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?

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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.

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: