Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Curse of the Spider King -- Review

Ok, I know it's been quite a long time since I last posted a book review, so I figured I'd better get crackin' again. :D

An Overview (in my own words :D):

800 years ago in the land of Allyra, the Spider King first attacked the walls of Berinfell, the capital city of the elves.  In a massive battle between the Spider King's forces of Gwars, Drefids, Whisps, and War Spiders, Berinfell was destroyed, the Seven Elven Lords were killed, and the Elven population dwindled.  The only hope for the elves of Allyra lay in the hands of seven elven children, the sons and daughters of the seven lords and heirs to their parents positions.  But the seven young lords were taken by the enemy into the hold of the Spider King.

However, fearing the three generation long curse that would befall any who tried to kill the elven babes before the age of reckoning, the Spider King's minions sheared off the tips of the babies' ears to round them and carried them through time and space to a place called "earth", there left to die.  However, the babies were found by the human race and adopted into families, never guessing their noble and foreign heritage.

Now, however, the age of reckoning has come, and at the age of 13, the seven lords are coming into Elven powers.  And that's not all... though 800 years have passed in Allyra while only 13 years have passed on earth, the Spider King's forces are once more searching for the seven elven lords in order to finish what they were afraid to do before.  The only hope for the lords and for the elven people is for the 7 middle graders to travel back to Allyra, their rightful birthplace, and be trained there in their powers to take up the thrones of their parents as the Protectors of Berinfell.  It's either that, or risk the lives of the ones they love on earth.

Pros: (caution: there may be spoilers ahead.)
I read this book quite a while ago but I never got around to typing up the review, so before I wrote this post, I decided to flip through the book a bit and try to remember all of the notes I had on it. :D  First and foremost, I really enjoyed the story as a whole.  As an adult/young adult reader, I found the book gripping.  There was a lot of risk involved, a lot of high-fear elements, and quite a few intriguing elvish powers! ;)  All of which are (of course) good elements to look for in a middlegrade/YA fantasy.  As a reader, I felt like the elvish population and the history of the elves was well thought out and fairly consistent.  Also, the 7 main characters were easy to relate with and, much more importantly, they were likable.  In contrast, the villains were (for the most part) dastardly and frightening.  

Especially the Whisps.  *shivers* I mean, I would hate to find out that my parents were killed while the people who looked like my parents are actually evil shape-shifters intent on killing me.  And the war-spiders... *shivers again*  I will never look at a spider the same way again.

Then you have the plot.  The plot, when coupled with good characters, is what really turns a good story into a great one. 

As I already mentioned, I found the characters to be intriguing and likable (for the most part).  They were also equipped with their own sets of strengths and insecurities, making them seem well rounded and more complex that what a person might behold on the outside.  For instance, Kat’s amazing mind reading abilities are coupled with her insecurities about how she looks to other people.  Another example would be Johnny and Autumn; Johnny has the gift of flame-throwing and Autumn can run like the wind – literally – but having been adopted brother and sister on earth made their bond to each other much stronger than it might have been otherwise.  And like all brothers and sisters, they tend to argue and quarrel.  However, they also have a deep connection and protective instinct that sometimes drives them to do crazy things in order to make sure the other one is alright.  The balance between the characters’ strengths and weaknesses make the characters seem believable and helps readers to relate to them.  .

Then you add the plot.  And tell me, which YA fantasy/sci-fi reader WOULDN’T enjoy reading a book about elvish aliens living in today’s modern world?  The drive behind the characters is definitely intense.  The Spider King’s forces have come to earth and they are absolutely intent on killing the seven young lords of Berinfell.  But the Spider King’s minions are not the only ones searching for the lords.  The Elves of Berinfell have also discovered that the seven lords are not dead, and they too have traveled through time and space in order to search for the missing heirs.  However, the Spider King’s forces are much closer to finding the heirs than the elves expected, and they are willing to tear apart the entire earth in order to find the lords and kill them.  The only way to save the elves of Berinfell, the world of Allyra, and the earth rests on the shoulders of 7 thirteen-year-old kids!  And if you are a bit older than thirteen, you can probably look back to the time when you were the same age and recall some pretty stupid decisions that you made.  I know I can.  So, because of the age of the lords and all of the stakes, I found myself constantly wondering if the lords would make the right decisions and how the events would play out from there.  Most assuredly gripping. J

Then, on top of all of these aforementioned pros that the book has in favor for it, the morals about friendship and family are clear, while there are also some subtle references to Ellos (God) and His plan woven throughout the story.

So all in all, the action was good, the flow was good, the characters were likable and well rounded, the villains were nasty, there was good history development and good race development, there was a strong plot, and clear morals. :D

Like I mentioned before, there are 7 main characters and the story follows all of them… at the same time.  I personally didn't have that much trouble keeping track of who was who, and who could do what throughout the story.  However, I know that having so many MCs can make it difficult for some people to understand what is going on during the entire book, mainly because they can't keep the characters straight in their heads.  

On that same note we’ll look at the style of the story.  The entire book is written in third person omniscient view which, though it is a valid writing style and often noted in some of the older fantasy stories (such as LOTR and NARNIA), has been greatly discouraged in the modern writing world because of the tendency the style has to “head hop”.  Head hopping happens when a writer writes their story and keeps switching around their POV character.  One moment the reader might be reading the story from one character’s point of view, and the next minute they would be reading it from a completely different character’s point of view.

A good example of head hopping would be this small section, taken from page 54 when Johnny and Autumn take a copy of an elvish book to show their earth mother (at this point in time, they don’t know they are elves yet…):

“It’s not there.”  (Autumn’s) mind was racing, trying in vain to sort it all out.  Johnny, too, was perplexed, thinking as fast as he could.

In that one section, we suddenly slipped from how Autumn was thinking in her own POV, to how Johnny was thinking in his.   Now, not all of the sentences are like this and sometimes the head hopping is not as easy to spot, but it’s still all there.  If you are a writer and know what to look for, you can’t miss it.  And if you are a reader and find yourself wondering how you suddenly went from one character’s thoughts to another’s, head hopping is most likely the culprit.  

I also felt like the names of the lords were pretty generic.  Tommy, Kat, Jimmy, Johny... while these are perfectly good earth names, they just don't stand out from the page.  (Well, maybe Kat stands out a little more than the other three listed...)  We don't learn the lords' Elvish names until later, so throughout most of the first book the Mc’s are referred to by their earth names and I, for one, kept getting Jimmy and Johny mixed up.  Besides that, however, names like "Tommy" and "Jimmy" and "Johny" make me think of Andy Griffith and the town of Mayberry.  Not that that’s a bad thing: far from it!  (I love Andy Griffith! <3)  BUT, you don't hear very many “generic” names like that in the modern world... many parents I know seem almost competitive about whether or not their children's names will stand out from the crowd.  (Just my own little opinion there... ;) )

Also, we don’t learn very much about the Spider King in this book.  We just know that he’s really evil, really twisted, and wants to wipe the elves of Berinfell from existence so that he can take over Allyra.  However, we never actually see the Spider King, we never hear him speak,  and we never get anywhere close to him while reading this story.  We simply watch his minions follow out orders previously given to them while the Spider King himself remains utterly invisible.  While such obscurity has worked for fantasy villains in the past (LOTR, for example, or EREGON), I couldn’t help but feel that if the book is named after the villain, then the book should better inform the reader OF the villain.  And what exactly IS the Curse of the Spider King?  Is it the curse befalling any who kill the children before the age of reckoning, or perhaps it is the children themselves?  We never really find out.  In my opinion, the title of the book should definitely adhere to the main subject of the story, and the reader should be able to recognize the connection (which I wasn’t able to. <_<).

The last thing I noticed were a few typos here and there scattered throughout the book, but honestly the only reason I noted them was because of how I had started to crack down on editing SOTD.  I know that almost every book has at least one or two typos in them, so they weren't really anything to detract from the story.

So, in order to sum that up, there were too many main characters all at once, there was “head hopping” in third person omniscient, there were generic MC names that didn't really "pop" for me, there was an inconsistent title (in my opinion), and there were a couple of typos.

All in all, I did find "Curse of the Spider King" to be an enticing and engaging read.   And, as you can see, the pros far outweigh the cons.  I finished the book and was excited to start the second one, but unfortunately I had to wait for the second book to arrive and then life got in the way, effectively stopping my pleasure reading for several months.  However, I did start reading again after school was over and just finished "Venom and Song" last Saturday evening, so expect a review on that within the next week.   

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars for being an engaging, edge-of-your-seat story with well thought out plots and characters.  Even though, as a writer, I did notice “errors” (so called <_<) in the writing itself, the story was gripping enough to make me turn off my inner editor and just enjoy the read.   Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper are good authors who know their technique and know their target audience.  This book is well worth it. :D


Jake said...

I love this book. :) I love the second book even more.

And I can't wait for the third.

Galadriel said...

I reviewed that one a long time least, it felt like that.