Friday, March 8, 2013

Satan's Chamber by Molly Best Tinsley and Karetta Hubbard

Satan's Chamber. That is such a gripping and intriguing title. There is one place near the end where we find out exactly what Satan's Chamber is, but really, it could apply to the entire country. Most of this story takes place in the Sudan, in Africa, mostly along the Nile River, and if descriptions are accurate, it's way too hot for me. I start melting at around 70F and it sounds like this place is easily twice as hot most of the time. No thank you. I won't be visiting any time soon.

The story is a fascinating glimpse of how the major movers and shakers in the world can manipulate events and the gathering of information for personal reasons. Of course, those we see in the news every day are mostly the front - the ones who get seen - not that they don't do their fair share of manipulating, and for personal reasons. However those aren't the people we're talking about in this book.

Satan's Chamber is an intricate, multilayered story where most of the main characters are carrying on a double identity of one sort or another. It is, of course, hard to figure out the motivations behind the actions, but it wasn't hard to keep up with who was who, as soon as you got to know who was who.

That being said, I'm not giving this story my highest rating because the get-to-know was a bit rocky for me. It was like walking into a crime scene investigation room and being handed a fistful of photographs, and you have no idea what any of them have to do with the others, at least for most of them. The story starts out with a large cast of characters, and for a good chunk of the story, their interaction with each other seems pointless, and yet you know they have something to do with the big picture, else they wouldn't be there. Some of these characters start coming together way later in the story, and the whole thing comes together at the end in a really awesome finale.

Through it all, key people remain impossible to figure out. Right doesn't seem right for the right reasons, and neither does wrong. It's all very 'human nature' in some of it's most twisted ways. The most honest and true person is the biggest target in the book - go figure. Why are people like that? I'll never understand, though I know it's true.

Well enough of my philosophizing about the story. Now onto why I won't give it a higher rating:

This issue stems from the formatting. It took me a while to catch on to where chapters actually began. Yes, there is a graphic at the end of every chapter, but those become like page numbers, they're there, but not really noticed. The same with chapter headings. They are there, but they really need to be noticed at least a little. Perhaps the graphic over the chapter heading would have been better, but I am merely speculating.

I can only think that formatting this book had to be a nightmare. You see, page numbers were on the top outside corner of the page, except new chapter pages, where the page number appeared on the bottom of the page. No biggy; page numbers are only that. Trouble is, the chapter headings were also only a number. Yes, they were always on the left (I think), and they were twice the size of the normal text, and I think Arial Narrow font, but they were only a number. What's the difference between one kind of number and another kind of number? Since page numbers appear at the top of the page too, the chapter number blended into the background along with them. Yes, there was a long underscore to mark it as a chapter heading, but what is a line? And yes, sometimes, under that line was the date, location and time of day in italics, but really, that too simply became background to me. I was forced to pull myself out of the story in order to notice these chapter headings and their subtext in order to keep up with the changes in scenes. In other words, since most of the chapters were really quite short, I needed to keep distracted in order to pay attention to whether there was a new chapter on the next page, which was my clue to the scene change. In other words, the little graphic at the end of the chapter wasn't enough of a clue, though I learned to use it as such.

My advice to writers: Make your chapter headings different. Center them. Bold them. Box them. I know numbered chapters are popular, but precede them with 'Chapter' if you must use numbers - anything to make them different from page numbers. I prefer to name my chapters for that very reason. To make them noticeable - to make the clue obvious. "A change is happening here"

Maybe it's because of this habit in my own work that made this formatting issue in this book so hard for me. I like consistency. All the page numbers in the same place (I prefer the bottom, but that's just me) All the chapter heading centered and usually bold - noticeable.

I've always said, the appearance of your document is important. Here is one example. However, now that you've been warned to watch for the chapter numbers and their subtext, by all means read this book. It really is a very good story. And they do save the world and the girl in the end.


William Kendall said...

Sounds like the author needs to reconfigure the formatting, because these issues are enough to stand out.

Very good review!

Anna L. Walls said...

As a real book, the issue might have gone completely unnoticed.