(book selected by PearTree)
Fantasy world-building has been a bit of a passion of mine ever since the first time my older brother called me a faggot. I was around 7 or 8 at the time, I think. Not sure. Either way, I ran to my room crying, and after feeling sorry for myself for long enough, I picked up a piece of paper and started to draw. I drew a pretty cool guy with a scar across his eye. I decided that he was a paladin and he was a complete badass because he wielded two swords. His name was probably Xenith, or something. I ended up writing a short story about Xenith where he was plucked from obscurity (by prophecy) and met a hot elven woman and a bland cast of supporting characters, and together they ventured out and saved the world from the gathering forces of evil.
Now, I’m not saying that The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches (Keeper Martin’s Tales, Book 1), the self-published novel by Robert Stanek, was written under the exact same circumstances, but the story is juvenile enough for me to suspect so. This book is guilty of every tired old fantasy cliché possible – purple prose, wise elves, an adventurous princess that’s sick of palace life, some place called Alderan, a naïve young boy battling evil’s temptation, and apostrophes stuffed into the middle of names to make them sound cool. For example, there’s a character called Br’yan. Not Bryan. Fucking Br’yan.“Sunrise loomed across the horizon, pale as jasmine and mostly obscured by dark, feral clouds” is how Stanek decided to start The Kingdoms. Dramatic weather is a very bland, unimaginative way to start a story, regardless of how many confusing adjectives you throw at it (picture a feral cloud, please.) Not every book needs to start off with an “it was the best of times…,” “all this happened, more or less…,” or “the past is a foreign country…” to end up good, but don’t dark-and-stormy-night me, Stanek. Though this isn’t the worst example of writing in The Kingdoms, it’s the first, and I’m willing to bet that this sentence alone landed Stanek’s manuscript in dozens of reject-piles at publishing houses. After these first few words, I was kind of excited, because I thought this might be where the book was going:
Sunrise loomed across the horizon, pale as jasmine and mostly obscured by dark, feral clouds. Glancing up from her cluttered desk, a publisher sat entranced by the confusing visage. Pausing for a moment to consider the state of all things, she sighed deeply and deftly tossed this book into the trash. And so this story never existed. The End.
But unfortunately, the book didn’t proceed as such. Instead, it expanded into a classic high fantasy tale about various characters moving about different parts of the world while evil stirs at the kingdom’s frontiers. At one point the semi-evil boy is kidnapped from his room and led into the woods by an old man who just says “don’t worry, I am a Watcher.” But unlike the real-life scenario, this is actually a good thing. The distant characters eventually meet up – at least I presume they will, since the book ends out of nowhere, but I know there are three more in the series, so I’m guessing that they will eventually vanquish the evil together. But along the way, we are treated to lovely prose such as this (I’d recommend taking a breath and reading the following sentence aloud):
“Carefully he dabbed a wet cloth to the corner of his eyes and only then did he become something other than the frightened boy who in his dreams huddled into the forlorn corner because of the sense of security it gave him to know his back was against the wall and that nothing could sneak up on him from behind.”
Poor kid. Sounds terrified, right? Don’t worry; he’s abducted a few pages later.
Since this is a fantasy book, there’s also a large appendix at the back in case you want to read an extra sentence about any given flat character. There’s also a cool fantasy map at the start of the book.
As you can see, this map has all the hallmarks great world building: Great Forest, South Province, Dead Sea, Endless Ice, Borderlands, Great Kingdom and Lost Lands. I was actually particularly interested in the Lost Lands. Who lost them? Why were they lost? What is lost there? So I zoomed in to take a look, and I actually found a bunch of missing things:
Unlike other things we’ve covered so far in this club, this book doesn’t really involve the author preying on women or preying on religious minorities or preying on grieving families or preying on dolphins. It’s not evil; it’s just bad. The author is self-published and apparently does a lot to help out other aspiring authors, so I guess that’s kind of nice of him, but there’s absolutely nothing to this story. It’s just the same old tired bullshit all over again – like hearing about your white-trash brother’s third divorce – and there’s simply enough half-baked fantasy like this out there already. It’s a dunce.