SPSFC2 Quarterfinalist Review: The Dark that Dwells, by Matt Digman, Ryan Roddy
This review is my own opinion and does not reflect the opinions of the other members of Team Escapist.
If I were judging this book simply on whether I ‘liked’ the story and characters, than yes, I’d say I liked it . But when I take story telling technique and development into accout, it kind of fell apart for me. Unlike some fellow Team Escapist members, I was not able to fully immerse myself in this book. As interesting as the story was, there were just too many problems for me to actually enjoy it. Unfortunately, the story is riddled with info dumps, mainly consisting of the history of the universe. It got boring, and at times, even confusing. By the time the story stitched itself together (and too late), I was tired of wading through these issues.
FYI, withholding information from the reader does not always equate to tension building or mystery if it’s not done right. Instead, it can create frustration for the reader. Especially when it feels forced.
Therefore, I’m putting this book somewhere between ‘exciting action/adventure’ and ‘dead stop story flow’.
I’ll explain later.
To begin, I was slightly confused when reading the prologue. I had no sense of time, place or setting and I kept pausing to ask myself (the book) questions. Where is this happening? Why didn’t Sidna just kill the Guardian in the first place, like she did so easily at the end? It came across as a bit of fabricated tension that didn’t payoff in the end of the opening scene. Unfortunately, this can leave a reader with somewhat of a lack of trust in the author.
I will ‘reluctantly’ say that I was ‘okay’ with some of the mixed technology used in the book. As in … why bring a sword to a gun fight? I only forgive this because it seems to be a running ‘error’ in most scifi. Let’s face it, Hawk used a bow and arrows while fighting with the Avengers. But, for me, it shows some fault with both worldbuilding and research. Technology must match the rise of a civilization unless there is a reason otherwise. For example (not from this book), why would glasses be needed in a world where FTL and x-ray vision is common place?Technology can’t be random. The rise (or in some cases, the fall) of a civilization’s technology is part of creating a believable, well-structured world.
I will take a pause here to say that the worldbuilding as far as social and government, was really good.
Now to get back to my first comment concerning this book providing both excitement and dead-stop story flow. What I mean is, there is immense detail in the wrong places sometimes. In what appears to be a fight for survial/to the death, the reader doesn’t need intricate details of hair colour. I need to know the distance between the two oppenents. Their emotions. Their wants and needs. Their complications.
Unfortunately, aesthetics of armour and characters took precedence over some of the more quintessesntial techniques used in writing action/fight scenes. Sometimes it felt like the action was being paused so the author(s) could tell you what everything, and everyone, looked like. This is jarring and breaks the momentum of a story or scene.
It was that, or it was … let’s stop to read a description before we move the story along.
Balance is needed. Descriptions should flow into, and with, the prose or dialogue of the story, not stand separate from it, or distract from what is going on in the scene. In a fight scene, I don’t need to know the technical details of the patch on someone’s sleeve as they punch and kick.
Now to bring up what some might consider a ‘Personal Pet Peeve’. But it is more than that. What I’m talking about is; opening chapters that serve to do nothing more than introduce characters. Nothing happens. No idea what the book will be about. What’s everyone fighting for? What does anyone want? Who is the antagonist? What do I have to look forward to? All I’m getting is a character manual to set up a story.
In the case of this book, sometimes it felt like the writers were writing for the TV or movie screen. But what can happen in seconds on the screen takes chapters and chapters of dialogue, prose and descriptions in a book so it slows everything down. A book is not a movie or TV show. Writing rules are different. I don’t want to slog through chapter after chapter of charactes doing stuff that have nothing to do with what the overall plot of the book, just so the characters can be introduced. The actual story needs to start when the book starts. Just because ‘action’ happens, it doesn’t mean anything is progressing in the story. Quite a ways into the beginning hook of the book, I still had no idea what the ‘actual’ story was about- other than what I read on the back cover. And if I liked what I read on the back cover, I read the book so I can expand on that. I don’t want to be halfway through the book waiting for the ‘back cover blurb’ to happen.
I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it was just too overloaded with info dumps, unneeded descriptions and an overall sense of being told everything.