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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jade Dreams - Wakefield Mahon

I held a drawing earlier this month to randomly select a self published title to read and review. Jade Dreams by Wakefield Mahon was the winner of that drawing. By the time I'm done with this review, he may regret entering.

The truth is I strongly considered not writing a review, despite my promises to do so. There's so little meat to the book, that I struggled with how to critique it. That felt like a cop out.

Additionally, although not relevant to my "review", the notion that this novella is being sold for $5.99 (it was $2.99 when I bought it) on Kindle is offensive to me as a consumer. As far as I'm concerned Jade Dreams is a classic example of why self-published has become a pejorative in some circles.


This is my fifth installment of posts featuring Cheryl (and Fizbane). If you enjoy this one, I suggest finding the Cheryl tag on the right sidebar for the others.

While I absolutely did not enjoy this book on any level, I have every intention of running another 'contest' like this in the future. I want to find good self published work and publicize it. Stay tuned for that.


*type* *type* *type*

Justin: Cheryl, could you please stop all the typing? It's making me crazy.

Cheryl: Sorry Mr. Landon, but your review of Pillars of Hercules a few weeks ago really inspired me to start writing my novel!

Justin: Seriously?

Cheryl: I think it's magical.

Justin: I'm sure you do.

Cheryl: You know, it's not OK for you to talk down to me like a four year old?

Justin: *sputtering*

Cheryl: Just because you pay me doesn't mean you can be rude.

Justin: I'm sorry Cheryl. What's the title of your book?

Cheryl: It's called Throbbing Python. It's about...

Justin: I'm quite sure that's all I need to know. Have you talked to an agent yet?

Cheryl: Oh no, I'm going to self publish it.

Justin: ... You really shouldn't. I review these things for a living...

Cheryl: No, you don't.

Justin: Yes, I do.

Cheryl: You don't make a dime. Most people call that a hobby.

Justin: What I do is important!!

Cheryl: Whatever.

Justin: But seriously, Cheryl. I just finished a self published novel. It's bad... really bad. I don't want that for you.

Cheryl: *gasp* You just don't want me to embarrass you.

Justin: Oh come on *cough*. You don't seriously think I could be that shallow? I really do have your best interests at heart. Look here, I just finished Jade Dreams by Wakefield Mahon. He won that drawing I did a few weeks ago to review a self published novel.

Cheryl: Oh it can't be all that bad. I read the blurb. It sounded like a lovely story of siblings who are destined to battle an ancient evil using a mystical sword!

Justin: Something like that. God, you make it sound even worse than it is... I worry for Throbbing Pythons.

Cheryl: It's singular... there's only one.. erm.. python.

Justin: Right. Anyway, see the story starts with Karen and Timmy learning of their parent's deaths. They're victims of a car accident on Breakneck Road near Storm King Mountain (I scoffed too, but those are real places in New York!). As they grieve, the siblings grow closer, bonding over their love of all things Japanese (manga, video games, anime, martial arts). Every night Timmy asks his sister to tell him a story and oftentimes she tells him of her vivid dreams that feel more like memories. In these dreams Karen goes into the past, living moments from the lives of famous heroes like Mulan and Joan of Arc. She never thinks much of them until she meets a Kendo master who begins to lead her down the path to destiny.

Cheryl: Oh Kendo! Sword fighting! Hi-ya!

Justin: That's a little racially insensitive don't you think?

Cheryl: You're calling ME insensitive?

Justin: Point taken.

Cheryl: It really doesn't sound bad!

Justin: You're right. The idea isn't terrible. I enjoyed the tie in with the historical figures and for a middle-grade fantasy the notion of a young woman fulfilling her destiny as the savior of the world is something I can get behind. It's trite, but there's still a place for it. Of course, Mahon never really runs with the historical flashbacks. He fails to make them at all relevant to the plot, nor does he adequately build Karen's character (and don't get me started on Timmy, or the other ancillary characters) into anything resembling believable.

Cheryl: I swear, it's like you think you Vladimir Nabokov.

Justin: And it's like you're my mom. You need to learn to appreciate the value of criticism! If you're going to release Turgid Viper into the world, you best prepared for this and worse.

Cheryl: Turgid Viper? Now you're just belittling me.


Fizbane: I'm sorry to interrupt, Cheryl. But as a representative of Amazon Digital Services, I'd like to show you the wide range of services we offer. Here's a pamphlet.

Justin: Amazon Digital Services?! I thought you worked for Google!

Fizbane: I'm a consultant. I have several clients. Wizards have to make a living too, you know?

Cheryl: *paging through the pamphlet*

Justin: Huh, well look here you hack, Cheryl isn't going to be self publishing anything.

Cheryl: *closing pamphlet* You know, Fizbane, this doesn't seem like a very good deal you're offering. In fact, it looks like you can change my price willy nilly. I'm going to hear Mr. Landon out.

Justin: Here's the thing. Once you put something out there with Cheryl Hufflepuff on the byline, you can't take it back. You're telling consumers, this is what I have to offer. Look at Jade Dreams. The author uses the first person point of view, riding inside Karen's head for most of the novel. Karen thinks mostly in simple sentences, never engages in introspection, and reveals herself as wholly motivated to do life threatening things to cheer up her brother. She also rarely, if ever observes much about the world around her. Although occasionally she seems particularly observant about things. Look at this quote:
Across from them sat two men that I assumed were Jewish. One wore a little skull cap, the other one wore a black hat and wore a long beard and payot. They seemed to be having a heated debate about Jacob and Israel and the 32nd chapter of the first book of the Torah.
Interesting that a Chinese-American teenager would be so interested in two Jewish men having a theological debate. Even more curious is that she could identify what they're talking about, and further the chapter and book of the text to which they are referring. And how in God's name does she know what payot is, but not a yarmulke?

And then, toward the novel's conclusion Mahon decides to switch POVs and goes into the head of two other characters, one of which is little brother Timmy who has this encounter while being held prisoner:
She leaned forward, whispered into my ear, and told me not to tell until it was time.
The use of these kinds of devices is just lazy. Not to tell who? The reader? Did Mahon just break the fourth wall? Why would Timmy hide this little fact from himself? While these are only two quoteable examples, I think they illustrate a major deficiency in understanding how to use the first person point of view. That's something a professional editor, or any responsible crit group would have pointed out.

Cheryl: That doesn't mean he's not telling a good story!

Justin: I'm sorry to say the story telling isn't very good either. The early parts of the novel move pretty well, engaging the reader in the family's grief coming to terms with loss of their parents. Once the main narrative gets going things get very random and  murky. Everything is told, not shown. No character is given proper motivation. The prose is painfully pedestrian. Things happen with absolutely no underpinning. And seriously... this:
"The one you call Raven controls the key. In order to return, you must make your way to the Dark Castle." 
Cheryl: *gulp*

Justin: Maybe he explains all this away by calling it "middle-grade" fantasy. I've read plenty of novels for young people... they still have to be engaging and they still have to make sense.

Cheryl: So you're saying no one should self publish?

Justin: Not at all! I think self-publishing is a perfectly legitimate path to make a living as a writer. As a test ground for someone's self indulgent and amateurish attempts at writing? No. Please no. It insults the reader, but also belittles the product. For every self published work like Jade Dreams the overall image of self publishing declines, making it more and more likely that no one will take a chance on something. It  also forces down the price at which people will buy them. Before you know it, no one will buy a self published novel for more than $0.99. Who wins in that scenario? Hell, not even Fizbane the corporate blood sucker can turn that into a net gain.

Look, I'm not saying Mahon shouldn't write. I applaud him for writing the book, it's more than I've ever done. But, why... why... why would you show this to the world and charge them for it? Hone your craft!

Cheryl: I can't believe I'm saying this... you're making sense.

Fizbane: *flummoxed* Am I in an alternate universe? Did I take the wrong gate? Should I be going by Zifenab?

Justin: I'm going to migrate to Wordpress if you don't take a hike, Wizard.

Fizbane: Eek. *poof*

Cheryl: Thanks for talking to me about this Mr. Landon.

Justin: No problem Cheryl. Let me know if you need any more help with Engorged Cobra.

Cheryl: It's Throbbing Pyt... *sigh* Nevermind.

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At March 1, 2012 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Neth said... always, love the review format.

I try to bite my tongue, but it doesn't seem to impact my fingers - I told you so. There, it's out there. This is a great example of why I don't entertain self-published books on my blog. Maybe the 'industry' will work itself out over the next few years, but I'll be on the sidelines until it does.

At March 1, 2012 at 11:42 AM , Blogger RobB said...

Brilliant, just brilliant.

I read a PublishAmerica book years ago for SFFWorld. That was the last vanity press title I reviewed (though not the first).

At March 1, 2012 at 12:16 PM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

I've found I'm better not being the first to read them. Fantasy Book Critic is good about doing independents, so if they review something positively, I've been known to give it a try. Kinda lame, but better than nothing.

I like your system though. That sounds like a good way to go.

At March 1, 2012 at 6:57 PM , Anonymous Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) said...

I was telling Justin we should write Cheryl's "Throbbing Python" novella. We already came up with a few good (well, "good") story lines and characters. And then, as a next step, we shall self-publish it. I am so ready for this.

PS Another excellent review, Justin. I think Cheryl's almost ready for her own blog. (And a self-published novella!)

At March 1, 2012 at 10:17 PM , Anonymous Swásthya Yôga said...




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