June 5, 2016 by McDowski
In a previous post, I raved about the excerpt I read from The Soul Smith that was included in the short story The Ravenous Flock by the same author. Here’s what I wrote:
It was riveting … it was brutal, but beautiful. I could really picture everything that was happening. Without a doubt, the best preview I have ever come across.
A lot has been said over the year about the difference a good editor can make to a book; well, this is a prime example of the difference a bad editor can make. Even the prologue for the book (which I so loved in excerpt form in the short story) has been toned down. Language makes a difference. By ‘cleaning up’ some of the language and prose, the passage ends up being watered down. Instead of conveying a rough and brutal image of a soul being forged into an unlucky creature, we end up with a ho-hum depiction of the act. The original passage was so… visceral. Some of that impact – indeed, a lot of it – has been lost in the editorial process.
And the editing missteps don’t stop there. I don’t know what the editor was doing, but catching jarring POV shifts wasn’t it. On several occasions, I noted passages where the point of view shifted from one character to another between paragraphs. And this wasn’t in those mid-chapter breaks that you often get in novels; a paragraph would be telling us the story from one character, and suddenly the next paragraph would shift to the thoughts of another character. Worse, there were instances where I noted POV shifts in the middle of a paragraph. If that wasn’t enough, there were also times when there were multiple POV shifts from one character to another and then back again! I initially started keeping track of these instances, as a form of constructive criticism, thinking that there would be limited shifts. After encountering the phenomenon 6 or 7 times, however, I stopped. Clearly, this was going to be a pervasive issue throughout the novel. Sure, these were mistakes undoubtedly made by the author, but the editor is supposed to catch them.
George R.R. Martin, the famous and much renowned author of A Song of Ice and Fire (which has since gained global popularity due to the success of Game of Thrones, the megahit TV show based on the series) once said, “A good editor does work with his writers on their books. But only if the books need work. A good editor tries to figure out what the writer was trying to do, and helps him or her do it better.” And here’s Joe Abercrombie (who also happens to be my favorite author): “I cannot articulate how crucial a good edit is to a book. […] new sets of eyes (and experienced expert eyes at that) will see shortcomings and areas for improvement you’ll never have thought of.”
These weren’t the only issues I had with the book. As brutal as the excerpt I read was, I had assumed I was in for a bit of a grimdark tale. Nope. Apart from the (original) prologue, the novel was a pretty clean fare. There were logical leaps that I didn’t buy. The main protagonist, Erador, goes from being no more than the entitled son of a Wyndlyn clan’s leader to a respected leader of the surviving brood overnight. One day, other clan members wonder what makes him so special, the next they are unanimously agreeing to follow him, deeming him wise and capable.
The novel was predictable, too. You know who the big baddie will turn out to be literally from the moment you meet him.
I’m sure I had more complaints with the novel’s plot, but it’s honestly been more than a year since I read it (clearly, I haven’t posted in a long while) and it’s hard to recall the specifics. What I do recall, though, is being very disappointed with the novel. Predictable, simplistic, poorly edited, and not very unique.
I don’t know how the author should go about improving his next novel. The plot should be more carefully laid out, for one, and not just be a series of convenient circumstances that always end up helping the protagonist.
Would a better editor have helped the novel be better? Almost certainly, though editors aren’t magicians and the novel’s problems certainly don’t begin and end with poor editing. But employing another editor would probably be a good place to start.
I can only give this book a 2 out of 5. And that is me being kind.