27 December 2011

Book Review: Unexpected Destiny by Ariana N. Dickey

I meant to have this posted ages ago. My, how time flies. Anyway, here's my first (and so far only) review for Self-Publishing Review, which describes itself thusly:

Self-Publishing Review is a central site devoted to self-publishing news and reviews. It is also a social network where writers, readers, and everyone can join and connect. . . . The aim of the site is to improve the attitude toward self-publishing and help authors find readers.

Book Review: Unexpected Destiny by Ariana N. Dickey

First impressions are vital with self-published books, especially first novels with few user reviews. Unexpected Destiny has a fairly bland cover, rendered unfortunately dark and murky by Lulu's printing process. The interior layout is mostly professional-looking, with a few odd formatting choices (most notably in the way non-human dialogue is set, which is not only strange, but inconsistent). Typos are mercifully few, and though I did notice a slight increase the farther I got into the book, I've seen much worse in mass-market paperbacks from top publishers.

But I don't expect you really care that much about the physical book, as long as it's not distractingly badly done. You probably really want to know about the story, the characters, the writing. Curiously, those things, the things that make you want to read a book or not, mirror the book's physicality. By which I mean, there's a lot of heart in Unexpected Destiny, but it's very apparent that this is a first novel.

Ms Dickey has no lack of imagination. The pages of this book are bursting with colorful characters, made-up fantasy species (and some that are more obviously based on myth or folklore or previous authors of high fantasy), and lovingly-imagined locales. The plot proceeds at a breakneck pace, sending the three main characters off on a quest and putting them in harm's way immediately--a different sort of harm on every page, it sometimes seems.

Our three heroes, Ely, Colin, and Faythe, are the latest reincarnation of the Blessed Ones (yes, in caps every time). It is their destiny to free their world from its tyrannical king and the depredations of some nasty gods and their even nastier minions, or to die in the attempt. Which makes me wonder exactly how their destiny is unexpected, since we (and they) know about it in the first chapter. The heroes have a magical map they must follow in order to meet said destiny, and it takes them from place to place where they save people, get attacked by people, kill a lot of people (both on purpose and by virtue of others trying to help them and dying), and learn how to harness their Blessed powers. It often feels like the writer also had a map, or a plot outline, that she followed from incident to incident, in as much of a hurry to get to the next plot point as her characters are to get to the next location on their map. Quite often, I wished she would just slow down, breathe and enjoy the journey.

Unexpected Destiny certainly isn't a bad book, but I can't quite say it's a great one, either. I give it 3 out 5 stars because though there's a lot of promise here, it's promise a good editor could have gone a long way towards bringing out. The writing is grammatically competent, but there are too many stock phrases and clich├ęs, too much telling and not enough showing, for it to ever become truly absorbing. And though the story does reach a sort of resting place, it's not over, as this is the first in a series. To get the whole story, you have to read the rest of the series, which isn't out yet. I certainly wish Ms Dickey the best with her writing, as I think she could produce some fine stories if she's willing to put the work into developing her craft.

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