Book Review: ‘Where Evil Abides’ by C. W. Thomas

Happy Halloween!  How about another book review?

 

Be warned:  Spoilers ahead!

 

Book Title:  Where Evil Abides

Author:  C.W. Thomas (www.cwthomas-fantasy.blogspot.com)

Word Count:  Not certain, but page count is 611

Date Published:  March 18th 2016

Sequels/Series: Yes

Cost:  $2.99 for Kindle, $19.95 for print

Plot:  The plot of the book picks up where the last one left off, leaving most of the characters in precarious situations and at the mercy of miracles.  At this point the main plot (‘evil villain-king wants to rule the world and kill the offspring of his previous rival’) is already pretty thick, which could explain why it seemed to be pushed aside for more subplots and some underplots.

Many of the characters face their own demons in this book rather than try and overcome the main villain, but their efforts still point towards that one goal in the end.  Even at times when the characters want to forget their roots, they ultimately don’t, which keeps a bit of tension steady.  The old adages of doing ‘what’s right instead of what’s easy’ and ‘staying true to yourself’ become the themes of the novel, which suits the characters’ hardships.

The main underplot (two other villains working to overthrow the main villain via a ‘dark god’ resurrection) gets resolved, at least to a point.  Other than this, the bulk of the story focuses on subplots to engage in character growth rather than plot movement.  Besides a few passive discoveries, nothing much happens plot-wise in this book.  While it shifts back to the main plot by the end, it unfortunately didn’t do much the maintain the momentum the first book had.  There are a few situations that overlapped from the first book to the second and still are unanswered (such as the regenstern, what it is and why it reacts in certain ways), but these instances are few and far between, taking a much smaller role in this book than the previous one.

Characters:  The main characters are the same as they were in the previous story, and introduces several other characters, usually in the form of ‘dumb guard’ and ‘love interest’.  Several years pass throughout the story, and the children are now teenagers and adults.  Their harsh lives promoted growth in several significant ways throughout the novel – maturity, wisdom, tolerance, etc.

However, while the characters may have ‘grown’ in the book, they didn’t really evolve.  The characters pretty much resumed the same traits as in the previous novel.  There did not seem to be a lot of motivation to keep the characters going, particularly in the first half, were all they really do is train, work, spy, and read.  Basically, they fall into a daily routine instead of push the plot forward.

It wasn’t until Scarlett’s death three-quarters into the book where I actually felt emotion for the characters.  Even if her chapters were a bit boring, I was shocked at her death.  While she wasn’t my favorite character, she was the one who discovered so much about the underplot in the first half, that now what she found out cannot be shared.  It’s an interesting twist at the stakes at hand, and reminds the reader that not only do the characters die, but what they know dies with them.

I came to appreciate some characters that I didn’t like in the first book – particularly Broderick.  He transformed from a bratty teenager to a protective (sometimes over-protective) sibling who finds his strength during their training in using magic.  In finding his connection with being a natural magic manipulator, he finds himself and really stands apart from the other characters in terms of tenacity and passion.  He still holds on to a bit of immaturity as well (acting before thinking), so to see him struggle with this empowers his character throughout the book and turns him into quite the hero at the end.  He was also the only one who witnessed Scarlett’s death, putting him in the forefront of an emotional breakdown and then, wisely written, a build-up.

However, I also lost interest in one of my favorite characters – Brayden.  Brayden impressed me in the first novel as someone who always took the higher road, who stepped up as both a leader and older brother in terms of responsibility.  In this story, he slipped into ‘generic leader’ mode, and more interested in being in love and happy than guiding this friends and family to reclaim what they lost.  I couldn’t exactly blame him for his choices, but I did lose respect for him.  He did die at the end, but I wasn’t as moved in his death as I was Scarlett’s because he had degraded into a rather bland character.  The thing that bothered me most was that he degraded gradually throughout the novel rather than a sudden event or outburst shake him from his responsibilities – as though the author lost interest in his character, which could explain his death.

As for the other characters, they relatively remained the same.  Lia got put in her place for a while, but retained her roots of being spoiled and stubborn.  Dana pushed herself to become a better warrior and character, but never did anything that garnered much growth, and in fact lost a bit of respect when she tried to think positively of Clint, her cousin who tried to rape her.  I admired Brynlee’s ingenuity and bravery, much like I did with her in the first book, even more so considering her occupation as a prostitute.  Merek seems to have taken a step back in this novel, spending most of the story in prison plotting to get out.

As for the supporting characters, with a couple exceptions, they almost seemed to be pushed aside so much that they could have been removed and it wouldn’t have made any difference in the story.  They were characters, but not really ‘supporting’ characters – they rarely helped a main character overcome an obstacle, discover something about themselves, rekindle an emotion, etc.  They seemed more convenient for love interests (and sex…lots of sex) than anything.  There were a lot of names scattered throughout the novel, most of which were forgotten or dead by the end.

Setting/World Building:  Perhaps the biggest world-building aspect of this story was the integration of magic.  It is also perhaps the worst part of the book.

The magic in of itself is pretty basic, centering on the elements and having magical weapons and metal runes that inflict the outcome.  But when nearly half the book explains the intricacies of this system, it gets real old, real fast.  Weighing down the plot at the expense of explanations, rules, and pages of prose and conversation is not worth it.  I would like to say that the magic itself is pretty fun and sets the stage for a lot of action, but you don’t really see the characters use the magic to its full potential until over halfway into the story.

It’s the same with Scarlett’s research about the dark gods, in which she reads them out of a book or talks to an old tearman about them.  Aside from a few exceptions, this is how a lot of discoveries are communicated in the story.

The setting itself is pretty much the same as the previous book, and still appropriate and consistent throughout.  Nothing really stands apart as being out of place, although there were a few places (like the Seamasium Wall which is used in one scene ) that were named but really served no purpose.

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  And here, ultimately is where a lot of the flaws fall in the book.

The grammar and misspellings are, well, everywhere.  While I normally forgive a few, in this book they were so numerous it was distracting – after the first few chapters I actually began looking for them to see how many I could spot in the rest of the book rather than pay attention to the scene.

As for flow, it went like this:  First part, slow and meticulous.  Second part, suspenseful and engaging.

The first half was a chore to read, as most of the characters aren’t facing any direct threats.  Instead, their antagonists seem to always be concerned with more pertinent situations that play into the overall plot.  In short, there seems to be some disengagement with the characters and the plot, which in turn slows down the story.

The second half picks up the pace, and reminds me more of what I liked about reading the first book.  To me it started with Merek’s jailbreak, as we finally got to see a bit of action instead of world-building.  It picked up even further with Scarlett’s death, even if she was in a lot of ways the ‘weakest link’ of the main characters.

As for syntax, there was a bit of unusual slang used at points throughout the book – more reminiscence of modern-day society than medieval times (‘v-neck’, ‘locking lips’, ‘beating his meat’, ‘zilch’, etc).  As I mentioned earlier, there was also a lot of excessive name-dropping in terms of both characters and places.  There are also a few redundant passages and unnecessary ‘filler sentences’, such as when Dana is surviving in a collapsed building:

He insisted that his children learn about the earth and how to mine it for sustenance, shelter, supplies, and even weapons.  (This is fine, but drags on…)   From him Dana had learned how to light a fire with fling, make rope from tree bark, form healing pastes with aloe and moss, and hit the center of a target with an arrow from distances that would make the best archers envious.  (This second sentence is just redundant.)

Or when Brynlee readies some horses:

…two lightly tacked horses for Merek and herself. (Fine as is.)  No supplies, just saddles and bridles.  (Redundant.)

Or treating an arrow wound:

Thanks to her father, Dana knew that pulling an arrow out of flesh could often cause more damage than good.  – It’s important to remember that your audience isn’t stupid, and this is rather common knowledge (at least I hope it is to anyone who knows basic first aid), making it more a filler sentence.

As well as passages that didn’t make any sense, which was a bit of a hiccup in the first novel as well.  For example:

Dozens of animals, locked in their stalls, had been burned alive.  – Why burn animals alive when they can be stolen and used for food in a period of time where food security isn’t an everyday given?

Wind extinguishes fire. – No, no it doesn’t.

I also noticed a lot more telling than showing in this novel, more than the previous.  For example:

He had recently lost an eye. – This could ‘easily’ be shown, not told.

“And your ears are blinded by love.” – How can an ear be blind?  Wouldn’t ‘deaf’ be more appropriate?

Later, one of the chapters literally opens with:

Scarlett sensed that something was wrong. – Now I have my own opinions about ‘showing not telling’, but opening a chapter like this is a bit weak, considering that I know the author is better than this.

There were also some odd coincidences, such as Scarlett always being able to find the book she needs at the right time (and in forbidden places of course).  And a lot of ‘cat’ comparisons too; a couple times a character was named before formally introduced; a lot of time passed through the novel, and at some instances the author glossed over this while other times spent some time explaining what occurred during the months that passed…

In short, there were a lot of syntax and flow issues, more than the examples given.  While more noticeable in the first half, I still felt that the story could have used a couple additional edits.

Overall/Recommendation:  I can’t say I enjoyed this book as much as the first one.  While it picked up at the end, the ending itself was a bit underwhelming and there’s no clear direction as to where the plot will go next.  The shear misspellings and syntax errors made for a bit of a distracting read as well.

At the end of the book, the author makes a note of saying that this is only the ‘beginning’ of a much longer series.  I’m not sure how much I’ll invest in the books, but I’ll probably at least read the third one when it comes out, and any further will depend on how much I enjoy it.

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