(Review) Shadow of the Wraith (NEXUS) by Ross Harrison

So, it’s finally here … The review of Shadow of the Wraith. It’s the one you’ve been waiting for; the one I’ve been harping on about.

I met the author, Ross Harrison, on http://www.authonomy.com (see other posts for info on that) and I found him a witty and friendly chap. He offered some sincere advice on my work (most I ignored 😉 hehe) and I’m happy to call him a friend. Now, I always worry that when I say I’m reviewing  a book for a friend that my blog readers will think that I’m being deliberately nice; or that I’m too chicken to write a brutal and honest crit.

Well, in response to those anticipated thoughts – I asked my other good friend David Muir to write the review for me. David’s another fledgling author and he’s started his own blog.

Ok here is his review (his words, not mine).

Shadow of the Wraith (by Ross Harrison)

 Review by David Muir

  Right, Sammy asked me to do this review for her; mostly because she thinks I’ve got loads of free time (which I do, but don’t needed reminded of). Until she asked me I had only read the book in bits and pieces on Authonomy, and while not distracted by boobs and booze. I had read a couple of the chapters after the parts on the site, but had enjoyed it so thoroughly I gave it a 4 star rating on good reads without actually reading the whole thing.

Anyway did finally read the whole thing and did most of it today (29.05.12). In fact I read 75% of the book today, and while there were bits missing from the draft that I had seen on Authonomy, and part of and bits added, it still holds onto its essence. Which is frankly, (stealing a Castleism)  So Awesome! Great characters, most of them completely looney tunes.

There’s a main character who is more than he seems (which by the way I never saw coming (and I normally see these things coming early on) until it was right in my face), who seems to live half in the real world, half in the movies. Hello, hero complex much? Along with his trusty sidekick, which is a relationship much like a certain Mr Reynolds and Mr Cobb. There’s a wisecracking Android who throws off one liners that even Bender would be proud of (but sadly not as rude) along with the odd movie quote (though the Arnie one was wrong), an assassin that learns to play nice with others, a bad guy who isn’t a guy at all, intrigue and plot twists that makes your head spin a bit.

 There is intrigue abound as they are ordered to blow up the Star Wraith, find out that it’s actually built by the alliance, and basically steal the ship until they find out what is really going on. Now I’m sure I could reveal the whole plot to you, but that would be a waste, because you wouldn’t get the enjoyment out of reading the book, so hopefully this should wet your appetite.

 I did find the book awesome but there were also ‘not so awesome’ parts to it, while the wisecracking robot was great at times, it did feel as if some of the earlier witty spark between Archer and Miller (which I found quiet interesting) was transferred between the Android and the guy who now owns him, and the too and fro between the team-mates wasn’t used as well after that point, it felt like sometimes his jokes and one-liners were there just for the sake of it.

 I felt that possibly it was a little too short. I think that sometimes it was too easy to get from a to b. The end hook was a little contrived (and the author will know which bit I’m talking about) but maybe that particular character is the hook for the second book, because I understand the book is meant to be part of a series. While a lot of authors do that leave a hook (I do) so you know there’s more to come and also leave it with a proper ending (which there is), I felt that the book itself is that hook and there wasn’t any need for it to be “that easy” to get the information they needed to get towards the end bit. I felt at times the author wanted to get his story out on the (digital) page; it maybe just felt a little too fast, though nominally the first book in a series is the shortest one.

 I liked the way the parts of the book were broken up with the headings, but sometimes on the same page without any spacing you had two different perspectives for characters in the same bit, but  maybe the formatting on my kindle.

 All in all I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Science Fiction, Space Opera or as Ross put it Space Fantasy. It is all in all a good first book, and the fact that it is self-published shouldn’t put you off because I have seen writers who actually got a book deal nowhere good as this.

Overall: 9/10. 

So that was David’s review. You guys know how pressed for time I am, and I’ve only managed to skim read – BUT – everything I’ve read leads me to believe this is perfect space fantasy-cum-sci-fi!

I have however asked Ross some writing questions; and very kindly he’s responded

* * * * * * *

1. We have the blurb, we have the review from David Muir, fancy sharing a little more about the story?

 

The Star Wraith is an apparent ghost ship. Every species in the galaxy has reports of ships encountering a capital class vessel, without power or life support. These reports end abruptly as the ships move in for a closer inspection, and are never seen again. The descriptions given in every report lead to the conclusion that it is the same vessel every time.

Every attempt by the galaxy’s various militaries to locate the Star Wraith has met with failure. Either the dispatched ships simply find nothing, or they, too, disappear.

For the Terran Military Alliance, the situation becomes increasingly serious as tracking the sightings reveals that the Wraith is getting closer and closer to human space. Out of options, the Alliance turns to a simple bounty hunter for aid.

Travis Archer has a history with the Alliance that has earned him a reputation for being unpredictable, eccentric in his methods, and dangerous (sometimes even intentionally). These unorthodox methods, the Alliance hopes, will actually give him the edge over this unknowable enemy.

Once Archer has put a team together, they track down the Star Wraith and board. It all seems a little too easy, and as they fight their way through the Wraith, they discover why. Someone has lied to them, and Archer isn’t about to forget what they’ve seen and obediently complete their mission. Instead, the team seizes control of the Wraith, and determines to find out what is going on.

They quickly find themselves wanted by their own Alliance, hunted by assassins and terrorists, and right in the middle of a 16,000 year old war.

Archer is forced to face an aspect of his past and his ancestry which he thought he had buried long ago, but which now could be the only thing that can help him protect the galaxy from total destruction.

And there’s a robot in it.

 

2. While I’ve only managed to skim through the book, your love of fantasy and sci-fi is apparent; the writing is fresh and sharp, but can you tell us of any difficulties you came across writing the book?

 

The biggest difficulty that comes to mind is when I got writer’s block. I assume that’s what it was, anyway – I’d never had it before, and haven’t had it since. I needed the team to leave the room they were in, to continue their pursuit of two assassins. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get them to budge. Thanks to their stubbornness, I gave up writing for over a year!

When I started to feel like writing again, and came back to it, I had no idea why I’d had a problem. I suppose after being left sat in a room for a year with no food, the team learnt their lesson and decided to what they were told. This is perhaps why I shouldn’t have children. Or cats.

That wasn’t the first or last time I stopped feeling like writing. I lost interest several times throughout the process. To put it in perspective: because of how many times I stopped writing, it took about six years or so to finish the first draft of the book. It then took about four months to write book two.

I also for a long time had difficulty taking the editing process seriously. It took quite a while before I finally got it into my head that, no, it won’t ‘do’. Thankfully, once I did so, it was pretty easy to properly edit.

Then, of course, there are the smaller problems, such as deciding what needs cutting out. As a writer, you don’t want to cut anything out of your precious creation, but you know you have to. Some big chunks were surgically removed, moved or replaced. The biggest loss was, perhaps, the prologue. It gave insight into how humans had come to leave Earth and live on Orion. It was, however, irrelevant to the story, a darker tone than the rest of the book, and potentially dull. Removing it ultimately improved the readability, and the information there was spread throughout the rest of the book.

 

3. One thing I’ve certainly noticed is your unique style of writing and the way you clearly balance the authorial voice with the narrative. Have any authors or writers influenced your writing style?

 

I think both Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams (from the Dirk Gently novels far more than Hitchhiker’s Guide) have sunk into my brain somewhere and could very well influence it a little bit. But I don’t aspire to write like them or try to mimic their humour or anything like that.

I write like me. I don’t try or want to write like anyone else, and the way I write is mine alone. I think. I do what I want, and that has managed to include not letting any other writing particularly influence me, because then it wouldn’t be entirely my writing! But of course there’s little that doesn’t influence us in some small way.

In another way, though, Iain M Banks influenced me right at the end, for the last two edits of the book. I had been focused on not using too many adjectives, keeping paragraphs at just the right length, keeping sentences short and snappy, and half a dozen other such things. Then I started to read one of his books – I forget which one (anyone following this blog tour may notice a pattern with my memory!). In one single sentence I counted something like fifteen adjectives. That same sentence ran on for an entire paragraph. Some of his paragraphs lasted almost entire pages. There were about three pages of just describing the area. In over fifteen pages, nothing whatsoever happened beyond someone looking out a vehicle’s window.

Now, obviously he’s Iain M Banks – he can do whatever the hell he wants, and he’s a brilliant writer. But the point is, he reminded me that my universe is my universe, and my writing is my writing. To sit and focus on the technicalities like I was, would, if anything, degrade my writing into something pretty generic and…not mine. So thanks to him, I went through and removed only what I felt needed removing, not what I had read had to be removed and reduced.

I may not have created a literary masterpiece, but I think the book is much better off for that realisation.

 

4. Do you have any tips for aspiring novelists and writers?

 

I think everyone needs to do things their own way. When they start trying to follow what others have done, or say, that’s when problems pop up, and if they didn’t pop up for whoever they’re following, they’re stuck.

That said, there a few things I wish I’d known/done or am glad I did. In no particular order:

Always have some form of printed version of your book for your final edit. You will pick up a lot more errors than when you read it on the computer. I thought I was finished, and got my hardback proof copy done. Then when I settled down to read it, I spotted error after error, including even one or two sentences that actually cut off halfway through! I have no idea how I managed that. Of course, every book, no matter how well edited it is, or how it is published, has a handful of errors, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to pick up as many as possible. That can’t be used as an excuse!

Have people read it. Not necessarily all of it, but a nice chunk. I had something like 30,000 words (of 128,000) of it up on Authonomy.com and I received over a hundred comments on it. Some of them weren’t helpful, but encouraging; others were very helpful indeed. My book, and my writing itself, are both better off for doing so.

Don’t let other people telling you it won’t ever be published put you off. My dad decided to impart to me this pearl of wisdom, and luckily I ignored him. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore everything people tell you and publish even when you’re being told it still needs work! There are too many bad self-published books around. Self-publishing is not nearly as frowned upon as it used to be, but those awful books do not help. And putting one out certainly won’t help you.

Do plenty of research on every aspect. Know at least the basics of writing – proper grammar and whatnot. I’m certainly not an expert, but what I do know has helped improve my writing a lot and makes the book readable for all but the most stickly of sticklers. Research your intended publishing route. That includes lots of research into every agent you intend to send your work to, to make sure they are entirely legitimate (legitimate ones will NEVER want you to pay anything). Research blogs that will review your book when it comes out, or just before it comes out so you have some reviews already when it publishes.

Know the difference between vanity publishing and proper self-publishing.

Don’t give up on agents or publishers until you actually want to self-publish. Contrary to what some idiots say, not being able to find an agent does not mean your book is rubbish and you can’t write. Especially not in today’s climate (that almost sounds professional doesn’t it?). Find a list of how many times some famous writers were turned down – everyone gets turned down. Two weeks before Shadow of the Wraith published, a well-respected agent sought me out, having read what was up on Authonomy and liking it, and asked me for the full thing. I’d long given up on agents by that point.

Don’t give up at all.

 

5. Other than this series of books, do you have any plans for other tales?

 

I have written nearly half of a short story that I can’t tell you anything about. I’m not sure what genre it is, but it’s not sci fi. It is taking a very long time, because I have to be in a very particular mood to write it.

I have a good chunk of a book I was writing years ago before I started Shadow of the Wraith, that I will be going back to at some point. I haven’t yet decided, though, if I will adapt it to sci fi and make it part of the NEXUS series or keep it separate. Either way it will be a thriller.

For after I have finished this series (hopefully not for quite some time) I have planned a fantasy series. By ‘planned’, I mean, I plan to do one. I have a very vague idea for the storyline of the first book, but that’s it.

For between this series and that one, I intend to write a kind of superhero novel.

Other than that, no I don’t! I’m considering writing short stories to go along with this series too, for little adventures Archer’s team have that wouldn’t stretch to a full novel. Like TV episodes. But I haven’t decided anything on that yet.

 

6. What do you think is the key formula for writing a good tale? The writer’s passion? The story alone? Writing skills? Combination of all three? Do you have a writing formula?

 

My writing formula is ‘open Word document + fingers keyboard + (wait for something to happen x 6) = book’.

It’s definitely a combination of all three, though. Someone passionate about what they’re writing could wrt d hol b%k n txt tlk and it would be rubbish. The story could be brilliant, but written by someone who’d rather be doing something else, and it’s rubbish again. It could be written by a literary genius, who knows every single tiny thing there is to know about writing, and the story is awful and the only passion shown is for the words themselves – rubbish.

You need to write what you want to write, in the way you want to write it. You need some technical skill to ensure the writing doesn’t overpower the story and lose readers. The only thing that is hit or miss is the story. You might love the story, and so might your parents. That doesn’t mean the general public will love it too. But there’s not a lot you can do about that, because to try to force it into something that they would like, you’ll lose your passion.

It’s unlikely you can be successful without having all three. But skill in writing is fairly objective, too.

Maybe a safer answer would be, ‘I dunno’.

* * * * * * *

You can buy SHADOW OF THE WRAITH (NEXUS) on the kindle for the special price of £1.53 here. Grab it for this great price while you can!

If you want a dead tree version (and who doesn’t love the smell of a ‘real’ book!) then this is the  link for you.

Ross can be found on Facebook and here, his website.

If you’ve read the book; or when you’ve read the book. Check out Goodreads and please rate.

Ciao!

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Spirit’s Destiny by Ken Dawson – Nothing “Dreadful” Here …

Yeah, I know … my titles are rubbish: but they make sense to me  and the author, so who cares?

This is my 4th blog post in 3 days – good God! I’m doing well!

Ok, this is my review of Ken Dawson’s (KD) book “Spirit’s Destiny” – a  fast paced space adventure aimed at the late teen market.

Sci-fi is often a neglected area in literature, it’s difficult to write (contrary to popular opinion) and those that read it are often “purists.” They prefer a set plot, a set style and nothing more, so hats off to KD!

(There’s a promising newbie author by the name of Ross Harrison releasing his sci-fi book in a few weeks – I’m rather excited and looking forward to reading Shadow of the Wraith, but I’ll save that for another time …)

So, what’s Spirit’s Destiny about and why is it good?

Well, we’re quickly introduced to the feisty protagonist Ella Bland and her life, awkward, a little lost, and about to start university (she’s a character that a lot of young females will be able to identify with). She’s thrown into a world of robots (or droids) manipulation, war, destiny and organisational interfering. There are secrets around each corner and the characters are not what they seem. It’s exceptionally difficult for me to talk about the plot without revealing some of the twists.

This is the Amazon description/blurb: “…When Ella Bland leaves home to attend university on another planet, the last thing she ever expected was to be dragged into a secret, ancient and bloody war.
On one side stands Eclipse – a genocidal creation hell-bent on slaying all humanity, whilst on the other lies a shrouded organisation that will do anything to make sure that mankind’s annihilation never happens.
As the violence senselessly rages between both sides, Ella must place her trust in a young secret agent and an unusual female droid if she is to have any chance of escaping this gory nightmare alive.
Yet as she becomes deeper involved, Ella discovers her role in this conflict will be far greater than she could ever possibly imagine …”

When reading the book, I immediately clicked with the authorial voice and how it guided us through the story without ever taking over or being a pretentious or overpowering show of ego. What a lot of readers don’t realise is just how hard it is to write a YA book. The language, pace, scene and setting have to appeal to an audience who don’t have the attention span (younglings, please don’t hate me!) for long, complex books on moral rights and wrongs/specific literary issues or complex themes.

KD manages this very well, while he pitches this for the late teen market – personally, I think it’s suited better for the mid to late teen age range; his original artwork and the style of his drawings paired with the dialogue and vocabulary will definitely appeal to teenagers whereas adults might find the story a little simplistic and if it’s pitched purely as late teen and adult – he’ll miss out on a HUGE fan base and potential sales.

Now, that sounds like a criticism – it’s not, not at all  – modern (not classical sci-fi like Dick or Wells) adult sci-fi is usually long and complex, with pages and pages of explanation detailing the engine management system, fuel and resources, oxygenation system … Zzzz … but you get the picture. I read recently that there is no market for space operas or light and action packed sci-fi (a report written by a mainstream published sci-fi author with an ego the size of the moon)- but I disagree, I think adults will happily read (sci-fi) books tagged as YA or a light-hearted space adventure as long as they don’t pretend to be something they’re not.

Spirit’s Destiny is pure and transparent. It’s fun, it’s a great ride with a nice pace and, a FABULOUS case of characters that each have their own traits and issues (S.A Gemma Chapman is just excellent). I knew from the moment I read the blurb that this was going to be a nice easy-to-read story that I could pick up and switch off to. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m not without criticisms, I do think that there were a few areas that could have been improved, the description of the ship for example, a bit more on Ella’s background and there were some small issues with commas in the direct speech – but (and I know people hate the word but) this is the first book in a series – so I imagine there will be A LOT more to come, and the grammar/punctuation is a small niggle, I actually feel harsh mentioning it.

Why do I feel bad? Because Ken Dawson has done something that most “wannabe writers” never do – he has taken a leap of faith in his story and writing and published his book, investing in print copies and throwing hours of work into some really amazing cartoon drawings. I think anyone who chases their dreams is worth my respect.

I think the book is currently priced at £4.11 on the kindle – which some will feel is quite pricey for a SP book of this length. Normally I would agree with the masses – but the artwork inside makes it worth the price. I have to admit however, I’ll be buying a paperback copy when available (believed to be a couple of weeks) because I think the difference in price is well worth it – oh, and the author can sign it for me!

Overall, this is a 4 1/2 * book – but, as we’re taught in maths, you round up – so it’s a 5* tale.

I recommend to anyone who wants and enjoys pure escapism on a rainy afternoon, a train journey or something for when you just want to kick back and relax.

I’m not one for long author interviews, but I asked Ken a few questions and thought I’d share his responses.

Q. Why did you write the book?

A. After school I went to study graphic design and art, in the hope of doing something vaguely related to manga or animation. Slowly I wrote little stories to go with the paintings I did in my spare time. Eventually the stories became more important than the actual images. Originally I had three big ideas. I used one of them called ‘Time Eclipse’ for my final piece of my animation degree. Soon after that I decided to write a full tale of it, but include all my close friends as characters. I guess the only reason for doing it was simply a desire to.

Q.What advice do you have for budding writers?

A. My only advice to budding writers is ‘Get it started, and get it written!’ Forget all spelling, grammar and plot holes until the piece is fully written. You can smooth those things over later.

Q. What problems did you come up against when publishing?

A.  I think the problems of getting published is that there is no clear direction of how to go about it. Researching everything and everyone will avoid you handing over your hard earned cash to unscrupulous people promising you fame and fortune. It take time but it’s worth it.

Q. Apart from “The Tapestry of Fates” series – do you have other stories planned? 

A. Well apart from the two books that follow Spirit’s Destiny, I have a free monthly horror vampire novel on my blog called Fallen Tears. I also have several other projects that will expand the universe of Spirit’s Destiny, as well as a set of novels based around an idea called ‘Phoenix’ I had at sixteen for which I have hundreds of pieces of art for. It is mentioned briefly in Spirit’s Destiny.

 

Spirit’s Destiny has a dedicated webpage, where Ken has uploaded character bios and pictures:-

http://www.tapestryoffates.com

The book can be bought on Amazon:-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spirits-Destiny-Tapestry-Fates-ebook/dp/B006YJR88S/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

Those who enjoy vampire stories that don’t involve bloodsuckers that sparkle or prance around full of teen angst can find Fallen Tears on Ken’s blog:-

www.kennydreadful.com or on Harper Collin’s site for writers (Authonomy) http://www.authonomy.com/books/41727/fallen-tears/

And those that link his artwork can find more at:-

http://kenny-dreadful.deviantart.com/

 

I’ll add here, none of these reviews are for personal gain. I won’t give gushing praise and I won’t mince my words. 

 

 

The Last Mask by Stephen Winterflood – It’s Certainly Nothing To Joke About …

This is long overdue, but as I wrote a few posts back – I am waaaay behind with my blog posts. However, my resolution is to improve.

I bought this on Amazon for my kindle back in January. I think it was £1.74, which I thought was pretty good value and having spoken to the author briefly on Facebook – I was intrigued. Stephen Winterflood (SW) has a dry and yet very witty sense of humour and I thought “hmmm, I wonder what his book will be like?”

It sat in my virtual “to read” pile for a few weeks and every time I went to read it – I was distracted by work, play or my own scribblings. … but, one rainy night in Feb I managed to lock myself out of the house (yes really) and had to sit in the garage on a giant outdoor beanbag and wait for my husband to return home from work to let me in. Cold and at a loss, I started reading.

And then I kicked myself, severely and repeatedly – I’d had this book for nearly a month and not started??? Boo.

I was immediately drawn into a well crafted and developed world. As a lover of all things fantasy, I was initially uncertain where to place this in a genre that often ends up with the dregs and left-overs: after speaking to SW he described the book as “theatrical decadence” and he’s absolutely 100% right.

The two main characters (Joe and Kelly) are well crafted, with depth and individual personality traits. I had absolutely no problem visualising them and following them on their journey to “The Joke” – a place where nightmares and dreams can come true, but a place so dark and twisted that it bewitches the reader and seduces them, dragging them along for the ride – which isn’t always pleasant. With echoes of Gaiman and Burton in visualisation I found myself really loving this story, more so an any other self-published book I’ve read (*** see end of review for explanation). But it didn’t end there, not just a linear story involving one set of protagonists and one set of antagonists, I counted at least three separate stories all coming together. No, wait … four maybe? Each one hinting to something more and involving relationships, betrayal, secrets and loss. The book ends without a natural conclusion, the stories are unravelling fast but nothing is concluded; now, some people will find this frustrating – but I personally love book series and think this is a great thing! I can’t wait to read the next one 🙂

Structure wise – I felt it was spot on, at around 80-85k (I think) it’s a nice length and the pace is steady. We have enough “breathing time” between action and revelations and the balance between prose and dialogue is great. I do have one criticism (just one!) – with the dialogue and the speech of Joe and Kelly – I thought that more contractions were needed, purely because of colloquialisms, patterns of speech, I think most people say “don’t” “couldn’t” and so on – that’s my only grumble though, and I’ve mentioned it before, so I won’t harp on.

I adored the layout of chapters, slices and reflections – very clever, very well done and incredibly effective.

Overall, I can honestly say, this to me is a 5* book.

A lot of people give high stars and raving reviews for people that they know – mostly because they are afraid of giving a critique and hurting their friend’s feelings; but in this case – it’s thoroughly deserved. I usually think to myself when I review/crit “what would I change?” and apart from the one thing mentioned – there’s nothing.

I’m wishing the author the very best of luck, I really hope that he starts to actively promote this book as it needs and deserves to be read, he’s tapped into a niche and individualised corner of the fantasy market and this trilogy is creative and fresh enough to attract attention.

Now … on a final note – I emailed Mr Winterflood and asked him why he wrote the  book and his reply was:-

“You mean apart from the fame, fortune, and bevy of beautiful ladies following me around.

I did the Last Mask as I wanted to write a book with no limits on the imagination. I felt that a lot of fantasy wasn’t fantastic enough and so created the world of the Joke to allow me to write a story where you were never sure what you were going to bump into around the next corner.”

His wonderful book can be found on amazon here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Last-Mask-Book-ebook/dp/B006NWQYVI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335037443&sr=8-1

And his blog and deviant art sites are here:

http://stephenwinterflood.blogspot.com/
http://winterflood.daportfolio.com/   (seriously, his artwork is beyond cool)

***

Explanation as to why I differentiate between self-published (SP) and mainstream published (MP) books…

MP’s have a team behind them, editors, publicists, marketing, artists and illustrators, professional reviewers with “links” and so on … they are crafted and honed to what the publishing house believes is perfection.

SP’s are usually managed by one person – the author. Sometimes the author will employ an editor and maybe an illustrator for the cover – but 9/10 times they take on all the above roles as well as working full time in the job that “pays the bills.”

So, when I say this is the best SP book – it really is. It is UNDOUBTEDLY as professional as a MP book – but I do like to separate the two when reviewing. I can’t help it.

My review of this can be found on Goodreads and on Amazon – each review is unique and not a copy and pasted job!