Tuesday, 17 February 2015

SP Book Review: The First

The First by Lisa M. Green
2 stars
Verdict: Wait for a heavily redrafted version.

A tale of myth, mystery...and a past long forgotten.

Something is out there.

And the people live in constant fear.

But their biggest threat lies within their own village. Everyone and everything is dying, slowly and without hope of salvation.

In a world where almost nothing is truth and isolation is the purest form of self-deception, the possibility of hope exists only in the heart and mind of a young woman who chooses to follow an unknown path in order to save everyone she knows and loves. Before long, she discovers that her most vital beliefs are based on a deception that will rock the foundation of her entire people. To save them, she must learn to open her heart and sacrifice…everything.

You may think you have heard this story before, but be warned.

You haven’t.

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment: 3  I had to read most of it twice, but it was a good read.

Writing Style: 1  Verbose, vague, and too many questions.

Plot: 2  Good but hard to follow. Then it got weird...

World & Concepts: 2  Mostly underdeveloped.

Characters: 2  Good main character with strong voice. The rest didn’t stand out to me.

Finish: 5  No typos. The cover looks amazing and well-suited to the novel.

Strengths: The pacing and the potential.

Weakness: The prose. Nearly everything about the prose.


I’ve spent a lot of time with this novel, which isn’t something I would do if it was beyond hope. More than anything, I tried to like it. In it's current state, it's just a mess.

Concepts are underdeveloped, the prose is poor, and only Rinni (main character) felt fleshed out. Events happened spontaneously, characters referred to things that hadn't been introduced, and other lines waffled on until I lost the point. At first I blamed myself, but the more I read – and reread – it started to become clear that this book need a good edit both developmentally and by line. Not proofing though. It's exceptionally well-proofed.

Here are three examples that struck me as particularly bad:

I had barely heard her words from further down the path as I had never stopped my forward motion, having quickly picked up a sprint again without missing more than a stride or two.

I can't remember how many times I've read that sentence, but I still struggle with it even now.

I indulge in a moment of aromatic ecstasy as my olfactory nerves register the intense sensory experience.

Jesus. She’s just smelling a pie. Plus, for a society that doesn't seem to know how to start a fire from scratch, how on earth do they know about olfactory nerves?

My voice is a throaty whisper in the darkness, the pregnant words hanging in the air, floating among the tendrils of mist and spray, defying gravity with their weight implications.

I can't believe the author thought this was okay. All I'll say is sometimes fewer words can say more. Similarly, more words can tie the scene into the very noose that hangs the book.

For every 10 sentences that were confusing, verbose, or irrelevant, I read a phrase that was excellent or made me smile. What this novel has is potential. I felt like the author should consider scraping away all the unnecessary text, replacing words which sound like they’ve been thesaurus-ed back to their simple forms, and tweaking the deictic wording with specifics. It would make a huge difference in my opinion.

Rinni is a great main character with personality. She is also an anxious person. It was an unusual trait that worked well because Rinni’s anxiety made me very nervous in turn. Even when I didn’t know what was happening, I fed off of her tension. Other times, Rinni’s voice was too flustered and melodramatic. The author needed to let the scenes speak for themselves. One time Rinni goes on and on about how she’s the bigger person and how their empathy will ‘go a long way’. It made it sound disingenuous.

I noticed that most of the characters sounded similar, including an extract from an old journal. Bhrandon intrigued me because he was around a lot, but he didn’t say much. Most of what I know about him is what Rinni told me to think.

I got a tired of being told what to think.

The prose is so stuffed with every question possible that I started to become confused about what I was supposed to be questioning. Why did we even go down there?/ Who ask you to follow us down there, dear?/ Who invited you anyways? And while we’re at it, how did you manage.... It goes on. I’ve only omitted a few lines from that section. My boyfriend peered over my shoulder once and commented on the sheer amount of question marks on the page. The question never stopped and sometimes a few sarcastic ones were thrown in which just made things more confusing.

When the narration was more concise, the pacing was actually quite good. Lot’s happened... Things were revealed... I can’t be more specific because I didn’t always fully understand.

Most chapters ended on a dramatic note that lacked the proper context. One ended with Rinni stating that she already knew the answer to something! That’s great for her, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I was supposed to know the answer too. I didn’t. And I didn’t pick it up for quite some time, either. It prompted rereading...

I couldn’t picture the village. I didn’t understand how it worked. Could they go outside the village boundaries? Did they go outside the village boundaries for any reasons, or was it completely bounded off? If so, by what? And how does it keep the Shadows out? That’s just my questions about the boundaries.

I didn’t understand what or who the Shadows were, either. Humans? Zombies? Ethereal? I just knew they were bad. I still don’t know why they couldn’t get into the villages and it took 95% to finally get a satisfactory description of them. At this point, it reminded me how pointless they were anyway.

Two clear facts about this novel are that the healing tree is dying and the fire is dying. I couldn’t work out why either mattered. Surely the fire can be restarted. Surely they could plant seeds or rely on the other trees and food sources. It’s not enough for our main character to call it ‘Our only hope of survival’. I needed to know why in order to care.

At 40% in, I finally learned that the fire powers some mills (there are mills?) and allows them to cook, but I still didn’t know how the fire began nor why these humans are incapable of restarting it. I also discovered that the healing tree is one of the only trees in the village. I don’t consider these spoilers or plot twists – I consider them necessary facts. If I had known about the tree in the first few chapters, I might have cared more that it was dying.

That was another main problem. Vital information was withheld past the point of caring.

I’m reluctant to mention the ending, because I’m still utterly perplexed by it. Was it a different novel? A lot of stuff suddenly came in to play, new conflicts arose, and old themes and questions were disregarded to make room for a rush of action that had little continuity to the rest of the book. It was entertaining, but as a reader I felt it made no sense. By that point, I expected aliens to wake up and think it was all just a dream... The ending can go under the rug for now though, because there’s a much more pressing issue.

That prose...

Prose should flow. It should provide the right amount of information at the right time. The story should feel logical, even if there are gaps in our understanding. The question should be ‘what will happen next’ rather than just ‘what the-?’ before flicking back and rereading. At the moment, this just doesn’t feel ready to be published.