Riddle in Stone – Robert Evert

Alas, we have come back to this. 77p eBooks. You know how I said “you get what you pay for” with this stuff before? Yeah, well, I should listen to my own advice. In my defence, this one came with a recommendation (from the mother), who is normally pretty reliable on these things (except she reads crime fiction, but no one’s perfect). And in fairness to her, the story isn’t bad. It’s just rather badly written.

The book does a lot of things which, by rights, I should like. The hero is a librarian, for goodness’ sake, how much more could you make something appeal to me? (Answer, by him being a Roman librarian who is also a ninja who shoots fireballs at people and isn’t interested in romance, just hitting people and digressing into discussions of Latin grammar, but that’s never going to happen). It’s kind of a coming-of-age story, but for a middle aged man who realises that he’s never done all the things he dreamed of doing… so it’s a coming-of-mid-life-crisis story, I guess. In a lot of ways, it’s quite clever with that. He sets out into the world to be an adventurer and win the heart of the woman he loves but is too timid to approach, and turns out to be shockingly inept at it. But then the dei ex machina start sneaking out, often a bit unexplained, and it all gets a bit rubbish. Coincidentally, he can do magic (not amazingly, but well enough for the specific purposes of the story). He also has madskills at languages (like, impossibly mad skills) and knows all sorts of disparate but surprisingly specifically useful facts. And the ability to make people want to help him, even though he’s not particularly likeable.

And then we have the villains of the story. The author has gone pretty traditional in this and picked goblins (I’m not going to worry about spoilers for this one, by the by… it hardly matters and I wouldn’t really recommend reading it). He could have tried some originality here and made the goblins complex characters, and had the reader see the other side of the story with them… he even has a vague attempt at that at one point (he says they used to have vast libraries and be scholars before the Massive Wars of Great History with humans) but other than that, they are distressingly generically evil. They love making wagers more than anything, on such matters as the length of their slaves’ intestines. They enslave humans to do menial and seemingly pointless work in horrifically cruel conditions… blah blah blah. Just think “unimaginative stereotypical fantasy evil” and you’ve got it. Their king is an invisible evil elf who likes chopping bits off people and is on a mission to find a secret alloy of metal so he can kill all the humans… which our librarian hero happens to be the only person in a position to figure out.

I know this sort of stuff is the staple of fantasy, but Evert does it without any style or grace or subtlety. The main character is styled to be realistic (middle aged and a bit useless) but after a while the author sort of gives up on that and makes him a sword-wielding, magic-knowing actual hero… without much in the way of reasoning to back it up. He also manages to be actually kinda evil at several points and it doesn’t bother him (he kills a goblin in front of said goblin’s young son for pretty much no reason at all). It’s all trope and no finesse. I can appreciate some tropey, self-indulgent, wish-fulfillment fantasy (I mean, I like Name of the Wind), but it has to be done with skill, and this hasn’t been. It has promise, don’t get me wrong. There’s some solid foundations in there of a middling fantasy novel, but it needs some heavy editing and a rethink of a lot of stuff. Especially pace. Everything just sort of tumbles together at the end… really quickly. I can’t say as I’d ever love the book, even with a rewrite, but I could certainly have enjoyed it. As it was, it was something to pass the time on the morning commute, and it barely sufficed as that.

I won’t be reading the sequel, I fear.

Unrelatedly, I feel the need to explain the scarcity of posts recently. I’ve been getting through approximately a book a day, but they’ve so far mostly been things I’ve already blogged about (I can’t afford any more books until pay day) so nothing to discuss. Hopefully when I get paid I will be in a position to bombard the internet with my relentless jabberings.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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