Sunday, 7 October 2007
‘Witch Ember’ – John Lawson (Publish America)
When I was very young, I decided that the best thing I could possibly be when I grew up was a writer of fantasy and/or science fiction. Today I work for a government department and have an incomprehensible job title, something definitely went wrong along the way… ‘Back in the day’, it was incredibly difficult to get published. Think about it; a finite number of publishers and millions of people who want to be a writer, not everyone was going to make it. These days though, the playing field seems to be a lot more open and it’s all thanks to the Internet. An aspiring author doesn’t have to go through ‘rejection hell’ when online services like ‘Lulu' will publish your work as an e-book. You can even set up shop as a publisher in your own right and release your own books. Other companies, like ‘Publish America’, will take your book and print copies as and when someone wants to buy one. This is a great thing for authors who haven’t made it via more conventional routes but it does raise the question about the quality of work published in this area of the genre. When John Lawson got in touch and asked if I would like to see a copy of ‘Witch Ember’ (print on demand from ‘Publish America’) I thought I’d have a read and see if any of the arguments were justified…
Esmeree is an orphan struggling to survive on the mean streets of Cliffs Reach. She’s not just any old orphan though; in a world where everyone carries a piece of a long shattered stone of power Esmereee carries perhaps the largest piece of all. In the magically barren land of her birth Esmeree is a valuable commodity and can trust no-body as all hands will ultimately be raised against her…
‘Witch Ember’ is a gritty novel, perhaps the grittiest fantasy novel I’ve ever read. In a harsh world there is no room at all for sensibility and anyone (man, woman or child) is likely to suffer a harsh fate. When the stakes are so high it can make for an intense read and you will want to know what happens next. It’s a shame then that it sometimes feels like there’s an awful lot of filler to get through before you can carry on with the story itself. Nothing is left out, or left to the reader’s imagination, and this means a sometimes stodgy read that, for me, felt like a real struggle to get my head around. I had the same kind if issue with most of the characters in that they were shaped, by a harsh environment, into people that weren’t really engaging to the reader. There’s only so much nastiness that I can read before I start thinking, “c’mon, lets round these people out just a little bit…”
Fair play to Lawson though for really putting the work in on the world building and history. Even though the surge of information can be daunting, it’s a refreshing scenario that avoids a lot of cliché.
‘Witch Ember’ did nothing to resolve the pros/cons of the various forms of internet publishing in my head. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse books that have been published via the standard approach! In terms of the book itself though, there’s definitely potential but it feels like more work needs to be done.
Five out of Ten