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The Pillars of Hercules - David Constantine

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Pillars of Hercules - David Constantine

Around these parts I commit myself to finishing everything I start. Why, you ask? Because I think it's important for me to help my reader make decisions about what they should buy and what they should avoid. If I only read things that I enjoy, how will I ever fulfill the second half of that commitment? I'm also loathe to spend 800 words eviscerating someone's baby. Thus, Cheryl was born. Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistent who helps me "review" novels I really did not like. Instead of just doggedly attacking a novel's failures, I try to have some fun with it and get some laughs. Hopefully it's taken the way I intend it.

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

Oh and there's a new reoccurring character joining the blog today...


Here's the blurb:
Alexander, Prince of Macedon, is the terror of the world. Persia, Egypt, Athens . . . one after another, mighty nations are falling before the fearsome conqueror. Some say Alexander is actually the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and the living incarnation of Hercules himself. Worse yet, some say Alexander believes this . . . . 
The ambitious prince is aided in his conquest by unstoppable war-machines based on the forbidden knowledge of his former tutor, the legendary scientist-mage known as Aristotle. Greek fire, mechanical golems, and gigantic siege-engines lay waste to Alexander''s enemies as his armies march relentlessly west--toward the very edge of the world. Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, past the gateway to the outer ocean, lies the rumored remnants of Atlantis: ancient artifacts of such tremendous power that they may be all that stands between Alexander and conquest of the entire world. Alexander desires that power for himself, but an unlikely band of fugitives-including a Gaulish barbarian, a cynical Greek archer, a cunning Persian princess, and a sorcerer''s daughter-must find it first . . . before Alexander unleashes godlike forces that will shatter civilization. 
The Pillars of Hercules is an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world as it might have been, where science and magic are one and the same


Justin: *buzz* Cheryl! Get me The List.

Cheryl: Yes sir. I'll bring it right in.

Justin: *impatient foot tapping*

Cheryl: Here you go, sir.

Justin: *sigh* What the hell?

Cheryl: I'm sure I don't know what you mean.

Justin: I've been trying to come up with an original idea for a novel for the past decade. Every time I think I've hit on just the right niche someone comes along and beats me to it.

Cheryl: Humm...

Justin: What?

Cheryl: Oh nothing.

Justin: Cheryl...

Cheryl: Well, maybe it's because you spend more time talking about writing a novel than you do writing one.

Justin: What did you just say, Cheryl?!

Cheryl: I said you're lazy.

Justin: That's what I... wait, what?! I should fire you!


Mysterious Wizard: Calm yourself, Justin.  It isn't Cheryl whom you should be mad at...

Justin: Who the hell are you?

Mysterious Wizard: I'm Fizbane, the Wizard who inhabits your blog.

Justin: *boggled*

Fizbane: Perhaps, who you're truly mad at is David Constantine, author of The Pillars of Hercules.

Justin: Um, I'm pretty sure I'm pissed at Cheryl. She's supposed to do what I say, it's in her contract which I have here, written in her blood and notarized by Cthulu.

Fizbane: As the Google representative in charge of this blog, I regret to inform you that Cthulu is not a licensed notary.

Cheryl: Face.

Justin: Shut it, Cheryl! You're telling me you work for Google?

Fizbane: I am your blog wizard. We come standard with every blog. For the most part we lurk in the background, but given your wholesale attack on fair Cheryl today, I felt it was time to assert myself.

Justin: Oh my God, this is why Google opposed SOPA. I mean you're clearly a rip-off of Fizban.

Not a notary... apparently.
Fizbane: *wizardly chortle* Come now, I clearly bear no resemblance to that fictional charlatan of the floppy hat and grandfatherly humor. Any similarities are purely coincidental, I assure you.

Justin: Uh-huh.

Fizbane: Now, back to the topic at hand. Pillars of Hercules. It sure sounds like a great idea. Advanced technology set during Alexander's conquest of Europe and Asia.

Justin: Damn good idea, you're right. Although, I have to admit, it didn't really come together. Constantine asks, "What if Alexander didn't die in Persia and instead, went west?" But he does nothing beyond that to explain this vastly advanced technology. Submarines, steam engines, explosives, etc. As though by Alexander's mere survival all the technology that Plato and Aristotle theorized became a reality. It's a stretch and never made much sense.

Fizbane: So you're a bully and a nitpicker. *stern stare*

Justin: Jesus, Fizbane. What are you my dad?

Fizbane: And a blasphemer.

Justin: Really?

Fizbane: I call 'em like I see 'em.

Justin: Anyway, it's not just that. I mean the whole book has a boatload of modern affectations. All the language is super modern with high-fives and current day idioms. There's also no concept of Greek/Roman/Carthaginian cultural mores. All the PoV characters are progressive thinkers. One of the major plot points is that Alexander believes he's the son of Zeus. No one really believes him though. I mean, even those who think he might be telling the truth don't seem to find any particular sense of reverence associated with it. It's almost like every character is in on the joke that the gods aren't real.

Fizbane: *aghast* The gods aren't real? Who does Constantine think he is?

Justin: Now who's the grouchy one?

Fizbane: The opinions expressed by your blog wizard do not reflect those of Google corporate.

Justin: Right. Well, despite these problems, it might have worked if the book was put together right. Unfortunately, it really wasn't. From a craft perspective, the book is just one long frustration.

Fizbane: *back under control* How so?

Justin: Constantine has about eight different PoVs that he uses. Only one of them has a distinct voice, making it difficult to become immersed in the characters. He switches PoVs every 3-5 pages on average and sometimes as often as every page.

Fizbane: That seems overly frequent, like the number of times you badger poor Cheryl.

Justin: Ok ok, I get it. I'll be nicer to Cheryl. I'll treat her like Flint treats Tasslehoff in Dragon's of Autumn Twilight.

Fizbane: Don't you dare!

Justin: Ah ha! I knew it! I caught you Fizban the Wanna-be.

Fizbane: Any similarities between your blog wizard and fictional characters protected by copyright law is purely coin...

Justin: Coincidental, whatever. Back to Pillars of Hercules. By the novels conclusion I realized Constantine was switching PoVs primarily to hide things from the reader he wasn't ready to reveal and to build tension. It felt cheap. All of this shifting around totally sucked the pace right out of an absolutely action packed novel. I was so busy keeping track of whose head I was inside that I lost all track of the action and plot moving around it.

Fizbane: I'm beginning to see your point despite my Google programming that requires me to be as unassuming as possible as to not upset any government entities that may consider invoking anti-trust laws.

Justin: That seems to be an unnecessary level of personal detail for you to share, Fizbane.

Fizbane: *pats Justin on the head* I like you. Call me Fizzy.

Justin: It's not just craft, inexplicable world building, and odd language choices, but the plot really isn't very interesting. It just crawls along without sense of context. The characters all feel like little miniatures in a massive game of Risk. Constantine just pushes them around the board from one conflict to another with no sense of ramification.

Fizbane: It seems that perhaps your anger in Constantine is misplaced. His execution was poor, the idea is still worth exploring.

Justin: You make a good point... Fizzy. I could start my version of the novel tomorrow. Yes.

Cheryl: Oh give me a break. I can't listen to this any longer. You'll actually take the time to sit down and write a novel around the same time I get up out of this digital space and smack you on the back of the head. Constantine is twice the writer you can ever hope to be!

Justin: Do you see what I have to deal with here Fizzy?!

But the wizard was already gone, a white... turkey... feather all that remained of his benevolent presence.

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At February 21, 2012 at 6:36 AM , Blogger RobB said...

I really REALLY REALLY like Fizbane.

At February 21, 2012 at 7:46 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

The scary thing is that I think I recognize a lot of the books in that "The Next Great Fantasy Novel"

At February 21, 2012 at 8:34 AM , Blogger Neth said...

I've said it before and I'm saying it again - I love these reviews.

At February 21, 2012 at 8:38 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Justin, this is hysterical and a perfect way to review a book that you didn't care for.

It's fun and you don't need to take a personal shot at the author.


At February 21, 2012 at 9:46 AM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

I'd still kinda like to read this novel. A little less than before, but still...
And Fizzy is an excellent addition to the site.
These 'reviews' continue to be a great idea and, interesting, I imagine far more productive than, say, a negative SpecHorizons review.

At February 21, 2012 at 10:00 AM , Blogger MAC! said...

Another great example of why this blog has become my new favorite. Entertaining and informative, you did a great job of handling a poor review. Fantastic job of pointing out the flaws without becoming too critical or personal. Thanks and keep up the good work.

(I hope you suffer through more books you don't care for. Sorry, but makes for some great posts!)

At February 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM , Blogger Shellie said...

Hee-hee-hee. I'm with Mac! I'd love to see you hate another book. Gotta see if there's a romance brewing between Fizzy and Cheryl:D

At February 21, 2012 at 6:10 PM , Blogger Elfy said...

Very funny review, Justin. You gave us information on why you didn't like the book and had some fun with it at the same time. I'd love to do something similar at my blog some time. Fixban was always one of the funniest things about the Dragonlance series, too.

At February 23, 2012 at 6:56 AM , Anonymous redhead said...

best review ever! ever thought about starting a review/web comic, featuring Cheryl & Fizzy?


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