Some reviews are bad, but ok because they just show the reader picked up the wrong book. I’ve done it, some books just aren’t for me and I can recognize this. I grok that not everyone thinks the same, or likes the same things. Romances, or novels that spend more wordage on emotional exploration than intellectual examination of the problem or world views, and problem solving aren’t for me.

Apparently someone (or more than someone since it is actually been published) doesn’t think that way. For a literary review organization who as a rule publishes sensible, and thoughtful reviews to put something like this out is really quite depressing. Not so much for the fact that someone thinks it, we all have bad days. But for the fact it actually got published with the Kirkus name, a brand that has traditionally meant something. Usually even the Kirkus reviews I disagree with have some merit. This one shows a poor understanding of the target audience, a lack of understanding of human behavior in general, and a double dose of naked contempt I just can’t nail down the origin of.

So let’s take a look at some of the salient points of the review…

An overwhelming wealth of precise detail bogs down this steampunk effort from adult-fantasy author Freer.

This is the opening line, about a YA novel, from a writer who has written a lot of books across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum. A novel that is 276 pages long (trade paperback) according to the listing in the review. How precisely does a less than 100k word novel get bogged down? This is an interesting description and one I’ve never heard of his writing. It wasn’t even applied to the rather lengthy Shadow of The Lion and sequels.

Amid a barrage of minutiae (from engine workings to background elements that try but fail to establish worldbuilding),

Ok, not really anything new here, you already said in an obese sentence that you think the books overwritten. But in steampunk, or any speculative fiction the world is kinda important. So are the life saving gadgets, transportation and costume. Why they’re different? They have to be, and all these things will feed into and off of how people behave, where they can and can’t go, and what problems they might encounter. It’s one of those odd tenets of speculative fiction. As a rule, (see Weber, David, Rowling, J.K., Carroll, Michael Owen) people who read spec-fic tend to like to know why the world they are reading is different and how.

and true love with the lone black crew member, whose own story plays a role (and includes some commentary on racism).

Generally speaking, the only time someone points out the race of a character, particularly if there is a romance involved is if they either A: don’t approve or B: are making commentary on the sly about the writer. I really can’t speculate on A, but well Dave is someone I’ve known for more than a decade, and been fortunate enough to meet twice despite the distance between us, I think that speaks for itself. While I don’t know with with 100% certainty who the reviewer is, the most likely person to have compiled this is a self described feminist, and the only review I could find of a YA novel that she wrote anything positive about was where she waxed fantastic about the misandrous statutory rape of a teenage male, by an adult female.

and the burgeoning romance moves too rapidly from a kiss to “I love you.”

As you know Bob, teenagers are particularly well known for the slow, and deliberate pace at which their romances progress. Even more so people under the sort of stress that carries the plot in any sort of adventure. Either age, or danger would be enough to drive two people together quickly if they were of like mind, the two combined makes it a near certainty. However, as I am speaking of reasonably normal people, they type who enjoy the company of others and are drawn to them in times of unrest, your mileage may vary. One could speculate about how damaging this reviewers adolescence was, and if it greatly impacted not just their own amatory pursuits at that age, but their observation of them then and since, but that’s not why I’m writing this, I’ll save psychoanalysis of people based on their writing for a possible future pursuit of a post-graduate degree.

Moreover, the image of Clara on the cover is reminiscent of the TV Laura Ingalls Wilder in her preteen years.

Of course the cover of the book is the most important thing, that’s why the body of the review ends with it. And as every novelist on the planet will tell you, the cover is completely in their control. Publishing houses, and cover artists tremble beneath the covers of their beds for hours hoping they’ve pleased the writer when messages revealing them to the writer are replied to.  By the way, who in the world is Laura Ingalls Wilder, and what in the world does she (or someones feelings for her) have to do with any work of fiction aimed at today’s teenagers? Curious.

Steampunk and the Cuttlefish’s coal engines might be hot, but tepid storytelling sinks this tale.

Hmm, did we maybe, possibly find the answer to the reviewers inexplicable review? They aren’t a steampunk fan? The cuttingly addressed issues of fantasy, steampunk, race, and romance do make me wonder if it wasn’t all just caterwauling at an entire genre. I mean I’ve done that, I don’t care at all for the dumb “comedies” that fill the theater and are nothing but drug and body function sketches stretched out ad nauseam, but usually I make it subtle.

Oh yes, the cover and preorder information for the sequel which will probably be downgraded for daring to have a look alike of someone the target audience has never heard of on the cover as well, is up at Amazon, Bares and Noble, and other booksellers. Enjoy.

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was the author of Little House on the Praire (and the rest of the Little House series) about a family on the American frontier in the 1870’s and 1880’s, which inspired a TV series by the same name in the 1970’s.

    I don’t think today’s teens would care one way or the other about a comparison to the TV show, and if they care about a comparison to the books it would probably be a good thing.