Athame, by Morgan Alreth (34:40)

IOD-AthameA strong story that took me for a long bomb, but tripped over it’s laces before reaching the goal line.

What I gleaned about the story: A woods-wise young woman finds a citified dandy lost in the deepest darkest woods, and agrees to lead him back to the world of nobles and civility. The only things standing in their way are three days of forest, the fearsome creatures who live in it, and their own dark secrets.

Find the book on Amazon.

WTF #1: Anachronistic dialogue

Analysis: Whilst strolling through a sylvan glade, quaint beyond compare, with kings and heroes girt fast with swords, and faithful steeds abounding, would you not wince at the call of the stalwart knight, who cried out to his fellows, “Hey! Dudes! Wait up!”? Well, fortunately it wasn’t that jarring, but I painted an extreme illustration so you’ll understand why this bothers me. I’m a writer, and perhaps I’m over-sensitive to some issues of nuance, but when a quasi-medieval girl refers to a stranger as “the guy,” I stumble. It’s just too modern a connotation for my ear, and it stands out. There were several other examples too, each of which tweaked me just a bit. “Don’t worry about it,” stuck out for me. “Yeah” instead of “yes” always feels to me like a punk in a bus station, and not a medieval peasant. There were other examples, but I stopped making note of them. And they’re minor enough that I decided to lump them all together as a single WTF.

Now I totally understand that the use of the term “guy” goes back to Guy Fawkes and the early 1800s, and that sloppy speakers have been grunting out a tired “yeah” for a similar period of time, but these words just don’t feel like Medieval usage to me, so they stand out, reminding me that the author is a modern writer. And when I’m thinking about the author, I’m no longer immersed.

WTF #2: Convenient coincidence

Analysis: When crashing through the forest, without so much as a knife on his belt, our knightly noble fellow wishes he had a blade to hand. So they stop at a rather convenient dwarf village to buy a knife, and it turns out, happily, they also sell swords. And wouldn’t you know it? The sword maker just happens to be the same guy who sold the magic sword to dear old grand-pappy’s grand-pappy. Yup, that grand-pappy—the great man with the great sword, who carved an honored place in history for noble-boy’s entire family line.

In short, the coincidence is just too conspicuous, and I groaned audibly. My daughter in the next room heard me and called out, “Ooops! Sounds like another WTF!” And if someone in the next room can actually hear my immersion breaking, I can’t let it pass.

WTF #3: Show vs tell mismatch

Analysis:  Consider this line of dialogue we are given just after the big fight with a vampire: “The old ones like her are hard to put down.”

The problem is, she wasn’t hard to put down at all. In fact, she appeared to die quite easily. There’s a sort of economics at work with evil creatures in fiction. The ones you stumble over by accident are usually the vermin kind, easily killed. The ones that have been given names are presumably more important, and therefore more powerful, and therefore harder to kill. If they get an actual speaking part, then again, they tend to be more powerful. And the ones you actually go hunting for in abandoned cellars, with torches raised high? Those ones are pretty uber-powerful. They have to be, because you’ve invested so much narrative on them.

So when our duo go hunting for a named baddie in a basement, with torches raised high, and the evil in question takes the time to monologue with them, I’m expecting some proper heft to the encounter. But then to have her dispatched with a quick jab or two? She puts up no credible resistence? Doesn’t come close to taking one of them with her? I’m already feeling short-changed. But to then say she was “hard to put down,” when she clearly wasn’t, well, that trips my WTF reflex hard. You don’t make her a tough customer by calling her one. You do it by making her almost tear your hero’s head off. And maybe you spend more than two paragraphs on the fight.

Note: Despite the WTFs, I really enjoyed this. The forest folk live in a very well thought out world, and their existence felt like a believable balance, pitting their lore and hedge magics against the roaming predators of the night. The characters are well drawn and have some charm. And there’s an underlying thread of unrevealed secrets that kept me wanting to learn more.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Murder out of the Blue, by Steve Turnbull (10:00)
Scarlet Angel, by C. A. Wilke (40:00)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.