Review of Lyncia by J.A Waters (Part 1)

My initial plan last month was to read Lyncia by J.A Waters.  When I didn’t get through all of it I decided I would read the rest over the Christmas period (which coincided nicely with the December Jukepop Reading Party).  Then Christmas rolled up.  Having a two two year old is exhausting enough as it is, but Christmas is a particularly difficult and overwhelming time for young children.  I got so rushed off my feet that I lost track of time and I didn’t get to read any serials.  I missed the reading party.

I am determined to finish Lyncia, but for now, allow me to review the first fourteen chapters that I got through.

Serial Status: Finished.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 1

Lyncia

Jukepop Synopsis:

A story on gods, death, pain, and adventure. Completed on 18 November, 2015.

Lyncia Eyresin is about to play host to a strange array of visitors, and some of them have frightening powers beyond her comprehension. Life is full of choices and chances, and Lyncia’s will lead to maddening oddities and a spiraling descent.

But on the world of Nalan, the fall may never end.

So Lyncia begins a struggle to understand the world as it truly is. Buried stories tell of concealed gods and sunken relics. Cracks in the known history reveal a shattered past. Somewhere in the truth, Lyncia will find power.

Find out more about Nalan here:
http://nalanwiki.watersartistry.com/

WARNING!  THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

What was done well:

Although I only got through what was essentially the start of our heroines journey, I found so much I liked.  The characterisation was fantastic – particularly the sublime balance J.A strikes with Lyncia, the titular protagonist.  She’s wilful but not to the point where she is spoilt.  She is strong, both physically and mentally but this has come from years of hard training.  Lyncia is also keen to take over ruling from her father so she can keep the times peaceful and do what is best for her subjects.  That said, I get the impression that she isn’t quite ready to rule just yet (more on that later!).

This brings me to the thing I liked to most.  The first few chapters gave me the impression that this was going to be the story of a princess fighting against a patriarchy not just for herself but for the greater good of her people, all the while learning various hard truths that would eventually mould her into a wise and powerful ruler.  Then we witness her shocking murder and suddenly all those expectations go out the window.  Lyncia is reborn as an unwilling prophet with a whole new set of problems: a frightening voice in her head that is actually a god that is forcing her to be a prophet and can control her actions, a new body and to top it all off she has to come to terms with the fact that her own father had her killed.  This kind of sudden misdirection is a difficult one to pull off but J.A does this masterfully.

The beauty of it all is that the plot hasn’t changed all that much from where it started.  The focus has altered but at its core, the story hasn’t.  You see, even if we had stayed along the lines of a strong and formidable princess fighting back against a patriarchy, Lyncia would still have her work cut out for her.  It’s clear that while she has a greater understanding of politics and leadership than most, she is missing vital bits of wisdom.  Look at how she reacts to her fathers decision to go to war.  She flat out refuses this is a solution.  Unfortunately, issues like these don’t have a clear cut answer.  I’m certainly not advocating war.  It’s never a good thing.  But sometimes, particularly in a world such as Lyncia’s, it is a lesser evil that can cut short years of extended suffering.  As a potential ruler Lyncia needs to understand that and be ready to make difficult and sometimes harsh decisions.  When she becomes a prophet, this core issue is still there.  In fact one thing I noticed is just how grossly Lyncia underestimates the influence of religion in the machinations of power.  As a prophet (even a reluctant one) she’ll be treated to some invaluable lessons that will help her on her journey.  More importantly she’s starting from the bottom.  As a princess she was in a privileged position where it was unlikely she knew the full extent of her people’s suffering.  Lyncia has the chance to really get to know her people and in turn her kingdom and hopefully she might even pick up some street smarts on the way.  And that is what will help her win the day … assuming she is willing to learn.  I guess I will have to wait and see.

What Could Have Been Better:

I’d like to place a mini disclaimer here and state that the following ‘criticism’ is the result of hours and hours of re-reading in order to find some kind of general weakness (well done J.A!).  After all, I believe that even the best piece of work has room to improve.  Similarly I believe that even a story I don’t get along with has something good in it.  This is why I always try to find at least one good thing and one bad thing.

So … what is this one thing?

Well, I noticed that it takes eight chapters to reach the event that kicks Lyncia into her ‘Heroes Journey’.  The story itself is only fifty chapters long, which means it takes almost a fifth of the book to get to where the plot begins rolling.  The eight chapters aren’t short either.

I’m not saying this is ‘wrong’.  After all, there are no set rules on the ratio of beginnings, middles and ends (that I’m aware of anyway).  It’s not even like what happens is irrelevant filler either.  There is no rambling on.  We need to see Lyncia in her lessons, we need to see her go to the temple and witness the miracle and we need to see her cause havoc at the meeting.  I just think that J.A might want to examine the story more closely to see if there is a way to bring the reader closer to this pivotal event.  My personal suggestion is using a small prologue where we begin with Lyncia dying.  We don’t necessarily have to know it’s her; there can be brief details that hint at who the dying character is that the reader can slowly put together as they read through the events that led to this calamity in the next eight chapters.

That’s it.

Overview:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lyncia and wish I’d had time to read more.  The characters are well thought out, the setting, plot and drama play out really nicely and there is a real balance of fantasy here.  It’s not overplayed but we can see we are in a fantasy realm.  Lyncia is certainly shaping up to have some interesting concepts and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys well crafted fantasy fiction.

Incidentally if anyone is interested, J.A Waters has a wiki where he provides some stunning illustrations and information about the world of Nalan.

He also has other serials on Jukepop that you should check out:

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Critique of Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating

Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating is one of those stories that I kept meaning to get round to and never did.  I’m very glad I finally dived in!

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read up to Chapter 15.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 2

NEITHER LEGAL NOR TENDERJukepop Synopsis:

That weekend, all Beth Hargreaves wanted was to paint her kitchen, but all she got was nearly killed, thanks to a home-made good luck charm with built-in bad juju to spare. It didn’t get much better the next weekend either…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

 

 

What Was Done Well:

I loved how easily the situation snow balls out of control.  The synopsis sums it up – all Beth wanted to do was paint her kitchen but instead she finds herself in a whole heap of trouble that only gets worse and worse.  It’s strangely hilarious, especially as Beth keeps coming back to wanting to paint her kitchen.  At one point she is captured by a peculiar cult who want to make her their leader and her first thought is ‘Well I could make them do my kitchen for me’.  It had me in stitches!

Another thing I want to touch on is the narrative.  Neither Legal Nor Tender is written in the first person, which has always been a hit or miss for me.  So often I read stories where the character’s narration takes over everything until it starts to feel very much like telling and not showing.  T.P achieves a very balanced result where Beth’s voice does not over power the scene.

Overall, Neither Legal Nor Tender has a Da Vinci Code vibe yet it is entirely different.  There’s an element of adventure; New and unusual revelations come to light and each one plummets Beth deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole.  What makes this story different is its quirky sense of humour.  It has its own voice and tone – where one paragraph will leave your heart pounding, wondering what will happen next and in the next it releases the tension with a well placed joke or hilarious insight.

What Could Have Been Better:

The first chapter was very much an information dump with details that could have been spread across the next few chapters.  I realise some of it is relevant – the parts where Beth used to be a cab driver and how she got Orlan’s Token in the first place is integral.  All the stuff about the sports Beth enjoyed in school and how she wanted to be a ballerina could be placed elsewhere.  Maybe as she is running in later chapters she could be glad she is quite athletic.  After all, we get the information about her taking up kick boxing in this way which works well.

Another thing I wanted to touch on was the scene in Chapter nine where Beth steps out of the shed and then in the next sentence she wakes up to find she has been captured.  There was no line that led me to believe she had been knocked out.  I think the effect is meant to be sudden – Beth wouldn’t necessarily know she’d been clonked on the head or drugged, but she would certainly be aware that she was lapsing into unconsciousness – especially if it was so sudden and unexpected.

Overview:

Neither Legal Nor Tender was a terrific read with some fantastic one liners. ‘Curiosity. It hadn’t killed me yet, but it sure knew where I lived.’ is my favourite one so far.  Beth has a quirky sense of humour that fits in well with the mood of the story.  This is definitely something I would recommend.  It’s a non stop roller coaster with a motivated and sassy protagonist we can all get on board with.

Critique of Underground by Ada Redmond

Underground by Ada Redmond has been on my Jukepop bookshelf for a long time.  Having read it, I don’t know why I waited so long.  It is EXACTLY my thing.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  I have read up to chapter 20.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 2

UndergroundJukepop Synopsis:

As any well weathered traveller will tell you, it’s usually best to abide by the rules of the places you find yourself in. But when the first rule is that no one still alive should be there, abandoning all hope may be the least of your concerns.

When eleven year old Millie finds herself stepping through the dark and onto a strange looking train, there’s not an awful lot she can do. Without her parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings, Millie is left to ask strangers for help. But the other passengers are silent and sorrowful, looking anywhere but at her – and they won’t tell her the name of the next stop…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What was done well:

When I started reading, I was concerned that the main protagonist (whom the story centres on) was an eleven year old girl.  This is a prickly thing to do for a piece of work that isn’t aimed at children.  A young character must still behave like a child and not a miniature adult and yet you must somehow get your reader to feel a connection to them.  Do this wrong and the whole story falls flat.  Ada, however, subverted my concerns with ease.  Millie’s behaviour drifts between petulance and overwhelmed docility, and she often asks question after question as children her age are want to do.  I can’t help but feel a connection to the lost little girl just trying to make it home.  It affects me on two levels; first it makes me a remember a time when I got lost in a supermarket as a young child and how desolate and panicked I felt – how the few minutes felt like forever; It also strikes a chord with me as a mother and how I would feel if my little girl were lost.  Through believable behaviour and gentle character development, Ada gets the balance just right.

This isn’t the only balancing act Ada does well.  Let’s look at the descriptions.  These can be a nightmare for even the most skilled author.  You need to give enough information so the reader knows what characters and settings look like, but you don’t want pages and pages of information that dictate to the reader what they should imagine – there should always be room for them to envision it with their own personal flair.  Ada strikes the perfect balance, comparing things to something Millie has seen before or by using carefully constructed similes.

The other thing that is done quite well is the mystery.  Ada uses vague terms like ‘the ninth’ and what is going on is never fully explained.  Sure, we get hints here and there.  From what I gather, Millie has woken up and her parents have been murdered.  Somehow she has found herself in limbo/the afterlife/the underworld.  I’m not sure why, particularly since Aidan and Nathaniel make it very clear she is still alive.  It gives a sense of intrigue, pulling you further into the story to find out.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The only thing that could’ve been better is going to sound strange since it was listed above in what was done well.  However, it is featured here because towards the end it began to feel over done.  What I am referring to is the mystery and vagueness.  Initially the balance of this was perfect.  Once we meet Ava … things begin to go downhill.  It isn’t long before we are buried in countless shreds of information about a big war that happened, Aidan’s dark past, and it is hinted that Aidan, Nathaniel and Ava are angels (or some embodiment of this).  Before long, I became more confused than intrigued.  Don’t get me wrong – the mystery is still a great aspect of this story but there comes a time when you need to resolve some of the questions you raised earlier before you introduce more.

Overview:

Given that I only found one thing that could be better versus all the things that sparkled, you can see what an incredible story Underground is.  Overall it feels like a combination of The Divine Comedy and Spirited Away (my favourite book and movie respectively).  It puts an extraordinarily imaginative twist on the journey though the great beyond that I literally could not stop reading.  There were many parts that flowed like poetry, painting such monstrously fantastical settings by fusing archaic interpretations of the circles of hell with more creative, contemporary counterparts.

I highly recommend it!  If you haven’t managed to check out Underground by Ada Redmond yet – what are you waiting for?

Critique of Aconitum by M Howalt

I started reading Aconitum last year.  It was, in fact, one of the first stories I read on Jukepop.  Unfortunately I stalled at the last nine chapters because I have ‘issues’ with stories ending.  I’m glad that at long last, I finally finished reading it.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the magnificent Aconitum by M. Howalt.

Serial Status: Completed.

Grammar/Spelling Rating: 2

AconitumJukepop Synopsis:

As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.
But he needs to hurry up – especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.

Aconitum is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.
A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What Was Done Well:

M. is known by many on Jukepop as ‘The Master of the Flashback’ and for good reason.  Aconitum utilises flash backs not necessarily to move the plot along (although sometimes it does) but instead to give depth to characters and aid in world building.  Although we learn about the protagonist, Hector bit by bit in the present, it is through flash backs that we really get to his core and see what motivates and shapes him.  M. also utilises flashbacks to teach you about the world of Aconitum and explore some of the moral dilemmas that stem from this sort of alternative universe.

Leading on from this, M. has clearly put a great deal of thought into the implications of an alternate reality where werewolves not only exist but everyone knows about them.  For instance, it’s not uncommon for somebody to cover up a murder by making it look like a werewolf attack.  Hunters are trained to tell the difference.  This is very realistic – I guarantee this would happen if werewolves were a ‘normal’ thing in our world.  There’s nothing I like more than an author who puts a lot of thought and careful research into their concept.

I could go on about all the things I love about this story (there’s enough to write a book!), but there is one aspect that is without a doubt a shining example of great writing.  First, let’s take a look at the story as it plays out.  It revolves around Hector journeying to find an unusual werewolf.  When he finds said werewolf, he is tasked with bringing him back to Frankfurt.  Throughout the whole ordeal there isn’t any kind of antagonist.  Nobody is plotting against Hector and Royer.  However, if you look closely, you will see there is an antagonist … just not in the traditional sense.  In this story, loss and the fear of loss is the ‘villain’.  It holds Hector back, throwing spanners in the works throughout his life much like a physical antagonist would.  The majority of flashbacks look at Hector establishing relationships with people only to lose them: Hector became a Hunter because he lost his family to a werewolf.  He had a girl he intended to marry but after witnessing a fellow Hunter lose somebody they loved, he decided he couldn’t put the two of them through that and he ends their relationship.  Eventually he loses his hunting partner and then his mentor.  He does not replace any of these relationships either.  He does not seek a new hunting partner or romantic partner nor does he intend to start a family of his own any time soon.  Instead, he deals with each loss by shunning intimate, meaningful relationships with anyone – not an uncommon coping method.  Each loss shapes him into the stoic, solitary man he is when we first meet him.  True he has Sera, but this is different – he has purposely chosen a relationship that he knows can go no further than a sort of ‘friends with benefits’ scenario.  It fulfils his physical needs and his need for human contact and that’s it.  When he meets Royer, he starts to lighten up a little.  Royer can literally get into his mind (in a good way) to understand how he is feeling.  Therefore, Royer is actually the hero of this story, while loss and the fear of loss is the antagonist Royer helps Hector battle and defeat.  I don’t know if this was done intentionally or not, but whatever the case, it was a magical touch that brings the story way ahead of any other.

What Could Have Been Better:

There was only one thing that didn’t gel as well as the rest of the story and that was the ‘finale’.  It is hinted that there is going to be a big uproar when Royer is brought to Frankfurt.  Hector was concerned about it several times in fact.  With that in mind, I expected a little more than a five minute show down with Andreas.  It felt anti-climactic.  Perhaps the scene could’ve been extended, given more tension and drama.  That said, I do understand that the beauty of this story lies in the power borne from its simplicity.  Perhaps the low key ending was intentional.  It’s hard to give a suitable suggestion as I realise Hector facing Andreas alone and hiding his wounds is the real final battle for him.  All the same I feel the scene should pack little more punch (pun not intended).

Overview:

These days, following the popularity of titles like ‘Twilight’, an abundance of ‘supernatural romance’ stories have popped up everywhere, saturating the ‘supernatural’ genre.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s starting to feel like once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.  Aconitum, however, is a glorious breath of fresh air that utilises the supernatural as more than just a ‘forbidden romance’.

M. has a gift when it comes to deep and meaningful story telling.  The thing that stuck out for me, particularly towards the end, is that it almost reads like a pre-emptive prequel – how the dynamic hunting duo of Hector and Royer met.  It’s exciting because I’d love to hear more stories of Hector and Royer.  *hint, hint* :p

I’d recommend Aconitum to anyone, even if they’re not into werewolves or supernatural fiction.  It’s a compelling story, full of rich, well developed characters.

M. Howalt has a facebook page and a blog if anyone wants to check them out!  Also, if you haven’t already, check out M. Howalt’s other story on Jukepop: Conviction.

Critique of Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards has only got two chapters uploaded (at the time of writing this critique) so it is going to be a little tricky to review.  Two chapters is not much to go by as it may not reflect the overall story.  That said, it is the first few chapters that attract or repel a reader, so I thought this would be an interesting exercise.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read the first two chapters.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 1

Far FlungJukepop Synopsis:

 

William Flynn was ready for his greatest career move ever – reporting from the first human colony outside the solar system. Instead, his ship is sent far across the universe, and its crew is forced to find a new home without hope of help from Earth.

WARNING! This critique may contain spoilers!

What Was Done Well:

The second chapter utilises a captain’s log format.  It was very clever to use reports from vital crew members to not only introduce vital characters but also to give a sense of their personality.  Each one certainly had their own style that conveyed interesting and personal details about the characters.  For example, we learned one character’s ex wife (who they were still close to) died in the collision.  This opens up the possibility that this character will be very emotional.  Most of us have experienced loss to some degree, which makes this character easy to relate to.

What I like most is the prospect of each chapter having a slightly different style and format.  It leaves plenty of room to really explore characters, scene and plot.  In fact, I might go as far as to say it’s literary equivalent of a ‘found footage’ film (only better because it doesn’t make me nauseated.)  It will be interesting to see what format T.C.C will use to convey certain scenes, moods or plot points.  Will we get letters/emails or diary entries?  Will the author throw in a few chapters told from different characters POV?  This sense of mystery is, in itself, enough to propel me from one chapter to another just to see what the next chapter looks like!

What Could Have Been Better:

This one is tough because there are only two chapters.  However, what I am about to mention is more of a personal preference than something that was ‘bad’.  While the mixed format is interesting, the screen play style of the opening chapter didn’t seem like a good choice.  It was hard for me to make an emotional connection to the characters because they were just printed names, dialogue and camera instructions.  I didn’t get to catch any subtle mannerisms or facial expressions.  For example, would a character frown, hesitate, smile or laugh as they spoke?  These might seem like small things but they have a huge impact on character building.  Screen plays/scripts are made in this ‘blank’ manner so the actor/actress can express their interpretation of the character – it is up to them to decide what mannerisms and ticks their character might have.  With that in mind, I don’t think this approach works in the first chapter of a piece like this.  A different format choice would make the opening chapter more accessible and allow your readers to make a better connection to the characters they will be following.  My suggestion is to start with a more traditional style – perhaps a third person narrative so we can look in on some of the characters before branching out into different styles and formats.

Overview:

This is a good and intriguing story even if I personally didn’t get along with the format of the first chapter.  It’s difficult to get an overall picture of a story based on just two chapters, but I would definitely recommend it – particularly if you’re looking for something a little different.

T.C.C Edwards also has a blog you can check out.

September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Keep Walking

I might not have gotten through as many serials as I hoped in this months reading party, but what I did manage was a real treat.

Keep_Walking_(SWP_Cover)_2c93731a_20150611091027AMOne of the serials I had the privilege to read was The Chronicles of TearHa: Keep Walking by Aden Ng.  So what is it about?  The official Jukepop blurb says:

Lucinda Baerrinska, Joashden Stalewaver, and Jacqueline Fertilans have a long road ahead of them. Their destination? The land of clear skies away from the Tainted black air of Katoki.

But to reach their goal, they have to traverse the war-torn landscape of the Walking Path and face the Leviathan’s Helm, a torrential river that no one in history has managed to cross.

Faced with towering Titans, roaming soldiers, and perilous terrain, can they make it to the fabled land in one piece? Can they rely on each other to survive?

Before we get started I need to issue a standard disclaimer:

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

Moving forward …

What was done well:

First of all I really liked the interesting fantasy world woven here.  It’s part dystopian, part steam punk and part fantasy.  I suppose if I could describe it, I might say it’s Escaflowne meets Attack on Titan meets Gurren Lagann (I’m not sure why they’re all anime references but oh well).  It certainly wasn’t the kind of fantasy setting I was expecting but I quickly fell in love with it.  I like that there is magic, guns, gliders and ‘living’ machines.

Second I liked the opening.  We enter a seedy, smoke filled bar and we start to get a rough outline of the world.  Then we meet our first protagonist.  Enter our two leading ladies and we’re off on an adventure!  You couldn’t ask for a snappier opening sequence.

The thing that really works is the simplicity.  Essentially our three protagonists are making an important journey.  We’re not questing for treasure or important revelations or fulfilling prophecies.  We’re just making a simple, albeit dangerous journey.  Given that this story is only eleven chapters long, this was a smart move because when we do hit peril, it is all the more intense.  My heart pounded as they fought the Rankor and I cried when Jacques died (I actually did!).  I felt that I had gotten to know these characters personally and so I was moved by all that happened to them.

What could have been better:

There were grammatical errors – mostly tense related.  Sometimes this broke my reading pace and I had to collect my thoughts before stepping back in.  As I have mentioned in Ryan Watt’s review, I won’t fault a Jukepop author for this simply because using Jukepop is a sort of preliminary stage for stories – authors submit their work not only to share it but also to find a way to make it better.

The only other ‘flaw’ was the amount of exposition.  For such a short story, there was quite a lot to grasp.  We started talking about the Titan Wars, which sides had what, how the army was conscripting people and how the Titans were alive but not and I felt a little overwhelmed.  Its not like the information is irrelevant either – far from it.  After all, we are crossing a war zone and facing Titans.  Still, I think a work around is needed.  Perhaps adding a few extra scenes would spread it out and make it less overpowering.  My personal suggestion would be to use a flashback sequence.  That way we could spread out necessary exposition in a manageable, easy to digest way .  We already have that brief scene where Luce refuses to kill a Titan.  It would be relatively simple to extend that and incorporate it into the narrative.

Overview:

What we have here is a short but action packed story in a beautifully crafted fantasy world.  Although there are some grammatical errors, it is very close to a final draft.  Not only that, but it is obviously part of a much larger body of work which is super exciting! This is certainly a world I’d like to dive into again.

I’d recommend Chronicles of Tearha: Keep Walking to anyone looking to read a short story in a fantasy world with a unique twist!  Aden Ng also has a blog you can browse through too.

Also, if anyone is interested, October’s Jukepop Reading Party will be Saturday 24th – Sunday 25th.

September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Flocked

The Jukepop Reading Party started during the SWP2015.  I was behind in reading some of the brilliant serials in the competition and decided that in the final weekend I would binge read as many as possible.  Several other authors joined me in this endeavour.  We enjoyed it so much, some of us decided to keep it going every month and thus the Jukepop Reading Party was born!

Essentially the aim is to dedicate the last whole weekend of every month to reading as many serials as possible.  This month, I set up my reading list and did my best to get though it.  In order to ‘cover more ground’, I didn’t offer feedback on every chapter like I normally do, but I wanted to uphold the spirit of Jukepop and it’s authors and offer some feedback and support.  So I opted to do a mini review of all the stories I managed to get through.

One of the serials I had the pleasure of reading was Volume 1 of Ryan Watt’s Flocked.

Flocked_cover_2What is Flocked about?  Well in Ryan’s own words:

Once Upon A Time… kingdoms in trouble had to wait for a wandering hero to come along and save the day. But why wait? The Order of Champions now sanctions Guilds to answer the Call when a loved one is kidnapped, a beast attacks, or a curse is laid.

One such group is the Guild of the Feathers. Most of them are survivors of curses that turned into birds, so who better to help you than someone who has been there already and survived?

And now for the review of Flocked.  I’m sure it goes without saying, but …

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

What was done well:

Before I begin, I should mention that I have a weakness for myths, lore and fables.  I don’t know why but I’ve always been fascinated by them.  Flocked stands out by delving into myths and fables from across the world.  Such a cacophony of different cultures would normally clash, however, Flocked binds them together seamlessly.  At no point does anything seem out of place.  The result is a rich world that feels like it has no limits.

Another thing I loved was the way curses were handled.  For starters, they have their own specific rules.  For example, one of my favourite aspects was that breaking a curse is not the same as resolving it.  No, in this world if you break the curse, you may be left with some lingering symptoms due to ‘curse fragments’.  Essentially you have literally shattered the curse and parts of it remain inside your body.  This means you are still influenced by the curse but not to the same degree as before.  The consequences of having these fragments can be relatively harmless or really serious and there is always the risk that the effect of the fragments will be worse than the initial curse.  The strength of this concept lies in its simplicity.  I love this idea that curses are quite formulaic and yet no two are quite the same.  They are as unique as their creators (usually powerful magic users such as witches and sorcerers).  A word of advice: in the world of Flocked, never get on the wrong side of somebody who knows magic. EVER.

Moving on, we get a rich array of characters.  My favourite is Torias.  I’m not sure why.  I think part of it is the implication that a person’s curse can start to affect their personality.  For Torias, his penchant for theft seems to stem from his raven curse.  Every so often he will pass something even in human form and have to catch himself because his bird part thinks ‘yeah I’d like that’.  I especially love him as The Blackwing – master thief.  I really enjoyed the chapters where Count Westerberg issues his challenge to the mysterious Blackwing.  This particular ‘mini arc’ was a no holds barred fantasy extravaganza!

What could have been better:

First I’d like to get the ‘worst’ off my chest.  The grammatical errors really let this serial down.  Some chapters were fine but then I suddenly found myself wading through mistake after mistake and it spoiled an otherwise delightful chapter.  For example, there was an instance where the word ‘vile’ was used when it should clearly have been ‘vial’.  These ones are tough because spell check doesn’t pick them up.

I will defend Ryan though.  I know from experience that when you are close to a piece of work, you often miss these little glitches and need a third party to point them out and this is exactly what Jukepop is for – authors supporting other authors to help get each other’s work to a better standard.  The clarity of where the story is going, the mechanics of the world and the clear drives and personalities of the characters show just how close Ryan is to this project.  This, unfortunately, can come with draw backs – one of which is grammatical errors get missed.

Moving on, there was something else I noticed.  It is hinted that princesses are only perceived as weak yet we don’t really come across any that kick some serious ass.  Our heroes don’t go to save a damsel only to find she has already helped herself and just needs a little extra assistance.  What I wanted to see was a ‘damsel’ and ‘hero’ being just as useful as each other; for there to be a situation where neither can get out of a jam without the other.  For example, perhaps a princess could use her wits and smarts to trick her captor into giving the hero the upper hand.  Although many princesses were resilient and independent, they lacked the spark I had been expecting from this story.

Finally, the protagonist Cyril didn’t have as strong a presence, character or voice as the other guild members.  I’d like to be constructive and offer a suggestion to improve this but I honestly can’t say why Cyril doesn’t work for me as well as the others.  His curse story was moving and clever and he seemed like a solid guy … I just didn’t connect with him as well as I did with Torias, Oleg, Taree and Satu.

Overview:

Flocked, as a whole, is a story that needs a hardcore edit but I can see a fantastic, intriguing story glimmering just below the surface. With the right TLC, this is the sort of series I’d be happy to buy from any book shop.

The mini story arc of each Call moves with fantastic pace, taking time to set scene, tone and introduce any new characters and concepts.  Best of all, it doesn’t feel rushed nor does it read like pointless filler.

The villain is also most certainly worthy of a fairytale world with all the trimmings: he is mysterious, nefarious and powerful with secret magical palaces, potent magic and of course a diabolical agenda.

It was refreshing to read a fantasy that isn’t all grit, gore and seriousness as seems to be the trend of late.  Instead it has some beautiful whimsy yet it retains a solid, cogent story line.  It reminds me in many ways of the first fantasy story I fell in love with: Simon R Green’s Blue Moon Rising.  It has been some time since I have tucked into a good and epic fantasy story.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys rich world building and deep, interesting characters.