glamour, I.E. magic. She has a running character arc of 'Am I a human girl or a demon' and it is her determination to prove that she is the former that makes her the hero of this story. Mr. Ortyl uses the Jackhammer's fights to illustrate the hatred/killing (demon) vs compassion/restraint (girl) struggle within her. However, she still a child so she makes mistakes and has problems immaturity and impulsiveness.
Sir Ursa makes a good sidekick.  On one hand, he is more alive than a mere animated stuffed toy and thus similar to a familiar like a witch would use. However, he's at all times a voice of reason and regularly advises Leah to show caution and restraint, thus making her more a girl than a demon, and yet, like he himself says, he is part of Leah and cannot believe anything about her that she, deep down, does not believe about herself.
Harold serves little purpose in the plot other than starting the mine conflict, but I liked how he developed. He's a little kid whose a bully because something bad happens when he tries to be nice and it's implied that his father is abusive. The fact that Leah calls him "Fat Butt" (a hated nickname) before he bullies her each time help prevent him from becoming a flat antagonist.  I don't know how the bad blood between him and Leah started but she contributes to its progression. The book points out a couple times that he would rather be nice than mean but nice rarely works out for him.
Finally, the villain is a good character.  Mr. Ortyl gives them a surprising amount of characterization before formally introducing them. They perform their role in the plot well; just the right mix of evil and sympathy to make the final confrontation mean something. The sense of mystery about them is part of the book's appeal so I won't say any more about them.
I didn't see any problems with grammar or spelling or word cruft. That's always a plus.  The problem I mentioned earlier in PLOT is that some scenes are hard to follow for a lack of description in the environment.  One of the battle scenes with the monster lizards sounded like a long string of the Jackhammer wadding through them to do things and so I didn't feel the urgency.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Leah and the Jackhammer" a B.

Click here for the next review request: "Welcome to Harmony"

Click here for the previous review request "Dark Space"

No comments:

Post a Comment