Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: "How to Save the World Trilogy"

This is my first book review that I'll post on the blog. In one sense, it was special to read a published novel by a peer whom I met on-line. I met Nikk Fensterman in 2006 on the Binding of the Blade forum, and though we were not close, we often worked on the same role-playing stories. Because of his aspirations to write a novel, Nikk ceased posting on the forum as frequently and thus I only heard from him when he updated everyone else on his novel. It was exciting to hear that his manuscript was accepted by Tate Publishing and then published earlier this year, even though I have heard that Tate was very dishonest in handling the publishing and charged a fortune for it to happen. That aside, I decided to check out Nikk's book and see how it was. I wish I could be kinder in my review, but I'm afraid it's not possible. Frankly, I was surprised that the story was even accepted for publication. I guess it just goes to show how watered down the quality of books has become, with authors out there like Christopher Paolini and Stephanie Meyer whose books are poorly written yet devoured by thousands of raving fans. But I digress. On to the book review of Nikk's "How to Save the World Trilogy: Twins."

The book is a cross-world fantasy novel, much like CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." Twin brother and sister Timothy and Taryn Davis are living in a broken home situation and mysteriously have discovered swords and bows/ arrows, which they practice with frequently. One day, they run through the door of their house and then find themselves in the ocean. After climbing out and discovering they are wearing different clothes, they meet the wise old mentor Wyrl (much like Tolkien's Gandalf, Paolini's Brom, or LB Graham's Valzaan) who informs the twins that they are powerful individuals who will bring peace to Kumeria and defeat Argor (Tolkien's Sauron or Graham's Malek, basically Satan) forever. Over time, the twins learn to use the powers El Olam (God) has given them, defeat several enemies, travel long distances, and even find romance.

While the book sounds like the usual epic quest so commonly seen in fantasy, that is exactly what it was. I saw little of Nikk as an individual writer in the story, but I saw more of other fantasy novels than himself. The plagarism was glaring in my mind and angered me greatly. Reading it, I could not help but notice several blatant instances of plagarizing from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series, and LB Graham's "Binding the Blade" series. Lewis was not as blatant, as Nikk shared some of his concepts, though similarities to Tolkien and Graham were strongly there, such as the trip through the mines that is very similar to the Fellowship's journey through the Mines of Moria and several of the names such as Minas Korinth were similar to Tolkien. Nikk merely stuck with the Lord of the Rings formula for his novel and thus showed a severe lack of imagination in this regard, much like Paolini in his "Inheritance Cycle."

Besides the plagarism, another thing that bothered me was the lack of good characterization. I could not tell the characters apart, as they were all the same. They were very inconsistent, with a character supposedly with a stern personality laughing his head off at something, and even with characters switching personalities. Timothy switched from immature to mature, with Taryn in reverse on various occasions. The wise old mentor Gandalf- er, Wyrl was supposed to be wise, yet he led a bunch of inexperienced fighters to kill a terrifying creature in the mines and often gave in to the whims of the teenagers. A similar problem with the characters was their sheer immaturity. Timothy and Taryn are supposed to be seventeen years old, but they acted and were treated like they were thirteen years old. The twins' peers are no different, acting like young teenagers and not like they have an important task to complete to save the world. Lewis' children in "Chronicles of Narnia" were much more mature than Nikk's older teenagers when Lewis wrote them as being much younger than Nikk's.

The prose of the story was no better. It sounded more like someone trying to imitate Tolkien and ending up with a watered-down version of his excellent, well-written prose. Nikk would often say one word than put a dash then a synonym afterwards, which was unnecessary and very distracting. Oftentimes he would say a word like cogg or palm and then not explain it for several pages or not at all, which made the story confusing. The accents of some of the minor characters were hard to understand, and the teens of the fantasy world often used modern words like "wow" or "ok." There were several points in the story where there was an anti-technology (or against killing animals) few sentence sermon that was not subtle and came off as very annoying and not consistent with the characters. There were several inconsistencies in the story like an all-powerful god who doesn't have power against a dragon's talons or Timothy switching from gracefully to ungracefully leaping on and off his horse when he's never ridden before. There was one romance and then a love triangle in the story, but they were the typical cliche and sappy romances and actually quite realistic for the teens' immaturities.

I wish I could have enjoyed the book more, but I fear I could not. I was severely disapppointed that Nikk has fallen into the trap that so many other young fantasy novelists have fallen into: plagarizing Tolkien, showing a lack of imagination, and not taking the time to let their story grow and develop into something that says "this is mine and not a mishmash of other people's ideas." The story, I think has potential, but it needs several more rewrites to get rid of the plagarism and to let Nikk develop his own writing style. The book may be entertaining for some people, but for those who adore Tolkien and hate Paolini, I would not recommend it at all.

I give the book 1/2 star out of 5.