Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review - Shadows of the Past by E.A. Jensen

Short review: Vampires and "ware"-animals are the good guys, the Church of Light are the villains. Kirsa is a child prodigy with issues and must solve a series of murders of paranormal creatures in her hometown.

Vampire detectives
Paranormal mystery
Awful editing

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Shadows of the Past is a book that should have been much better than it actually is. The basic story - a paranormal mystery-romance with a modest amount of originality - is not too bad. But the simple truth is that this book needed serious rewriting and editing. Because of this, reading Shadows of the Past is a depressingly frustrating experience, not because of all the weak elements, but because those weak elements hinder and obscure what could have been an enjoyable book.

The fact that a book is self-published, as Shadows of the Past is, is not in itself a mark of quality or lack thereof. There is no particular reason for a self-published book to be good, or bad, or have any other particular characteristic. But the one thread that seems to tie most self-published books together is a lack of editing. And Shadows of the Past suffers terribly from this affliction. One thing that self-published authors need to realize is that a computer spell checker is no substitute for a good copy editor, or any copy editor at all. Shadows of the Past is riddled with the kinds of errors that show up when an author tries to use a spell checking program to catch the sorts of problems that a copy editor would find: homonyms used instead of the correct word, verbs conjugated incorrectly, words missing from sentences, and so on. These types of mistakes in the text won't be caught by a spell-checker, because the individual words in the book are spelled correctly. But when they are strung together, they add up to a mess.

But the problems with Shadows of the Past run deeper than simple grammatical mistakes and spelling miscues. The book itself needed an editor to go through it and suggest serious revisions to many parts of the story. The most consistent problem with the book is overly abrupt transitions as the story switches from scene to scene. For example, the action might switch from a couple of characters having a conversation in New Jersey to a a completely different character doing something completely unrelated in Germany with nothing more than a paragraph break separating the two scenes. These sorts of jolting transitions pull the reader out of the story as he has to stop and figure out what is going on, and whether what they are now reading has anything to do with what they read just a few sentences before. In many ways, the published version of Shadows of the Past reads like the first draft of a book that needed a couple of redrafts and at least one or two readings by a good editor. As it is, the book feels like a criminal waste of good potential.

I remember going to see A.S. King speak when she was in Alexandria. She said that she had written seven complete novels before Dust of 100 Dogs (read review) was published. She also said that despite the disappointment she felt at the time when those novels were not selected for publication, the time and effort spent writing those novels was a necessary learning experience for her on her journey to becoming someone who could turn out polished publishable material. In a way, the danger of self-publishing is that authors whose material is not yet ready for the public eye will bypass this sort of learning process and have works in print that will mark their career permanently, or even derail their career. To a certain extent, I think that Shadows of the Past may be a novel that E.A. Jensen will come to regret publishing in its current form. Not because the book is bad - even though it is - but because with more work, the book clearly could have been so much better.

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