Review: The Scriptlings

I return! BTW, the About Me is now due for a major update after the hassle of the last month. But it’s over, and you all are going to reap the rewards. That’s right, double posts for a while. I HOPE to start this weekend and have a Dresden review up by Tuesday, but we’ll see how fast I can read since I don’t have the book and won’t until Saturday thanks to hijinks… I’m also changing my posting times to SOMETIME Tuesday and Thursday nights, no real promises on what time exactly, but usually before 10:30 pm Central.

On a happier note, I DO have something to review for the weekend to signal my return! I was shocked and thrilled to get hit up by Shannon Thompson and Sorin Suciu’s e-book, The Scriptlings. Despite being a physical book lover, I was more than glad to take the opportunity. It got me back in my reviewing grove, as it were. Here we go: my honest opinion (they were warned, don’t worry).

The Scriptlings tells the story of two apprentice magicians (which btw, is what a scriptling is) named Merkin and Buggeroff… sort of. There’s their Masters, a tribe of nomadic demi-gods (or so the summary on Amazon dubs them), a goat that thinks its a snake only not really, and of course, Stapley. Who can forget Stapley? And they all end up tangled together by a long series events that seem to start with a murder, but go back to the beginning of time, or at least close to it. And it will end with either the destruction of life as we know it, or the saving of it.

To begin with, I’ll highlight some of the best parts of the story. For one: the dialogue. Oh goodness. It flows so well, and it doesn’t sound forced. It also made me laugh. Okay, not full-out laughter, that’s hard to get me to do reading a book unless I really get sucked into it. But I did snicker a lot. It was easy to tell who was speaking and who wasn’t most of the time, even without speaking tags after. I also enjoyed the little geek jokes, even if some of the tech ones went over my head. They weren’t directly in my face, like some writers try to be when “writing for geeks,” but very subtle in a way that let me enjoy them instead of feeling patronized.

I also thought the magic system was well-thought out. I loved the way that computers and magic were linked, and how even spells were constructed. I am not the most computer savvy person in the world, so any serious computer stuff always seems like magic to me. It was a clever way of mingling a fantasy concept with the modern world. I also haven’t quite seen it mingled in this way before. I’ve seen technology exaggerated to the point it seems like magic, I’ve seen technology that runs on magic, I’ve seen magic that relies on technology to work (thank you The Irregular at Magic High School). But this is different from my usual read, and I enjoyed it. It was almost like light scifi mixed with fantasy, but also very clearly labeled as fantasy because that’s where the focus was. I especially enjoyed that I could understand and follow the magic system. It didn’t get too complicated that a reader had to be tech support to understand it (thank you The Irregular at Magic High School).

The world was also really intriguing. I liked the idea of there being two different schools of magic, which really fits with most mystical things even in the real world (Eastern and Western astrology, for example). I wish we had actually gotten to see some of the other school, just because it would have been nice to see the contrast. The various rules of social ettiquette between magicians were silly and humorous. I really wanted to know more about them, how they got started, or if they were just traditional because that is how tradition was done (or because something happened with the Tribe that led to it being that way). Even the idea of the Tribe seemed really interesting, especially with how it ended up tying up with magic in the end.

Now we get to the “good, could be better” part of this review. To begin with, the setting. On one hand, it was very difficult to remember that this was set in Canada and really anything about where the characters were (even with Buggeroff going all real estate agent at one point). One hand, yay. It lets the reader have complete control of the setting and it’s one less detail in the way. It lets the reader focus on the story. On the other hand, well, the characters lack any sort of grounding, making it hard to see where they are in relation to each other or their surroundings. But a play can still function without a set if the actors/characters are strong enough.

Unfortunately, these aren’t. Middle ground 2. Speaking of every character (excluding Merkin. I’ll get to her in a second), they are really interesting, some of them with a good deal of history that definitely intrigues me. And then it gets revealed. And it’s told more than it’s really shown. And it’s not even told by the character in question. Really, it’s sort of like an old-school video game where the main characters are left purposefully vague and two-dimensional. This is done so the player can input themselves or build up a story on their own. The only problem with that is, I’m wanting to read YOUR story. Not write my own. If I was doing that, I have a young girl and a unicorn demanding my attention. Otherwise, there wasn’t enough meat on the bones of the characters we see regularly.

Now for the bad. While the pacing of the book is fast (seriously, it took me about a page a minute), the plot drags. It’s weighed down by too much of the humor, which is great, but not enough of the actual bones of the story to keep me turning the pages. It isn’t helped by the extreme lack of conflict. No one is really set up to be the villain (not even the two cops), and the interruptions for the Tribal Interludes only make it worse. By the time we actually HIT the plot, the book is nearly over (seriously, it’s the last fifty pages or so of actual story), I actually liked the guy who we should be hating (and not in a way that’s on purpose by the writer’s creation). And then the writing took a nosedive, since we started getting told, not shown ANYTHING. It was more than a little frustrating, especially with all the sudden heel-face-turns that everyone seemed to be taking.

Which gets me to Merkin. For about, oh, two-thirds or three-quarters of the book, I was on the fence about her. She’s the only strong, active female character (Ina doesn’t count, she appears twice and is otherwise merely name dropped). She’s also over sexualized. Big time. Especially for her age. But a lot of that was of her own making, so while it bugged me, it was also a character decision that I could understand, so I was willing to give it a mention and then let it go. And then I hit that last part of the book, and I went, “Okay. She is no longer a character.”

I don’t even know what she is. A bundle of really bad stereotypes? A really, really bad cliche? She isn’t a character, she isn’t a PERSON. There’s a back story there, sure, but it isn’t one that affects her often enough for it to outweigh the rest of what’s done to her. By the end of the book, she’s this really, really bad Madonna-Whore complex, and it’s just… *makes growly, frustrated noises* And to be completely honest, it’s the same thing you see over and over again in fiction that’s directed at a male audience…which seems to sum up the book as a whole.

Now, believe it or not, despite my issues with the female lead, I WAS going to list who this book would be good for, because I did see potential, especially for a first time writer. And then I hit the last snag this story had to offer me. Immediately, the text reads like it is written in the same style as the Percy Jackson series, which is Middle Reader. But then that got ruled out because of all the mentioning of sex and nudity. Okay, that makes it either young adult or adult. The style of writing wouldn’t sell well to adults, so that leaves YA fiction, right?

Err, problem. Fantasy YA is my own field, so I know it pretty well. And it’s almost entirely geared to female readers. Female readers who will never get past the way Merkin is written (for a male gaze). You see, welcome to the rather weird way the gender dynamic has broken down in fantasy/sci fi fiction. For the most part, adult fantasy/sci fi is written for male readers. There are exceptions to this (Deborah Chester, Mercedes Lackey, etc), but then there are people who personify it (Mel Odom [sorry Mel, will never forgive our argument over the chain mail bikini], more than I can really name, etc). It’s harder to find female driven fantasy for adults…except in the YA and romance sections. So what usually happens is that girls read in YA until they hit their mid-to-late twenties, and then make the shift over to romances (with…various results. I have issues with the romance section of the book store, let’s leave it at that).

So now I have the issue of who would I recommend this book to? I can’t give it to girls because of Merkin. Period. As for boys? Adult boys (and most teenage boys who are already readers) won’t want to read it because of the style it’s written in. And for the reluctant reader, most of the geek jokes, which are some of the funniest points in the book, will go right over their heads, so they won’t “get it” and thus, yet another wasted exercise. No, thank you.

The end result, I guess you could say, is I think Suciu has a lot of good potential. His dialogue is good, he can create good worlds without going over the reader’s head, and his pacing is excellent. If his plot, setting, and characters were even slightly better, he’d be in amazing shape for a regular writer, much less a first time one. So he can do either one of two things:

1) He can age down the characters, cut out the sex, do a little better with keeping conflict going throughout the whole book, and he can do very well as a middle reader. Extremely well, I dare say, especially to the just-under fourteen age group.

2) He can DRASTICALLY improve his descriptions and plotting so he can keep a male reader’s attention and push for the adult market.

But to play in the YA ballpark, the girls are going to need a LOT of work, as is the setting and the plot. It all depends on what audience he is actually aiming for. Mind, I could be wrong. Maybe there is a niche in the YA fantasy market for boys fiction. But in my experience, they skip from middle reader to adult fiction, and so unlike most writers who can do the, “Meh, I’ll aim in the middle: YA!” Suciu is going to have to pick one or the other, and either change what he is doing slightly or improve dramatically.

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About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...) View all posts by Rebecca M. Horner

2 responses to “Review: The Scriptlings

  • Sorin Suciu

    Thank you so much, Rebecca!
    Very useful tips on positioning the novel in an established genre rather than doing whatever it is that I’ve been doing 🙂
    Also, point(s) taken on Merkin and Master Sewer. It is my plan to redeem to the point of reinventing them in “The Masters”.

    Cheers,
    Sorin

    • Rebecca M. Horner

      No problem, I’m glad you reached out to me! (And sorry I took so long responding to this, my life imploded on me). And yeah, I think the fantasy/scifi break up with gender is weird in relation to YA which seems to have been the big trip up. Not your fault at all, it’s something you’d really have to work to notice.
      I hope they don’t change so badly we don’t recognize them at all! 🙂 I look forward to seeing what happens with Merkin now… Best of luck!

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