Writing Bad Reviews

I’m not going to write a proper review today. This is partly  because I have not yet managed to finish either of the two books I have been reading this week. It isn’t that they are particularly long, or complicated – the problem is that they are just bad. Every page takes twice as long as normal, because of the turgid prose. I’m not motivated to read, the language keeps dragging me out of the story, and I’m just really, really, not enjoying them.

However, when I do finish them (I don’t like leaving even awful books unfinished), I’m not going to review them. It seems somehow cruel. Both books are self-published, both the initial offering of new authors. I’d happily review them on that score, but in this case I have nothing good to say – I can’t do compliment sandwiches, I can’t talk about the interesting ideas being obscured by inexperience, I can’t praise the vision but not the execution. I can’t really say anything positive at all.

Given that, I don’t want to feel like the sort of awful person who publicly publishes nothing but harsh criticism – even if, as is very likely, the author never sees it. Slating a self-published, new author without finding anything nice to say is like kicking a puppy; there is no need for it, it doesn’t help anyone, and it is not a nice thing to do.

I’m not, I should stress, against bad reviews in general; I’m sure I will at one point use this blog to write about books I have hated, but I’m not going to do that to people who nobody else has even read. My help is not required for them to languish in obscurity. If I’m going to be negative, I’ll be negative about people who can take the hit.

With that said, and without naming the books, I am going to briefly talk about what I find so objectionable. I’ll give details from the books, but I think it highly unlikely that anyone will ever read this blog who has read those books, and even less likely that they would connect the two.

Book 1 is the better of the two – the prose isn’t quite as stultifying, though still quite amateurish. The main issue with Book 1 is that it shouldn’t be a book – it is clearly more suited to be a Final Fantasy game, or a particularly clichéd anime. The protagonist has ridiculously coloured hair, when everyone else (so far) is restricted to normal shades. The magic system is essentially FF7′s “materia” – different stones do different things, put them in slots on your weapons. Already, the book seems to be centered around descending into dungeons to fight hybrid monsters and collect quest objects. You can see who will join the party, and exactly which niche they will fill.

I’ve played that game countless times before. I’ve enjoyed that game. It doesn’t work as a book.

Book 2 has many problems – the plot is incoherent, time and space seem to warp constantly (it isn’t about that – it is just really hard to tell when anything is happening). The overall plot is basically about doomsday, but that hasn’t been mentioned more than in passing since the prologue. No one seems that bothered.

The major issue though, is the language. I’m not saying the grammar is bad; the grammar and punctuation are fine. The author knows the meanings of the words they use. Frankly, for the kind of book it is, I’d expect far more basic errors. The problem is that the sentences are just wrong. The author writes in correct sentences, but in no way that anyone would actually write or speak. Idioms don’t follow the expected patterns (students are said to “do” university, not go to), dialogue is overly descriptive of inner feelings and (“I feel that Rebecca does not understand that she is someone who I care for intensely. She is someone I find beautiful, and also she is kind” said the taciturn, closed-off marine), characters directly tell you their state of mind which conflicts with their actions (Charlie was fascinated by the lecture. He chewed on his pencil and looked at a tree).

It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly the problem is, and how it can be solved. Overall, the author appears to just have no ear for language. Every single sentence grates and falls flat. The overall effect is horrible – even without the other problems, the book would be a struggle to read. I have been forcing myself to get through a chapter a night, and I am unhappy for all of the time that I am doing so. I like reading because I can immerse myself, get lost in the flow of words, and these words don’t flow; they clatter.

I will finish Book 2, and I will finish Book 1 (an ordeal I anticipate being far less unpleasant). However, it is going to take me a long time, and I’ll read other books in between. But I’m not going to review them unless they dramatically improve in their second half, and that, based on the first half, is deeply unlikely.

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