Rory B. Mackay, ‘Eladria’

Oh dear. I did hope that the next time I posted here I’d be in a more positive mood. Sadly not.

I think it’s partly a problem with borrowing ebooks. When I’m choosing a print book from the library shelves I read the first page or two to see how the prose grabs me, or doesn’t. With the ebooks I can’t do that, so I’m going purely from author’s websites (if present), and reviews (written by serious critics if I’m lucky and Amazon readers if I’m not).

So what was my problem with ‘Eladria’? Well, I had a few. The plot may sound vaguely familiar: young princess goes off on a quest, finding out mysterious stuff about her past and family as she goes, accompanied by a magical creature, a cowardly thief and a mystical warrior. It’s not that it’s a bad plot – if it was it wouldn’t crop up so often – it’s just that if it’s the quest/rite of passage story it’s got to have a lot of wit, attack and individuality if it’s going to stand out, and this one just didn’t do it for me.

I think the theory was that the story would stand out because it was set in a ‘science fiction’ context. The problem for me was that having created the science fiction expectation there wasn’t really much science fiction content. The princess starts off living in a biodome on a moon, then flies down to the planet. There’s a few more aircraft around, and guns are a bit space-age, but otherwise the situations and encounters can pretty much be seen as fantasy rather than sci-fi.  The ‘magic’ element comes from a mixture of non-human beings (shapechanger, dragon-like beings, some sort of reptile-men, all pretty standard in the fantasy genre) and a sort of pseudo-mystical set-up involving dimensions, different layers of reality etc.,  all combined with the need for the heroine to tap into the source of her consciousness so that she can manipulate reality. Or something like that. It’s all very Jedi. Oh, and there are higher beings, and evil higher beings, the latter of whom we see raging behind inter-dimensional rifts in a way that always makes me think of Terry Pratchett’s Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, thus proving once again that Pratchett is very very good at taking fantasy tropes and making them his own.

I’m increasingly picky when it comes to prose, so I could rant on for some time about adverbs, redundant phrases and repeated words. But these were my main problems:

1. I like to find out things about characters from the way they interact with each other rather than because the author is telling me what they’re thinking and feeling. That’s really hard to do if most of your dialogue scenes are exposition or plot-driving.

2. There’s a lot of travelling through a jungle, which seems surprisingly easy for the pampered, palace-bred heroine. Food conveniently appears when needed.

3. The author and I seem to have different ideas of what might be worth talking about. This was best illustrated by the phrase “in spite of frequent encounters with jungle creatures, including wild cats, karrick-bears, several snakes and an oversized scorpion, their journey passed without incident”. One encounter with a wild cat would definitely count as an incident for me, thank you very much, and meeting a karrick-bear or oversized scorpion would probably be one step up from ‘incident’, climbing the scale in the direction of ‘event’, ‘crisis’ or ‘time we nearly died’. (I’m also picky and want to know how big ‘oversized’ is for scorpions – are we talking a foot long, or the scorpion world’s equivalent of Godzilla?)

4. If you tell me “It pained her deeply to hear that her mother was being held against her will and forced to serve the dark forces” I find myself muttering ‘No shit, Sherlock’.

5. I seem to have become allergic to the phrase ‘primordial essence’.

OK, I’ll stop now. It’s not fair: the man’s put a lot of effort into actually writing a novel, which is more than I’ve ever done. It’s just that I’m not used to seeing this level of writing as a published book. Generally, by the time it gets to me things like the above gripes have been ironed out. This made me curious about the publishers, so I did a little Googling. The imprint is ‘Cosmic Egg Books’, which is part of a company called John Hunt Publishing. The About Us page for Cosmic Egg also contained some general information about the publisher, which included the following:

“We are more lean and quick with publishing turnaround times than you will likely find anywhere else in the industry. We do this by reducing the need for direct communications and maintaining conversations through our in-house online publishing system designed for authors. While the way we operate may at first seem impersonal, it does end up as a very personal business, with people worldwide committing to the success of the books we publish.”

So in other words, they focus on production and marketing, and the editing process goes out of the window. It’s cheaper for them, since they don’t have to employ professional book editors, and they can claim it’s better for the authors since it’s ‘lean and quick’ and therefore they can spend more on promoting the book. But I feel they’re doing their authors a disservice by not allowing them to get the benefit of professional guidance. It’s not just spotting typos and punctuation glitches: that’s proof-reading, not editing. It’s about working with another person who can show you how what you’ve written might come across to a variety of readers, and who can help you make your book the best it can possibly be.


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