Now on to the reason for this post:
Last night I finished an awesome story. If I were to rate this book on the story concept and the telling of it alone, I would give it five stars and wish to give it more. HOWEVER, if I were to rate the writing, it would be one star with the added comment of 'amateurish'.
Don't get me wrong. As far as I could tell there was nothing wrong with the writing itself. No typos jumped out and slapped me in the face. No careless sentence rearrangements. Not even any unclear sentences that maybe could have been put better. That kind of thing was all good.
The problem is
It was a story TOLD
Let me start at the beginning. Like some movies, this book zoomed in from outer space in a way. It started with an explanation of the world. This world was a large island with five major cities - four coastal cities and the capital in the center. World economics would indicate that there were probably some outlying villages and farms but they were never mentioned.
Closer in we are introduced to the people. There were three races and it was stipulated that though they freely intermarried, there was never a child from such a union. Adoption was never mentioned either. One of these races was human and no outstanding description was given of them so I'm left to assume they were your average white man. Another race was blue-skinned and they cast fire and ice (and other magics, which were only hinted at once) from their hands. They were also heavily inclined toward learning and logic, so they were the teachers and lawyers/judges of the society. I also learned at the end of the book that the king was from this race - of course. The last race were the fighters. They were taller and stronger than your average human, but other than being slightly darker, they were very nearly indistinguishable from humans. They also had near-superhuman endurance and durability. They were the peace-keepers and police of the society. Since nothing much was said about the humans, I guess they were the working class.
Zoom in down to street level, we come across a couple seventeen-year-old boys. I think they both belonged to the warrior race. Both of them have dreamed and trained to join the city guard since they were first allowed to pick up their wooden practice swords. I have no idea how young that is.
It took me a few pages to figure out if the story was going to be about both boys or primarily just one, and which one, but other than that they seemed to be very normal teenagers. One of them, our hero, Nick by name, fell for a pretty girl but was too shy to speak to her. The first time they spoke, the two boys had rescued her from being raped, and while the friend ran for the peace-keepers, Nick and the girl waited at the scene to be questioned. They didn't say much, and neither of them did anything but wait. Just sit and wait? Missed opportunity to pull some heartstrings here. She could have been shaking and in tears, and maybe Nick would find the courage to at least be a shoulder to cry on, but no. On with the story. Many things skimmed over. The next time they meet, Nick is brave enough to ask how she's doing and is totally thrilled when she gives him a peck on the cheek. There's a little more in there, but you don't need a blow by blow. The third time they meet was for their first date which isn't discussed other than to say it was great. Budding romance in place.
This book is written in third person limited for 90% of it, so a step-away to Nick's father is out of place, and really quite odd. Nick's father is a sword-smith and he prides himself in making the best swords and knives he can. It is his calling and his life-long passion, though we never see him actually working. One day he goes to his shop which is filled with all manner of swords and knives - the best ones, the most expensive ones, are hanging on the wall behind the counter. What makes this day so special? A man come in shortly after opening and wants to buy a couple knives, "for hunting" he says. Apparently having customers this early in the morning is out of the ordinary, but he does sell knives, so he goes over to the table that holds all manner of knives, picks out a couple and offers them to the man. We are told that he is uneasy about this customer, but we don't know why. Premonition? Who knows? Maybe.
Later that day Peace-keepers come in to verify that the knives were indeed bought there that morning. Why this information would be important to them I have no idea, unless this society subscribes to the notion that the weapon did the dirty deed, and therefore perhaps the maker might share some responsibility for the crime. This doesn't appear to be the case, but it is a means of telling Nick's father that his knives were used for murder. This information was too much for the man. He could handle that his knives and swords were used for self defense and for the protection of the innocent, but not murder. He's so broken up about it that he decides that he's going to close his shop and never make another blade. Now I'm going to assume that this family is at least upper middle class, but it's not discussed. Anyway, he decides he's going to take his son out to dinner and tell him the news (there is no mother; she died of some illness). What will he do next? No idea.
They pick a table near the back of a busy tavern so they can have a little privacy for their discussion, so no one really sees what happens next. After Nick's father breaks the disturbing news, and before Nick can properly protest much, they are disturbed by a stranger who asks to verify who they are then, despite their protests he joins them at their table for a moment. This writer isn't comfortable with writing fight scenes so things get a little fuzzy here, but somehow the man goes from sitting somewhere at their table to standing behind Nick's father, slicing his throat, pulling him to land on the floor, and then pinning his brain to the floor with his sword. Nick is taken so much by surprise that he is unable to react until it's too late, but he then tackles the man and pulling a hidden knife from his boot maybe (not sure where he kept it, but did know that he had one) and proceeds to pour all his anger and frustration into killing this man. Now is the only time anyone notices anything out of the ordinary in the back of the inn - maybe, but I wouldn't think so, but that's the story so we move on. Peace-keepers are summoned, and because witnesses now deemed Nick uncomfortably dangerous, he's hauled off to jail to await his trial.
Some effort is put in here in Nick trying to figure out his defense. Without witnesses, he has little chance of proving his innocence. The case starts off with Nick being responsible for both deaths because apparently no one knows that the one man was Nick's father. I mean, if he was such a fine sword maker, he should have been known, but I guess not. It ended up that because the sword fit the other man's scabbard, Nick wasn't responsible for that death, thus shortening his sentence by half. They couldn't see justice in the other killing though, even though Nick claimed fear for his life. Seventeen stab wounds was too much overkill for that, so it was a two-year sentence in the arena for Nick.
Some discussion was devoted to the arena too. Murderers and rapists went to the arena for a fairly standard sentence of two years. Who knows how other criminals were punished; it was never mentioned. As we get to the arena, we learn that every fight is to the death; break this rule and both combatants are killed. Pretty much a sentence to the arena is a death sentence because very few actually make it the whole two years to be released back into society.
Now the arena is another thing where the writer was seriously lacking. Even though all the details of running a business may never make it to the book, it should all be clear in the writer's head, but not in this book. All we have is a commissioner who is sloppy rich raking in winning from betting on the fights and from sales of food and drink, I guess - no idea. The arena could have been so much more. He could have allowed patrons to shower their chosen fighter with gifts of money, jewelry, and food. While prison food kept a fighter from starving (barely), gifts of food might have kept him in top form and thus winning more fights. The loser's accumulations of gifts could have been added to the commissioner's coffers or given to the winner. In the book, some prisoners could buy influence within the arena from whatever wealth they had outside, but someone outside had to be willing to handle such transactions, and prisoners are thoroughly cut off from the outside, so you see my problem. However with gifts flowing into the arena, bribes could abound and things could get interesting - but no - too complicated maybe.
Fights within the arena are another thing skimmed over. Like I said before, I don't think this writer is very comfortable with fight scenes. Early on Nick found a mentor whom he fervently hoped he'd never be paired up against; only one of them could come off the sand alive. However, every fight on the sand could be a learning experience too. The first fight was pretty good. The second one was okay too, but it could have been better, I think. However, after it was discovered that Nick was a member of a supposedly extinct fourth race, his fights in the arena were hardly worth mentioning other than to say they were a piece of cake.
More on this fourth race: They were a people that looked and fought a lot like the peace-keeper race, but they could also cast fireballs and ice (and presumably other things) like the blue-skinned race. Apparently some previous king had deemed them too dangerous and had ordered them wiped out. Hmmmmm Obviously at least two escaped that genocide.
Back to managing the business of the arena for a moment. Since we know that every fight means one dead at the very least, managing the population is important. How often are these fights? They should be organized to happen on every Saturday for instance, though there is no mention that there is such a day of rest in this society. Having fight for only one day a week would give time for new blood to enter the arena at a steady trickle, but any new guys are seldom mentioned. I get no real idea of how many men and women are in this arena, but it feels like at least less than a hundred. We do learn that the arena in the capital holds a population of a thousand though so who knows. Lets say that each fight lasts an average of fifteen minutes to half an hour, and your average fight day stretches from say 11:00 to around 4:00 in the afternoon. If they allow half an hour for every fight, that's 10 fights with plenty of time between for the buying of food and drink. 10 fights means 10 less people to fight so to maintain a steady population, the commissioner has to hope for at least 10 new murders or rapes in the city per week. Eh, maybe, maybe not. When the population gets low, the writer should allow for the trading between arenas of prisoners upon occasion. Maybe in one of the other cities the population is too high and they can't house them. Any a sudden influx of new fighters could change up the game within the arena once in a while, just as lining up for something of a lottery to be chosen to go to another arena a possibility. These kinds of things need to be known by the writer so this kind of fullness of world can be added to the book.
Back to the fights: Even though Nick now has the ability to fight with a sword as well as cast fireballs, doesn't seal the win on every fight. Just as he once won a fight against such magic, experienced fighters just might give him a run for his money. Each and every fight needs to be a learning experience as he hones his skills, but all this is skimmed over and Nick is the darling of the commissioner.
Things take a turn when a new guy shows up as a prisoner, only we're told there's some significance to the man, but not what. Hmmm man of interest - why? Late one night, this man manipulates the locks on his own and Nick's cell doors and takes Nick to a storeroom to discuss a few things. He wants Nick to escape with him and join his team. This man also has a little information about why Nick's father was killed. Supposedly it was by order of the king, and he want's Nick to help him kill the king. Nick, however, can't bring himself to believe him, so he runs to the arena guards for help. Some die but the other guy gets away anyway.
Story foreshortened, Nick manages to get a message to the king to warn him and the king sends men to retrieve him from the arena. He is taken the two day trip to the capital where he is bathed, shaved, and made presentable to the king, then he is asked to join in the king's defense after he proves he is the last member of this long lost race. Suddenly word comes that someone broke into the arena here at the capital and all the prisoners have been released. What does this king do? He sends all his strength to help corral the prisoners, even after he's been warned that someone is after his life. He even sends Nick, a man he doesn't know and at this point has no reason to trust. Yes, he's a good and staunchly loyal man, but that's beside the point. Plus, it appears as if he has no house guard. All he has are a few council members who are apparently the best of the very best in what they do, which he just sent away all but two. Apparently running a kingdom is another thing this writer needs to think on. Where are all the functionaries? The halls should have been crowded with the goings ons of royal business, but the palace was empty even of door guards with the exception of a couple here and there.
Anyway, needless to say, one man of this team of five usurpers was enough to create mayhem at the arena while the other four captured, and in front of hundreds of people, killed the king. All in the name of freedom, or so he claims. Do I believe him? I'm not sure.
There is a book 2 and I guess book 3 is in the works. However, though I'm tempted, because I do like this story. I don't think I'll be buying either of them. Too much telling for me. Just as I get into a moment, we're sloughed past it to the next point. Sigh