I have hit my third big landmark as an author: The first bad review.
It was 2 stars and it left me wondering why? Sure this is only the third review I got from someone who knew nothing about me beforehand and had no bias one way or another. So I wanted to understand what the person meant and I analyzed it and talked about it with a close friend and I got a better understanding of what I’ve done as a writer. It wasn’t a bad review, but it wasn’t a good review and from it, I learned something about my readers and possibly what to expect in the future from my work of art.
The criticism that it was unnecessarily wordy and complicated. Definitely a taste criticism, and valid. Some people love the complexity. I’ve had one beta reader who wanted it even more ‘crunchy’. It definitely goes to show this is not a book for a person who does not like complexity and deal with a new lexicon. Totally understand that. I wondered too if I was going overboard at times, and worked to find a balance where the language and names struck a good balance.
In fact, the whole reason created the glossary and didn’t dumb down the names to English surrogates was to follow a style idea I first experienced with Richard Adams and his classic book “Watership Down”. Now, I’m not sure how complex that story really is to some readers, but I definitely thought it. I could have done a footnote method, but it never felt good for the whole flow of the story. Also, I have had a reviewer state that they preferred the complexity and worldbuilding I put into the Glossary into the text itself despite it slowing the pace of the story. Again, it was a compromise that has had some who love it and others not so much.
The book was not whimsical or magical like Narnia, Middle Earth or Hogwarts.
Completely fair on many fronts as we all compare works against the best. This is also an accurate assessment. I never intended it to be like any of those books. Narnia is an allegory which they never really delve into the miraculous magical things that happen. It is just accepted that Santa Claus can show up and that the magical beings that exist are generally happy fairy tale style creatures for the most part. Sure, you get much scarier things in Middle Earth, and its a grittier setting, but that is offset by the Hobbits and Shire. There is a certain level of whimsy to it, and because of those two series, I suspect people who see “Christian Fantasy” expect more the high fantasy, light-hearted adventure or fairy tale inspired adventures.
In response to this, I’d have to say I never tried to show my book as one of those outside of it being an adventure epic. In fact, I go so far as to portray this series as low fantasy where it is based more on real world spiritual warfare/exorcism, medieval church politics, and what it means to be caught in a world where devils and angels actually manifest and go to war around you. It is not meant to be whimsical for it was never written for children. It was written, believe it or not for nerds and fantasy geeks who liked grittier fantasy novels, the same way some people love cyberpunk, and hard science fiction. Although children as young as 11 and adults who are into fine literature have read this book and loved it, they were not the target audience but aspects of it spoke to them. So yes, It is not a whimsical book, though it will have whimsical moments. This is more Jack London’s “Sea Wolf” than the Don Bluth Studio’s version of “Balto”.
This is the criticism that I think was the most revelatory, and I thank the reviewer for giving me the opportunity to address it. The statement is made that he is a Christian that believes in spiritual things. Good… Seriously. I am as well and this is a basis for part of why I even tried to write fantasy like this in the first place. It is further said that this comes too close to the line. Now I’m not sure what line this is, but if it is the line between reality and make-believe, then this is right on the nose. It is supposed to mirror the Christian spiritual paradigm.
The magic and miraculous in Akiniwazi is based on the teachings of deliverance ministries, exorcism, eye witness accounts and scripture as best as I could. The only thing I tried to do was crank the special effects to 11 to enter into the realm of the fantastic. That means those who can do the miraculous are in direct contact with divine beings, be they Angels and the Holy Spirit or demonic forces. There is no ‘neutral’ form of magic in the book. If a ‘spell’ is cast, there is an angel or demon behind it in some form or another. It isn’t the individual’s personal will or power or gift. Just like Samson’s strength, it came from God. Just like the prophetic slave girl Paul drove the demons out of, that power came from satan. Magic is not something that is dug out of the ground like coal, or manufactured like a microchip and is spiritually neutral. This is a staple trope of fantasy, but one I chose to throw out at high velocity.
There are going to be many people, particularly Christians who will find this extremely uncomfortable because it will hit close to home. The book will touch on how demons can infiltrate people’s minds, and the whole idea of legal spiritual rights. It is intended to be conversation starters and fodder for people to question the spiritual war that I believe is going on around us right now. Again, not something some Christians will agree with or enjoy but others will.
Anyway. This is also not a book about having a strong or perfect faith. In fact, most of the characters are strongly flawed failed people that do not have instagram perfect lives, and God still uses them. It deals a lot with failing and picking yourself back up again. How rejection by others does not equal rejection from God, and the difference between religion and faith is no respecter of person, privilege or group identification. It’s you and God together in the end and how you walk with Him.
Now, hopefully I wrote the book well enough that if you’re not into that kind of stuff, you can just ignore all that as window dressing the same way people do with Narnia and it’s blatant Christian allegories, or say Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose” does not preach religion at his audience, but it is everywhere in the book.
As for the last point of being poorly executed… ::: shrug ::: not sure how to help there. 🙂 Matter of taste I guess and that’s fine. I did the best I could, and learned a lot. I still see stuff I wish I would have worded better, but it’s out there now because I’m not going to spend 4 years editing it. I’d say give book 2 a try when it comes out. I know, like most book series, only improve over time.
Thank you for reading the book and leaving a review. It helped me consider my work better, and keep some thoughts in mind moving forward.
If anyone would like to discuss the book or anything about it, please, send me an email, or post a question/opinion here. I’ll be glad to discuss my work, particularly if you are confused about anything.