Thursday, November 8, 2012
The Written, Ben Galley
Entangled in a web of lies and politics and dragged halfway across icy Emaneska and back, Farden must unearth a secret even he doesn t want to know, a secret that will shake the foundations of his world. Dragons, drugs, magick, death, and the deepest of betrayals await"
Ben Galley's The Written was my first experience of a self-published Fantasy title. And it was quite a ride!
I've got to open with the most obvious comment, the cover art for this title (and indeed the for next in the series) is Stunning. It completely sold the book to me, which I know is awful on my part. My Shallow is showing. Not only that, but the quality of the book itself, it's genuinely a thing of beauty. I've been reading this one at work quite a bit, and the number of colleagues who asked me what I was reading was up by about 75% compared to normal. When I mentioned it was self-pub they were, to a man, incredulous. The downside to the sheer beauty of it, is of course, the price. £9.99 is a lot to lay out for an author you're unfamiliar with.
So..was it worth it? I have to say, in complete honesty, I should have hated this book. It does all the things that wind me up within the genre. First of all, there are k's in Magick, and there are y's in Vampyre. I'll be the first to admit I'm a picky devil, and both of these are examples of the random little things that make my eye twitch violently. A pet peeve. It's like when people put a y in the signs for their "Summer Fayre". It doesn't make it any more authentic, and it doesn't make me want to go. It just makes me want to grab a pen and correct it. My OCD tendancies aside, the plot here is very simplistic, and the characters and setting are standard, there was really nothing new or out of the ordinary to grab my attention. And there are dragons that talk, now, to my mind only Tolkien can get away with that. But see above, I'm picky!
So, this absolutely should not have been my cup of tea. But somehow, and I can't quite put my finger on how, Galley grabbed me right from the opening of this and dragged me through it, against my will at times, and against my better judgement I had a lot of fun. He's a born storyteller, and there's just that "something" to his writing that had me curled and cosied up with this one, like a kid being read stories by the fire. It's driving me mad that I can't even describe to you what that something is. But if there was an X-Factor for authors I'd be ringing in for Galley every Saturday night.
The permanent winter backdrop brought to mind images of Narnia, and Winterfell, and the dragons and their riders are pure Paolini. And talking of Paolini, I've got to mention editing. If you've read the Inheritance cycle you'll know right where I'm going with this. Editing...it could use some! Just like Paolini's second and third novels, The Written is crying out for a really ruthless editor in a really bad mood. Whislt I did, on the whole, enjoy a lot of Galley's massively indulgent descriptions, there were just pages upon pages that didn't move the plot along a whisker. I think with some severe editing the novel could genuinely be transformed into a pacey beast, which would, IMHO, really crank up the appeal for most readers. Galley's language is poetic in places, and hugely enjoyable, but really there's a huge amount of filler here that could be disposed of to better display the muscle of the story underneath. To come back to an earlier comment, part of me wonders if this is a form of compensation for the relative weakness of the plot itself.
Galley's big 'twist' didn't work at all for me, I'm trying to stay spoiler free, so will just vaguely say that there was too much included in the initial description of one of the characters, it instantly linked him to something that we're seemingly not supposed to connect him to.
Overall, Galley's turn of phrase, and Farden's personality won through, and this was one I genuinely enjoyed. I'm massively curious to see how things go in the second book, and how Galley's writing progresses. I hesitate though to recommend it fervently because I'm very aware of a lot of elements that could put people off. I'd hazard the advice that if you enjoyed Paolini, you'll most likely enjoy Galley.
This is genuinely the most bizarre review to try and write. On the face of it I'm doing nothing but make negative comments, but let me re-iterate that I really did enjoy this novel. There's a spark there, a promise of better things to come, and I will happily go on to the second novel in the series at some point (I bought it at the same time. Because it has an awesome cover). It's Farden, I think, who holds things together and gets me past my pet hates here. He's a lot of fun as a character. I like his abilities, and his temper. I have one, and I'm envious of the other ;) I felt enough of a connection with him to enjoy myself with him. He's almost like a sulky, snarky teenager in many places, and although that kind of doesn't fit with someone of his age and his power, I like it.
The Written is, on the whole, a pleasantly told tale, with a few plot weaknesses, some gaping holes to the magic system and some over tired fantasy stereotypes. There are a lot of faults, but there are also some lovely touches too (the storm giants, for example, were beautiful!) It was a real war between those two factors for me. Galley's way with words, and Farden's coolness won it for me, and this was one I genuinely enjoyed.