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.

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October’s Jukepop Reading Party Critiques.

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Before I begin, I wanted to advise people that I have decided to amend the structure of the reviews. They will still cover what worked best and what could’ve been better, but it has become clear that the way I lay them out needs to change.

First, since many of the serials I have read this month (and will continue to do so every month) may not always be complete, I will first state whether they are complete or ongoing.

Second, rather than spending a line or two talking about spelling and grammar, a serial will be rated as follows:

  • 1: No spelling/grammatical errors found at all.
  • 2: Minimal spelling/grammatical errors and what few I found were minor and appeared in only a few chapters.
  • 3: Spelling/Grammatical mistakes found in quite a few chapters, but still relatively mild as above.
  • 4:  Lots of spelling/grammatical mistakes found but only in a few chapters.
  • 5: Lots of errors found in many chapters, many being serious offenders, such as ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’.

I decided to adopt this approach because Jukepop stories cannot be critiqued in quite the same way as a published book.  Why, I hear you ask?

Well, first Jukepop is a website designed to accommodate serialised fiction – many of its titles are still ongoing.

More importantly, I’ve always found that Jukepop doubles as an online writing group.  Many authors support other authors by offering constructive feedback on their work.  With this in mind, much of the work can be considered close to a final draft but not quite there yet.  Therefore I feel it pointless to dwell on things like spelling/grammar any more than necessary.  Remember that even work from famous, successful authors will have gone through the publishers editing department before being sold to the public.

So without further ado … here are the four critiques for this months Jukepop Reading Party:

October’s Jukepop Reading Party List

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As many of you know, I am involved in the Jukepop Reading Party, and I often plan the stories I aim to read.  My current list (in no particular order) for the Reading Party kicking off 24th – 25th October is:

Aconitum by M Howalt (I need to finish the last 9 chapters!)

Neither £egal nor Tender by TP Keating

The Chronicles of Tearha: The Number 139 by Aden Ng

Underground by Ada Redmond

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

The Writer by Step Hender

Flocked (Volume 2) by Ryan Watt

The Hand of the Morrigan by Kitty Loy

As before, in order to dedicate more time to reading the serials, I will only offer some brief feedback on the last chapter.  A few weeks later, I will submit a more extensive critique on this blog.

Before we touch on the impending reviews, I wanted to talk about something that really made me think when it came to my reviews.  Aden Ng wrote a blog post that touched on what a good, constructive critique should be and also how some authors seem unable to handle negative critiques, leading them to lash out at the reviewer.

I am going to be reading the work of JP authors that I am unfamiliar with – I have never read their work before.  They may indeed be unfamiliar with me.  With this in mind, I would like to stress to them that these ‘reviews’ should be taken as an opportunity to grow as an author.  They are not formal – more an extension of the comments function on Jukepop.  They will be honest but fair.  Authors will not be treated to an ego massage, nor a written ‘bashing’ of their work – neither of these things are useful.  Instead you will receive a balanced critique showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of your work.

In order to do this I will point out what I liked most and what could be better, rather than what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’.  The reason I take this approach is:

  • a) In my experience, stories are very rarely ‘bad’.  It might perhaps need a little work, but it is infinitesimally unlikely that it is beyond redemption.  I have yet to read something where I couldn’t find at least one thing I liked in it.
  • b) Work on Jukepop is generally unfinished/ongoing, so I can’t critique it the same way I might a book I bought from a shop.

To me, Jukepop is an online writing group – people offer up their work because they know that it needs a little TLC before taking it further.  Jukepop authors rely on feedback from unbiased third parties to point out things they have missed.  I know from experience that when you comb though the same chapter countless times, the innumerable drafts can merge together, meaning continuity issues and erroneous spelling and/or grammar can and do slip through the net.  Although I will point out spelling and grammar errors, it is important to note that it will merely be a passing comment in the review; I will state that you had some and move on.

My focus will be on what works really well and what could do with improving – whether this is plot, scene, setting, character, dialogue, pace or anything else that may stand out.  These (in my opinion) are by far the most valuable pieces of feedback an author can receive at this stage.  A writer needs to know what parts of their story could use work but it is equally important to see what really shines.

So essentially, you will not find any maliciousness in my reviews.  They will be honest, but they will be fair.  I have already posted two critiques if you want to see the sort of thing to expect:

I am really looking forward to this months Reading Party.  I have decided to focus on serials that have been sitting on my JP bookshelf for a while that I have really been meaning to get into, as well as stories that I’m close to finishing ( I have a problem with stories ending – I often put off reading the last few chapters because when a story ends, especially one I am really enjoying, I go through the five stages of grief!  It really feels like I’ve lost a dear friend).

I might not get through everything, but I know I will thoroughly enjoy trying!

I hope to see many other Jukepop authors/readers joining me in the Jukepop Reading Party.  You don’t need to set such an intimidatingly long reading list as I do and you certainly don’t need to write extensive reviews for each serial; This is something I choose to do in conjunction with the Reading Party.  You could simply aim to get through that one serial you’ve been meaning to finish for some time.  It’s up to you.  Jukepop is such a fantastic community – the Reading Party is just another extension of the support fellow authors show one another.

The Jukepop Reading Party kicks off this weekend!  Good reading to everyone who joins!