C.J. Merle,
Of Honor & Treason
(Speculation Press, 2000)

In a certain fantasy land, there are trees that grow books. If the books are allowed to ripen, they are fine, lovely works of literature, satisfying and challenging. If they are picked too early or too late, they are dreck, full of beginner's errors and hackneyed plots and inaccurate facts. C.J. Merle has picked Of Honor and Treason much too early or far, far too late. Trying to read it is like trying to choke down a green orange or a black tomato.

The problems in this story read like a checklist of writing don'ts. Names with apostrophes for no good reason? Check. Swarms of adverbs? Check. The descriptions are hideous and repetitious; in the space of a few paragraphs, we are told three times that a character's eyes are catlike and amber, with the same phrase every time. This is not in a poem, or dialogue, but actual narration. This over-fascination with characters' appearances burdens the book. Merle describes them as though he's creating a police sketch, lingering over every physical detail without bothering with such trifling details as personality. Personality is instead revealed through the characters' impromptu musings on one another. The plot -- the overthrow of a bad dictator -- is a standard one used to good effect by storytellers through history, but here feels exactly that -- standard. The aliens, who could be a fascinating race, have the life and interest sucked right out of them by their own forced dialogue and the author's apparent delight in their alienness.

And yet ... for all that the work isn't entirely without promise. Of Honor and Treason is the sort of book that would be absolutely brilliant if a 13-year-old had written it. The basic plot and ideas, after all, are solid; it's just that the writing itself is as clumsy as the computer-twisted cover illustration. Let Merle ripen a few more years, and I'd be happy to give his work another try. But this current work is only useful as a guideline of how not to write fiction.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 22 October 2002

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