I just finished reading Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords. I posted my review on Amazon and will out it up here in a separate post as well. Great story.
One of the things that jolted me into writing a review was going through the process of getting reviews myself. On Sunday someone dropped by and called the book boring, giving it 1/5 stars, saying there was too much combat and I use an insane number of superfluous adjectives. I was somewhat devastated for a day or two, then sucked it up and moved on. After a few days I got some supportive and positive reviews, and some interesting semi-critical reviews as well. Some of these were actually helpful, letting me know what I should improve when writing the second Bloodlust Book.
Personally I only review a book if I feel strongly about it. For the most part I only feel strongly about it if I enjoy it; I tend not to bother finishing if I don’t like it. I also recognize that my tastes aren’t everyone’s tastes, so I don’t feel the need to downvote things just because I don’t like them or agree with the philosophy of the author. Now that I am in the arena myself, writing heavily critical reviews of other author’s works strikes me as a facetious act of self-aggrandizement. This sort of thing plagued the early years of the indy RPG scene, with people hammering each other with supposedly objective critiques that were nothing more than blatant, destructive attempts to smear the competition and promote one style or school of gaming by making all the others look like crap. Not something I really want to get into in the much larger and potentially nastier world of writing.
One of the Reviews, written by my friend Holger gave me a 3/5. Once I got over my initial reaction I realized he had written a useful review and was simply following the proper ratings guidelines given by Amazon, where a 3/5 is a book you enjoyed but not a masterwork. (As an aside the x/5 ranking system needs to change, the most common reviews are 1/5 and 5/5, much like meta-critic and a descriptive system would be better). Interestingly one of the things Holger really disliked was Sadira. He felt she was over the top, one-dimensional, and stole Gavin’s place in the limelight. I found this comment very interesting.
Sadira strikes me as a lightning rod for criticism, so Holger’s criticism did not really surprise me. Originally she played a smaller part in the first book, and barely appeared again until the end of the second. But when my first batch of readers went through Bloodlust, many asked for more Sadira. I had to struggle to put her in more scenes and figure out how to give her a strong presence in book two. She is a tough character for me to write because she is so strong, confident, and skilled that she risks becoming boring. As we were talking, waiting for the bus today, Jer M told me that he wanted Sadira to be the one that becomes Chosen, not Gavin. When pressed, he said it was because he admired her. Christa at work said she identified with Sadira. I found that comments just as interesting as Holgers.
In the end I think Sadira may be one of those characters like Drizzt Do’Urden, Achilles, Lancelot, or Conan who take on a life of their own. Some people see them as tiresome Mary Sues, who drag a story down because they are so much larger than life. Other readers love them because they never falter, never give up, and be they bad or good, bloodthirsty or chivalrous, they are always worth emulating in some way. I look forward to hearing more about what people think of her; I may have done a better job than I thought with Gavin’s better half…