Sunday, June 19, 2011

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick is an engaging and exhilarating read. It is exactly the type of book I like to read. This is a stand alone novel that has a satisfying ending but is the first book in a unique setting called A Tale of the Kin. Whether this means we will continue to read about the exploits of the brash and sarcastic Drothe or be introduced to different characters remains to be seen.

Among Thieves has many sterling qualities. It is fast paced, witty and has a great sense of timing. Its best qualities however are found in its dialogue and its extremely limited scope-- and by scope I mean viewpoint, setting and time. By these criteria, this narrative is positively claustrophobic. Dialgoue serves as a narrative lubricant for for the stories dense precision movments.

Almost the entire narrative is told from a single viewpoint, that of the main character Drothe. The story takes place not just in a single city, that would be an overkill, but in one of only eight or nine locations and that is probably a generous estimate. If that wasn’t enough, Douglas Hulick squeezes his creation’s existence into a handful of days.

I am wont to believe that Douglas Hulick is an adherent of the old tenet “Limitation Breeds Creativity.” Whereas an epic fantasist has no limits and instead can wander to and fro over the land like an errant breeze, Douglas Hulick takes a sliver of the land and fashions a cameo. Slowly revealing each layer and each color, its ultimate pattern only he knows until it is complete.

Among Thieves is that tiny sliver. Drothe is a member of a criminal organization, loosely analogous to the Mafia. He gathers intelligence for his boss and dabbles in holy relics on the side. That is where the story starts, on a small side job of little importance. From such small beginnings, the story begins to unfold...one colorful layer at a time.

The narrative stays cramped and narrow like the streets of Ildrecca, the book’s setting. Each turn is a blind turn and when you take it, you are ambushed by the narrative. In such a way the narrative continually unfolds, one chip at a time, adding layer upon layer in rich colorful complexity. The finished story is a marvel and when you finish the book, it takes a while for it all to sink in and register.

Keeping the confining story from grinding itself to a halt, is the dialogue. Dialogue is what ultimately keeps this story moving and allows for such a limited scope. The dialogue is why I love this book. It is why the book is never boring. Where the epic fantasist is given credit for the difficulty of weaving multiple viewpoints, I also view it as a luxury. When the action in one view points begins to slow, you can swap to a second and keep the action going. When you are limited to a single viewpoint, you are never allowed a break. When there is a slow point in the action, you have to cover it with dialogue. In these in-between moments, Douglas Hulick shines. In these interstitial segments, Drothe’s character is explored. As Drothe moves from one action sequence to the next, he continually interacts with people.

It is through this interaction and dialogue that Drothe’s complex character is revealed. Just as the plot slowly unfolds, so is Drothe slowly revealed. Douglas undeniably loves his creation. It is obvious that he has spent much time in crafting the Drothe as the centerpiece to his narrative. So in cabaret burlesque fashion, he teases you, revealing his creation bit by bit. Even by the end of the show...you have not seen everything.

I loved Among Thieves. I will re-read this book. In all likelihood it will end up being one of my all time favorites. I have only covered part of what makes Among Thieves great. It is packed with action. The plot will make your head spin. The dialogue will make you laugh out loud. The characters are unforgettable. When you put the book down, you want to pick it right back up. Just read the book. Because once you have, it will sit in your mind like a cameo. Your mind will run its fingers over the books artistry and marvel at the creativity involved in teasing such beauty from such a limited canvas.

Penguin: Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0451463906

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott

Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott was an unexpected treat to read and why I do not might reviewing independent authors. Michelle Scott has crafted a narrative of remarkable clarity with some interesting plotting, clever story construction and fun setting.

Uncommon Magic is what I would consider Young Adult Fantasy. The story is centered around the main character and protagonist,Mira, and her relationships with her brother Liam and boyfriend Jess. The story takes place in an original fantasy world where magicians are a ruling class and mechanical technology is strictly controlled. The friction between these two competing ideologies serves as the antagonist and drives the plot forward.

I particularly enjoyed the interplay between magic and technology. I thought Michelle had some insightful and realistic ideas of how the lack of simple mechanical devices like pulley’s and door latches would alter people’s daily lives. This helps develop the atmosphere of tension that exists between the ‘normals’, non magic people, and the magicians. It also drives home the repressive qualities of the magicians regime every time a ‘normal’s’ life is made more difficult due to the restrictions of mechanical technology.

The story construction I felt was particularly clever. In order to tie this interesting world and the conflict between technology and magic, Michelle made each of the main characters representative of the various ideologies. Mira is a neutral character. She cares not for the politics. Jess, the boyfriend, is discovered to be a magician. Liam, Mira’s brother, is a gifted inventor. As you can see, the story characters neatly represent the larger plot and world. Ultimately, it is this friction that drives the plot forward. Mira must make decide between family and love.

The plotting was also very fun. Every character tends to have two sides. Just as Mira gets to know a character, suddenly their other side is revealed and the plot shifts in a new direction. I thought this was an enjoyable way to consistently reinforce the magic versus technology friction. This leaves Mira in a state of constant change and confusion. She is not sure who/what is good and who/what is bad. This also leaves you as a reader constantly guessing.

If this was not enough, Michelle also introduces two characters to act as foils to Liam and Jess. To contrast Liam’s benevolent inventor persona...a violent inventory character is introduced. To contrast Jess’s haughty magician persona and recently a dirty peasant...a humble and royal magician is introduced. This helps balance the story, providing Mira evidence that both magic and technology have both good and bad aspects.

Driving all of this story is the very clear prose. I thought Michelle was very good at developing a rhythm to her work; alternating between long sentences and short sentences. The diction choice tended to be simple but with the occasional uncommon word thrown in to spice things up. The pacing and tempo of the book also stays very brisk. There are no slow points. No lingering descriptions. The story stays on track and keeps its destination in mind. If Young Adult was her target audience, I think she did a great job bringing clear but still very fun writing to this book.

I think Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott is a very successful book. It is not something I would normally read, nor would I consider it one of my favorite reads. But, I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the book and that is what I enjoyed the most. Uncommon Magic is a clever and fun read.

Amazon: Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott
Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Self Purchased ebook
ASIN: B004QTOH7I

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley

Recently, WordTipping began receiving some review requests from authors who publish independently. He doesn't have the time to review all of them, and sometimes, they don’t really fall into his range of interests. However, if he comes across something I might like, WordTipping is kind enough to pass it along to me instead. This is the case with Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley.

Dreams Unleashed is the first book in The Prophecies Trilogy, which is probably best described as a paranormal thriller. Ann Torgeson is a technical writer in her forties with an adventurous past. She has worked as both a CIA agent and as a journalist, and she must call on all of her skills to figure what is happening in the bizarre dreams that she is having. Her dreams begin to blur into reality, and the events resulting from them land her in hot water with the increasingly suppressive government. It becomes a race against time to discover the truth and gain control of her powers.

It is clear that Hawley is very passionate about the characters in the series and her writing. She spends considerable time and effort setting up the background for the rest of the trilogy in Dreams Unleashed. The characters were quite colorful and extremely well fleshed-out; however, this incredible attention to detail meant that the book could go a bit slow at times. There were some chapters that felt a little extraneous-- they didn’t seem to move the plot along at all. But, with the potential for time travel being introduced, the reader is left to wonder if some of these scenes might be relevant later on in the series.

Based on the first book, I do not think that the books in this series will be able to stand independently. Hawley was woven an extremely intricate plot and the pacing is non- linear. The first chapter of the book is a thrilling action sequence that happens in the future (a flash forward, if you will). Yet the events immediately preceding this sequence are never addressed by the end of the first novel. Hopefully it will be clarified in the second or third book, keeping readers hooked into the rest of the series.

One caveat to folks who read this book: pay close attention to chapter headings. As I said, the story bounces around between times and locations (despite being told from Ann’s first-person POV). The chapter headings make the transitions a lot clearer and help the reader to see the web of connections within the book.

Overall, I thought the book could use some polishing. Hawley has some fascinating ideas about the power of dreams, but these gems can be somewhat obscured by the meandering narrative. I do very much want to see where the story is going (especially since the ending is a major cliffhanger!), and I plan to read the remainder of the series. The plot really picked up in the last 25% of the book-- I want the rest of the series to build on that momentum!

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy puzzling over a narrative and making many connections between threads in the story. I also think this is a great opportunity to look at some new talent and good potential. Dreams Unleashed has so many kernels of possibility. Hopefully, they come to fruition in the remaining books of The Prophecies Trilogy.

Amazon: Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley
Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Review Copy provided by the Author
ASIN: B0051VDGJK

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.