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The Unhappy Medium: A Supernatural Comedy. Book 1 Kindle Edition
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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First, the humor. It's pretty clear T. J. Brown was going for a Douglas Adams/Monty Python/Terry Pratchett vibe. The problem is that it was forced when that kind of humor only works when it's natural and casual. There were a bunch of types of jokes or goofy ways of wording things that he would repeat multiple times, not in a comic repetition kind of way, but like these things were some of his limited repertoire of jokes that he had to get in whenever they might make sense. For example, characters would "fall x over arse." One character falls "kevlar over arse" another falls "tits over arse." It can only sound natural once, doing it multiple times is forcing it. There were times when he'd go off on a tangential story that was clearly supposed to be funny but it never justified the extra length in the book. I get that Douglas Adams did that sort of thing with great success, but T. J. Brown just isn't funny enough to pull it off. So much of the comedy was just overused tropes, which got old fast.
Second of all, all the characters are as flat as paper dolls. They're just stock characters. I can understand the use of stock characters in short forms of comedy (such as improv or sketch comedy), but in a novel it just gets boring. And to make it worse, his female characters are sexist stereotypes for the most part (that is, there's only one named exception and she has no personality, just serves a function in the plot). There's the "b*tchy" ex wife, sulky goth teenager, and two different "sl*tty" nuns. Newton (the main character) goes internet dating with six different sexist stereotypes at one point. Viv is a "cool girl," that is, straight guy wish fulfillment. There's a bunch of other miscellaneous sexism beyond that as well. Ms. Dryer is described as having a "warped libido" at a point in the book when all she was doing was making passes at a man while being older than him (the man is in his thirties, should be mature enough to straightforwardly reject her but if he did that it wouldn't be funny I guess). There are several times when male scientists are shown as being held back by their wives' expectation that they'll actually participate in the family, as if men don't benefit from marriage far more than women do. And besides, if these guys didn't want children maybe they could have talked about it before getting married and/or chosen to marry a woman who didn't want children.
Tangential to the stock characters, someone must have told the author his characters were flat because he gave some of them excessive backstories which didn't actually fix the problem and completely messed up the pacing. Like, it's obvious from the title that this book is about a medium, right? Well, Newton doesn't become a medium until 40% of the way into the book. We have to hear the whole process of how his grandfather was a scientist, his father was a scientist, he was a scientist, he gets married, he spends a bunch of time on tv being an outspoken atheist and debunking the supernatural, he has his downfall in the science community, he has a messy divorce, he gets another job that he doesn't like as much, he goes internet dating, he starts dating Viv. Finally at 40% of the way into the book there are ghosts and he becomes a medium. And then his process of adjusting to this new job goes by in just a couple paragraphs. It would have been a lot better if Newton's arc had started with his becoming a medium, the backstory could have been dropped in as it was relevant, and there could have been more time spent on his process of reconciling his skepticism with his new life as a medium.
Backstories aren't the only pacing problem. The main villain isn't really introduced until about two thirds of the way into the book (he appears earlier, but only briefly). Towards the beginning of the book there's an organization introduced that seems like it's going to be important to the main conflict of the story but it never shows up again. Newton is very obviously the main character by the end of the book but for the first quarter or so it is not at all obvious who's supposed to be the main character or what the plot is. The ending action sequence goes on forever to the point where it's very boring. Action sequences aren't supposed to be boring!
Actually, being boring isn't the only problem with the action sequences. They also have this problem where it's really hard to tell how various events work spatially. For example there's a part where this one character tries to shoot at Newton but accidentally shoots at a different character instead. I could not figure out how the characters were situated so that that could happen. In the same scene there are several "evil" characters in a car (or is it a truck?) and two of them seem to incompetently shoot at Newton from the front seat. Who's driving? I don't know. How are they not shooting each other or the windshield? Again, I don't know. The scene can't be visualized which makes it boring.
And maybe this is a minor point or just a dialectical difference between my American English (pacific northwest more specifically) and the author's British, but there seemed to be a bunch of times when he'd overuse distracting words. Like, he referred to Newton's hair as his "quiff" several times. I'm all for using unusual words for humor, but when you use the same unusual word multiple times unnecessarily it's just distracting. He also uses the word "careering" about five times all in places when I would use the word "careening." The first time I thought it was a typo, the second time I actually looked it up and determined that he was actually using a correct term, the third (or was it fourth) time he in fact used it wrong and the word needed to be "careening." Granted I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't looked it up.
There are more things I could complain about, but this is probably enough. I considered just not finishing the book, but I don't feel qualified to review things when I haven't finished them and I wanted to post my first ever one star review. Never reviewing books you hate probably throws off the accuracy of the average ratings, right? Anyway, I'm rambling. I definitely do not recommend this book.
After saying all the above, I really enjoyed this story—mostly. The only part that gave me pause was the beginning of the book. There was very little dialogue in the beginning—so much so that I almost quit reading the book. You are giving a lot of back history of what went on before the real story begins. Giving a back history would have been fine but I think it could have been a little more condensed and not dragged on for so long. I was starting to get bored & started loosing interest. But once all of this was gotten out of the way, then the book really took off & started to get interesting.
The title is the Unhappy Medium but it was not about mediums per say. I think the title was referring that Dr. Barlow was the "in-between"—he was in between the good guys and the bad guys—he was in the middle—the medium. This was an unusual paranormal story for me because the storyline was different than any paranormal story I have ever read. I really enjoyed the story once it got going. And I loved the good characters in the story because for one, they were so unusual themselves—not what you would expect in a bunch of heroes.
I also loved the ending. It was very satisfying & ended just as I had hoped it would. Even though this is a stand alone story, I would gladly buy more books about these characters if the author decides to write more adventures by these same characters—and as long as each book was a stand alone story. I hate cliff hangers and I hate feeling like I am being forced to buy more books to finish a story but I will buy more of the books if I am not being forced to buy them.
If you love stories about ghosts and of other paranormal subject matter—plus, stories about good vs. evil, you will love reading this book as much as I did.
I never review books, especially when I couldn't finish them, but I should at least insert a caveat that the description didn't even hint at.
There is graphic stomach turning description of a corporeal 'spirit', which includes worms and earwigs crawling out of it's body and tattered clothing.
I'm so sorry for the 1 star, but I'm also sorry I read as much as I did. I can never 'unimagine' that.
I am a voracious reader, going through a couple books a week and I am a generous reviewer.
But I couldn't even get half way thought this one. Could not find a plot, a central character, could not find a thread.
Books are our friends and I would never even dog-ear one. But this one would hit the bond-fire without a twinge.