Frotwoot’s Faerie Tales: The Unseelie Court (Part 1) by Charlie Ward

Don’t let the difficult, ornate font on the cover of this book deceive you—it’s actually a pretty easy read.  This is Part I of the first novel in an ongoing series centered on Frotwoot, an amnesiac teenager from a magical realm who mysteriously ffrotwootalls from the sky in the American Midwest.  He reconnects with a faerie girl who remembers him from their childhood and soon he’s off on a wild adventure in a place very far from and very different from his home.

 

The Concept:  B+

A lovable teenager of strange origins meets a remarkable girl who can help him discover the secrets of his past…it’s not the most original concept, but it’s dressed up with enough extra stuff to make it a lot more fun than meets the eye.  There’s magic that seems to be fueled by amber.  Frotwoot’s forgotten backstory seems to involve being held captive with a young faerie princess.  There’s the wizard/demi-god in the form of an ancient tree.  And while on his adventures in this bizarre, magical kingdom, Frotwoot also stumbles across a plot for a political assassination.  The Unseelie Court is pretty busy and packed full of quirkiness, but it manages not to be prohibitively confusing.

 

The Execution: C+

I almost gave up reading after the first few pages.  After the opening scene in which young Frotwoot falls from the sky and is immediately struck by a car, there’s paragraph after paragraph of summary.  An attention-grabbing opening scene is followed by a discussion of ten years of Frotwoot’s life in about as many pages, and it wasn’t until the next chapter that I realized it was all essentially a prologue to where the real story begins.

I’m not really a fan of prologues, but I think renaming the first chapter as “Prologue” would have done wonders to adequately shape my expectations for the story.  Chapter Two begins in the present day and follows a linear, non-summarized plot through to the end of the book.  The information in the first chapter is pretty important, but perhaps there could have been a better way to share that with the reader than a kind of outline of Frotwoot’s personal history among the humans.

Other than that, I have few complaints about the execution.  Frotwoot is pulled into a world of magic with a genuine sense of reluctance and disbelief.  The places he visits are interestingly rendered.  The characters he meets are drawn with a skillful humanity (despite many of them not actually being human), a vivid imagination, and a healthy dose of comedy (and this book is funny).

But that first chapter though…I mean, I’m really glad I kept reading, but I almost didn’t.

 

The Writer’s Voice:  A

This may sound weird and perhaps egocentric, but Ward’s style reminds me a lot of my own.  So, obviously, I kind of like his approach.  There’s just this pervasive tongue-in-cheek quality to the whole thing—coupled with some syntactically-unusual humor and a heavy reliance on italics—that make me feel like I’m reading the work of some kind of twin separated at birth or something.  Lines like these, in particular, remind me of myself (and remind me of things I later pat myself on the back for coming up with):

And with that, the Dryad said a word to him that wasn’t made of sound or letters, but of emotions, and elements, and…power.  Combined together, they made something that sounded like a word when you said it, as Frotwoot was saying it now, but you got the sense that it was just doing that so you wouldn’t go crazy.

Even Ward’s weaknesses feel similar to my own—every now and then, there’s a line that makes too much of an attempt at wittiness for its own good.  I’d have to go back a reread it a few times, emphasizing different parts, until I figured out how it made sense.  I know I’m guilty of this.

 

The X-Factor:  B

The wonder is the X-Factor.  It’s not as thrilling as the first time we learned about The Force or entered the gates of Hogwarts, but as we follow Frotwoot into a new world where magic is so real that it’s basically one of the sciences, it’s a wondrous experience.  The different species and the different cultures, the government that seems to be some kind of blend of democracy and enlightened feudalism, the backstory of the realm, and the protagonist’s own murky past kept making me murmur, “Hmm…iiiiinteresting” to myself every couple of pages.

 

The Ruling on The Unseelie Court:  B

The Unseelie Court (Part 1) is a quirky, refreshing take on magic and magical mythology.  Once you get past the first chapter, you’ll be reading straight through to the end, which delivers a twist that’s sure to keep you reading into Part 2.

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Seventeen and Turning Into a Non-Mormon Secular Humanist Zombie by Scott Erickson

Well, there’s a clickbait book title if I’ve ever seen one!  Especially for me, who suddenly sits up and pays attention whenever the word Mormon appears onscreen—in particular when secular humanist zombiepaired with the prefixes ex- or non-.  I just happened to find this novella while lazily perusing Amazon’s humor category, and once I saw the title and weighed in the fact that it was free, there was no going back.  I had to download it.  So, obviously, I did.

Concept:  B-
The premise here is pretty straightforward.  Janet is slowly turning into a zombie and her strict Mormon father has, due to her self-identification as a secular humanist, decided to ship her off to a Minnesota camp for troubled youth.  There, she meets a surprising number of Swedes, including the handsome if lunkheaded Sven, with whom she falls in love.

As far as plot goes, that might not sound that interesting.  But it’s all in the delivery.  See, this is basically the written version of a Jason Friedberg/Aaron Seltzer spoof, except it’s a little cleaner, a little cleverer, and seems to have no particular target in mind.  It’s a very nonspecific parody.

The Execution:  C+
There’s plenty of goofiness to be found here, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the characters and the plot isn’t particularly engaging.  Of course, the plot really isn’t intended to be the focal point, as it merely serves as a setup for more jabs at melodramatic teenage whirlwind romances and more mockery of tired storytelling.  There are several solid running gags that never fail to elicit a chuckle and there are a few running gags that run their courses too soon and tend to elicit a rolling of the eyes.

Every time Janet mentions St. George, Utah, though…prepare for a laugh.  Every time.

The book’s saving grace is that it very obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously:

It had been sunny all morning, but suddenly the skies changed to overcast as the clouds moved in from the North.  If clouds could talk, they would have said, “Hey, we’re clouds from the North, eh?  It’s aboot time we got here.  Good day, eh?”

(They were Canadian clouds, get it?)

It’s all quite clearly tongue-in-cheek.  So when the narrator spends a surprising amount of time discussing whether Janet is better at ambling, meandering, or walking, it comes across as endearing instead of just plain weird.

The Writer’s Voice:  A
I’d be willing to bet that Erickson had a blast writing this, cackling with glee to himself as he inserted a mostly irrelevant commentary on a classic film or an amusing and unnecessarily detailed description of a high-quality fishing rod.  The fun shines through and it makes Seventeen and Turning into a Non-Mormon Secular Humanist Zombie a light, breezy read.  The self-aware jokes and the intentionally cheesy dialogue and the general absurdity of it all make for an engaging narrative, even if the actual events on the page aren’t particularly riveting.

The X-Factor:  D
I was kind of disappointed.  There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about the zombie thing.  It came up a few times, but it was kind of an everpresent but unaddressed plot point for the majority of the story.  There wasn’t a whole lot about secular humanism, either—in fact, there might have been more Buddhism involved.  And there was next to nothing about Mormonism.

The Mormonism thing bothered me because it was cursory and not well-researched.  The rare bit of Mormon dialogue is inauthentic.  There’s also a mention early on of someone’s Mormon parents attending a weekend prayer conference in Las Vegas.  As someone who spent 20 years as a Mormon and has never heard the term prayer conference thrown around in Mormon circles, I found that to be somewhat inaccurate.  And I realize that this is just one line in a whole book and not even an important aspect of the story, but considering that the word non-Mormon in the title is what drew me to this in the first place, it was kind of annoying to find such little treatment of the religion and such a poor depiction of it.  Although, at one point, someone says that Joseph Smith “got horny so he decided God told him it was cool to have multiple wives.”  So there’s that.

I suppose it’s not really fair to call a title that poorly represents the content of the book the X-Factor, but without it, there isn’t much of an X-Factor.  There’s some good stuff and a little bad stuff, but there isn’t one aspect of the book that really stands out to me as the distinctive wild card…other than the fact that its name led me to expect something quite different from what I got.

The Epiphany:  C+
Seventeen and Turning into a Non-Mormon Secular Humanist Zombie is certainly a hilarious novella.  I feel like I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about it and I think maybe those negatives have been given a disproportionate representation in my review.  But I think that might all stem from the fact that what I read wasn’t what I’d expected based on the title.

It helps not to take the book seriously and it probably helps a lot if you’re going into it with the intent to find some solid humor instead of fascinating characters or a complex plot.  Not every piece of fiction has the same aspirations.  This one aspires merely to make its audience laugh, and I think it accomplishes exactly that.

Alph Beta

Alph_Beta

I’m excited to announce the release of my fourth novel, Alph Beta!

Upon hearing the news that his younger sister is going to be married, struggling  self-published writer Alphonse Walczynski begins to contemplate how comparatively little he’s made of his life.  He’s working on a novel about Alfred, another self-published writer trying to cope with the possibility that he may have Huntington’s Disease.  And Alfred, in turn, is writing a story about a futuristic world facing a widespread trend of mysterious deaths.

Full of tongue-in-cheek self-insertions, sharp dialogue, bitterness, gloom, and an extra helping of faith in humanity, Alph Beta embraces sunshine and shadow as Alph sets out to improve his writing and accidentally learns to improve himself.

It’s one of the quirkier things I’ve written in a while, I think.  I’ve had some trouble nailing down a genre for it.  It’s definitely metafictional, but beyond that things get a little murky.  One of the three plotlines is a soft dystopian sci-fi story, but the other two aren’t.  There’s a lot of humor, but I’m not sure it qualifies as a straight-up comedy.  Perhaps it’s just a hybrid.

But regardless of how it’s categorized, I’m pretty pleased with it and I hope you’ll check it out!