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Pauline's Fantasy Reviews

Reviews of fantasy books, plus some mystery, sci-fi and literary works, and my random thoughts on book-related matters.

Currently reading

Dragon Queen (The Memory of Flames, #5)
Stephen Deas
The Splintered Eye (The War of Memory Cycle #2)
H. Anthe Davis, Erica Dakin


Painless - Derek Ciccone This was a free book I picked up in my early Kindle days, and it's still cheap. It was in Amazon's top 100 free list for months, which is a good sign. There are two separate strands to the plot. The first is about a family with an unusual child, and Billy, who arrives to rent their cottage, and this part is very readable. The characters are not perfectly drawn, and some are more fleshed out than others, but they do feel more real than is usual in a book of this type, and they all have some serious history which gives them a bit of depth. Billy in particular is an interesting character, and there are intriguing mysteries in his past.

The other strand is about a secret military-type organisation, and this I found much less interesting. The focus is very much US-centric, with a great deal about Vietnam, Iraq, Iran and 9/11, and there are lengthy quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and generally a lot of patriotism swilling about. Nothing wrong with any of that, naturally, but it seemed as if the author was using these events to create a certain emotional response and that doesn't play quite so well to those of us outside the US. It is also a somewhat clich├ęd plotline, with a predictable outcome.

The book's style strikes me as something a beginning author would produce - a little clunky, not really flowing, lacking self-confidence and over-heavy with the imagery, as if the author has taken a few creative writing classes, and hasn't quite developed his own voice. Frequently he explains or even repeats what has just been said in dialogue, as if not trusting the reader to follow along, even though there's nothing terribly convoluted in the plot. The pacing feels a little off, too - there are long descriptive or exposition passages, not all of which seem relevant. There are quite a few minor typos, but no worse than many such self-published books.

The major drawback is credibility. The fundamental premise is that the family would take on an unknown man, not just as a lodger, but also as a more or less full time child carer for Carolyn, the four-year-old girl, without checking his background or asking any proper questions. It would have been interesting, I think, to read about the first meeting between Billy and the parents to see just what took place and why they felt able to trust him, but although the author wrote this part, he edited most of it out. It would have been more believable, I think, if Billy had been around for a while - as a long-standing tenant, or perhaps employed as a groundsman or some such - and then got called upon to babysit later.

And then - the big stumbling block for me - after numerous incidents where Carolyn has been injured on Billy's watch, and after she was almost snatched from her home, he leaves her on her own while he chases after a potential kidnapper. No, I don't think so. No one could possibly be that stupid - could they? But then her parents are pretty stupid too - they let their feel-no-pain reckless daughter run about the wilderness with sparklers. And sometimes you wonder if Billy is really all there. Having chased a guy across Montreal and tracked him down to a bar, he sits watching his quarry and eating a meal until the guy gets up to leave, when - surprise! - the chase begins all over again. Why wait? And if he doesn't want to approach him directly, why not use the waitress to take a message?

I confess that I began to lose interest at this point and started skimming to get to the end. This is not a bad book, if you like this sort of thing, and the plot is neatly worked out most of the time, although the characters have to do some crazy things sometimes to get it moving in the right direction. But the writing isn't strong enough to create any real tension or excitement, the twists are visible from five miles away and the ending was never in doubt. Even the big reveal about Billy's past was hardly a surprise. Ultimately, it wasn't for me, but those who don't mind the illogicalities and the obvious plotlines and the endless descriptions of banal meals and clothing might enjoy it. Two stars.