What I gleaned about the story: A young boy from the land of Heroes lands on the shores of the more agrarian Lands, alone and ill equipped, but with seemingly vast knowledge of many wonderful things. A great evil hangs over the Lands, however, a dark lord, who tosses the lives of the people about like play-things, to amuse his idle and cruel curiosities. Something tells me he and the boy are gonna have a rumble.
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Analysis: Normally, I can let a single botched verb tense slide, but in this case, it caused a time slip that confused me, jarring me hard enough to pop out of the story. At the very least, “they took in his every move” should have been “they had taken in his every move.” Without that signal, it is not clear that we’re jumping back from the present, in which the pyre is already burning, to recap the events of its construction. And so, on first read, it appeared to me that the gypsies watched him – by the light of the pyre – as he built the pyre and then lit it.
Kudos: “As the flicker-toothed fire ate the setting sun,…” I quite liked that image. Very nice.
Analysis: A lot of the narration felt just a bit stiff and bombastic to me, written in a slightly archaic and formal style. I was able to run with it at first, while it was just descriptions of people watching the boy on the beach. But then we reached a section of historical exposition, and the sentences got more convoluted, like the one cited above. On this one, I had to stop and reread it twice, to be sure I understood what was going on. Reading it felt like unraveling a puzzle.
I hope the author won’t be offended if I unpack how this sentence unfolded for me, because it’s a useful illustration of how style can get in the way of clarity. Stripping it down to the bare elements, I read it as, “Within one place, beyond another (with stuff), past yet a third place (that had its own stuff, too), on a fourth place (that has one job, er, make that two jobs) there waited a thing.” (Finally! I now know what object the sentence is talking about. It’s a thing.) “The thing was evil, and old, and sad.”
Unfortunately, the stylistic voice threw four subordinate clauses at me, each one confusing me further, as I forged ahead, waiting for some clue to what the sentence was about, but every time I found a concrete noun, it turned out to be a red herring and I had to press on. By the time I got to the being, I had lost track of all the other things I’d passed along the way, and then I worried that I might have skimmed past some important detail about it, so I had to go back to check.
Analysis: The next two pages contained references to a dozen or so names of people and places for which I didn’t have sufficient context. And since it was all about this new “being” guy, and not the lonely boy, or even the gypsies, I had insufficient emotional stake to lead me to care.