I try to be kind in my reviews. But I also strive for complete honesty. This review goes more in the direction of the latter. I’m sure the author whose work I am about to criticize is a wonderful person with many redeeming qualities. Unfortunately, writing a good book does not appear to be one of them, if my experience here is any indication.
I was not able to finish This Broken World, by Charles E. Gannon. In fact, it was a willful slog just to get through the first few chapters. And I have previously managed to finish the piss-poor likes of The Written, Sweet Blood of Mine, Southern Magic, Dead Things, Hero in a Halfling, and The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Among others. So why not This Broken World?
Because, in a word, it was just too… dang… BOOORIIING!
“But-but!” I can already hear someone saying, “It has a clever hero! A mysterious, stunning beauty! A veil of shadows and secrets where friends may not actually be friends but traitorous enemies! It has the horrific murder of the hero’s mother, and even worse to his father! It has a cunning raid by dangerous enemies which only the hero has the power to thwart! It has his entire journey through life!”
But you know what this book doesn’t have? A proper hook! Anywhere!
I’ve heard that it’s been said by Brandon Sanderson – who is not only a successful author, but absolutely, hands-down, inarguably a Master of Storytelling – that the first chapter an author writes needs to be cut off from a book’s beginning. There’s too much explaining, too little happening, that sort of thing. Get to the action of the story, the motivation, the hook.
And once you’ve done that, I add, you need to keep them hooked. The language needs to be poetic and personal, descriptive but not long-winded. When a conflict happens, we need to experience that moment firsthand. We need to have some sort of personal stake in the character’s well-being in order to be invested in the outcome. Even if we know, on some level, that everything will be all right, we still need to have that tension and sense of fear on behalf of them and their cause.
This novel does nothing at all like that.
Now, I have no problem with it starting out a little slow. It’s not the best move, but if there is a lot of ground to establish, then I can allow it to be established. But then we completely skip over the first initial conflict, and the tragedy of a boy losing his parents. It’s a shock and a mystery… for about one chapter. We skip several years between chapters only to flash back to that night, and that horrible tragedy. I mean… why? Just… why bother with that rigmarole if it was just going to be done and over that fast?
When Luke Skywalker raced home to find his family killed, the movie did not skip over that scene and then come back to it five minutes later.
And the explanation of why the boy was enabled to remember a memory that was deliberately hidden from him involved complex circumstances involving some sort of ritual to enter into a divinity’s service, absolutely none of which was explained and nothing of which we really cared about, because, having skipped over several years, the narrative skipped over everything important about this ritual.
And then the story skips forward again. Skipping past the growing boy’s enrollment in a military academy, skipping over any connections he might have formed there or in the community around him, skipping over everything, to go straight to what is already the umpteenth display of his cleverness. This time, at least, we see him enter in the moment where he is in danger, and desperately trying to foil an enemy’s unknown scheme. But even then there was something lacking.
It took me a bit to figure it out, and only after the yet another time skip, this one narrated by the young man in his journal: the writing style is… well… academic. It’s scholarly. It doesn’t feel up close and personal. It feels far away, like someone observing from a distance in clinical terms. That doesn’t play so well when one is describing the hero in a dangerous, fearful moment, employing a desperate plan in a dire moment.
During all of this, it occurs to me, the reader doesn’t actually get to see this boy hero grow up. We start, then skip ahead, and start, and skip ahead, and start, and skip ahead. It’s a herky-jerky, leap-frogging narrative that first shows us a boy, then a young lad, then a growing man, but we never get to experience the growing part. Several chapters in, and we still know nothing of this world, really. We just know this boy is clever. And yet somehow not clever enough to realize the obvious.
He wants to join the legions because he thinks his father did so. But a very powerful, elite warrior says they’re old comrades. Sure, the boy is inexperienced and ignorant, cleverness notwithstanding, but after several years, one would think he’d figure out that there was much more to his father than a legionnaire’s life.
And then there’s all the other “coincidences” and strange aspects of his childhood, and himself. But years and years go by, and he leans nothing, and realizes nothing.
So we have a story that lacks a hook, skips over vast amounts of time and experience, and somehow manages to not go anywhere, with a hero who is supposedly quite clever, and yet never asks questions about himself and his parents, and the language is just so scholarly and distant that it’s difficult to invest in the story itself.
I say again: boring.
I’m sorry, Mr. Gannon, but I just could not get past the first several chapters!
Rating: zero stars out of ten.
Grade: absolute F-Minus!