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 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.

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!