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Poorly written and deeply unoriginal book
on May 27, 2013
I'm sure the author's heart is in the right place, but this is one of the worst-written books I've have ever encountered. The only reason I read it all the way through is that I wanted to give it a fair chance before reviewing it here.
So now I'm done and it's time to write the review. Where should I start?
First, I do not think an editor ever saw this before it was published. The book is full of grammatical errors and malapropisms. Commas are in the wrong places throughout, and plural possessives have the apostrophe before the s instead of after it (the "dwarves's" instead of "the dwarves'"). Some of the errors are funny, like "peal off" instead of "peel off," or my favorite, "anger that was almost palatable." Palatable??? You mean palpable??? That's a cliche, but at least it's the right word.
There are lots of cliches and examples of bad writing, like "huge giant" and "young infant." Worse than that, though, is the hackneyed plot and cast of characters, a cross between C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. So we have the witch from another world who caused the blight, the coarse grumpy dwarves and the tall elegant elves, and the two boys and two girls who have to save the world, and the enchanted forest and the river and the long lake... and the big man who turns into a bear ..and the villagers storming the dwarves' gates. Not to mention the sick mother, straight from "The Magician's Nephew."
The author does not have a knack for names. Some of the place names come straight from Tolkien. Characters' names are just unoriginal: the dwarves have baby names like Hob and Nob and the elves have preppy names like Marcus and Gabriel. The author couldn't think of better names for his wizard and villain than Merlin and Mordred. Among the humans, adults are introduced by last name, and then abruptly called by their first names. The author decided not to deal with language issues, so everyone speaks English, though for comic effect the elves and dwarves don't understand American colloquialisms. The author likes informal language, like saying "The front door to the dwarve's [sic] home was busted off the hinges ..."
The story is launched through two ambitious chapters relating incidents from the deep past that relate to things that will take place in the main action. Aside from these chapters, the back-story, which is ridiculously complex and concerns characters that we never see, is talked about rather than shown. In general, action descriptions are skimpy and compressed, while much of the story is explained in conversations that are more like briefings. On the other hand, description is lavished on visits to a livestock fair and a pizza place, which have nothing to do with the plot. I bet they are drawn straight from the author's experience, while the rest of the book is drawn from things he has read.
By the way, the enemy that the heroes are fighting during most of the story are a sort of reptilian/insect horde with no motivation except to kill everything, so the elves and dwarves and humans have to kill them all instead. Yawn. With arrows (elves) and axes (dwarves).
And to top it off, the book is pervasively sexist. The girls do nothing much but break into tears. The grandmother (and honestly, how old can she be?) complains continuously about how weak and tired she is. There are no female elves or dwarves. Why are there no female elves and dwarves? Because C.S.Lewis and Tolkien lived in a male-only world in Oxford, in England, almost a century ago. There is no excuse for a modern American author to perpetuate this nonsense.
I am sorry to see that Newman has written a sequel to "The Thirteenth Unicorn," but I hope he found an editor for the next volume, and maybe some fresh ideas as well. As I said, his heart is in the right place.