Friday, October 3, 2014

Review of The Glass Apple by Robert Franks


3 stars out of 5

First, let me share a few words on my rating system, shared by Goodreads and the rest of the sane members of the planet. 3 is a good, solid "I liked it." Amazon calls the midpoint "It's okay," in an underhanded attempt to push reviewers to rate higher or lower. Skewed results are easier for algorithms to analyze, y'see.  Me, I think that kind of mindfuck strategy does the entire ratings process a disservice, and I refuse to play the inflation game.

That's the preliminaries out of the way. Now for the good, the bad, and the not-quite baked-through parts that keep this enjoyable tale from either sinking into two star territory or rising yeastily to a 4-star heights.

First, the good. The excellent, really.
  • Characters. This book has some wonderful, memorable characters of remarkable depth and originality. A wizard who has lived lifetime after lifetime, out of time, can hardly be expected to be sane, much less normal. This book handles that tricky element deftly, as it does the mindset and outlook of most of the other characters. (more on that later) 
  • Premise. It's a tale as old as time: a youngster bereft of elder guidance, shouldering responsibilities far beyond his years, who discovers that he's the heir to an unexpected magical legacy. <cue John Williams soundtrack, or find whatshisface, the one who does all the Oscar-winning Disney songs....oh, wait, he's dead. But I digress.> Anyway, there's a reason this trope is popular. It's universal.  That yearning for existence to reveal a deeper meaning, the desire to be special, unique, chosen -- if I ever outgrow those inner whispers, I'll let you know. I don't think most people ever do, and stories like this pluck those chords on our heartstrings. The best ones set up beautiful harmonies.  This book has a fresh, fun take on the idea, and one well-rooted in the mythology of the British Isles. Saying it warrants comparison to Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series is a high compliment from me. This tale is more complex, and if it's also more flawed, well, that's why it's three stars and not five.
  • Humor. The story has some very dark elements, and the deeper the drama, the more important a touch of humor becomes. It's said that dying is easy and comedy hard. This gets both right. That's a tough trick to pull off, and the author makes it look easy.


The bad. (which isn't so bad.) 
  • Pacing: The lead-in took its time easing into the plot, which I seldom mind if the characters made me smile and wonder where things were going. So far so good, but then things bogged down in foreshadowing and ominous but unexplained events, and people got separated and complication layered onto complication...and then it ended. TBAR moment. (Throw Book Across Room) PET PEEVE alert. I don't mind plots that wrap up and then spring into a new plot with a cliffhanger, but I hate ones that leave everything and everyone dangling at a chapter end, with revelations and zero resolution. In a serial, weekly or even monthly, I'll grit my teeth. In a published novel, it trips my Made of Nope trigger. Your mileage may vary. 
  • All The Usual Suspects: Formatting quirks, over-writing, and grammar/proofing errors. There were more than enough to drop me out of the story.  The descriptions were presented with a lot of repetitive description, and phrases with redundant information (like that)  which got tiring. There were word choice errors. Dialogue sometimes required reading a paragraph twice to determine the speaker, and then I felt sorry for the humble, missing saids that had been elbowed aside by all the bellowing and muttering and scoffing.  Kindle is not generous with indents, and I sometimes had difficulty identifying paragraph divisions. Chapters were not consistently capitalized, nor did they page properly. The table of contents only had 3 sections, which was...annoying. I like to jump back and forth when I read. Not without a TOC. Bookmarks are not the same.
  • Character. Every supporting character was rock-solid, three-dimensional and intriguing. The main character, well, I wanted to pick him up by the ears and shake him for the first half of the book. I suspect part of that was intentional. The hero has to grow up. I get that, but Jason's actions mostly seemed haphazardly driven by outside forces.  Yes, teens bounce from impulse to impulse, but their hapless, moping whininess usually has an internal logic. His didn't, until well into the plot.


The ugly.
There is no ugly. This is a fun, tidy, readable story, with engaging characters, a vividly imagined complex world, and a lot of potential. Well worth the time, if you have a tolerance for cliffhangers and can overlook the unpolished rough spots in the presentation. 

Take a look for yourself on Amazon. It's a lovely little read: Glass Apple by Robert Franks

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