Jade Moon, by Julia Richards (10:00)

IOD-JadeMoonToday we see that if your protagonist doesn’t care about their peril, the reader won’t either.

What I gleaned about the story: A teen girl is uprooted from her jungle home in the middle of the night by a panic-stricken mother, and now must endure the horrors of an American high school.

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WTF #1: Not buying the tension.

Analysis: Imagine that you’re sitting in a crowded bus depot when a crazy woman runs in and starts yelling at the bored-looking girl across from you. “They’re coming! We have to run!” The girl yawns and tries to calm the woman down, but she’s totally not buying the frantic. Then a man comes in, equally distraught and yelling the same things, but the girl seems to take him more seriously. She quickly grabs her bags and follows her friends out into the street, where they all pile into a taxi and drive away in a cloud of blue exhaust and cold panic. What’s your reaction? Do you leap to your feet and run out to grab the next taxi and flee behind them? Or, like me, do you stare down the street at the vanishing cab, wondering what that was all about, then shrug, and go back to reading the newspaper?

That’s more or less how I felt about the opening scene in today’s book. Harper’s mother comes into the house, ranting about being pursued, but mom is crazy, so no big. It’s not until the village school teacher comes in and echoes the same fear that she finally gets up and follows them. But nobody tells her what’s going on, so even she is not convinced there’s any real threat in play. If she’s my avatar into the scene, how am I supposed to manifest any tension from that? In essence, this is a lot of telling/yelling about fear, but I’m shown nothing about it that will let it transfer to me. I don’t feel drawn into the scene. I don’t feel any sense of shared peril. I just watch for a while and then yawn and go back to reading my newspaper.

WTF #2: Ambiguous parsing

Analysis: Deep breath in then take that first, confident step down the stairs into my new life. In my first attempt to parse this sentence, I inserted a comma after “then.” Nope, that didn’t work. In my second attempt, the comma went after “breath.” Nope, that was even worse. Perhaps the author was striving for that really intimate, abbreviated mode of internal discourse, where the POV character speaks to themselves without even bothering to use full sentences, but it just didn’t work here for me. Especially without benefit of punctuarial guidance. And then to make matters worse, the parsing confusion actually popped me out of the story. I found myself wondering if it was written this way to avoid “took a breath” being followed by “took a step.” And if that’s the case, I can at least give full marks for trying to avoid the echo. But for my money, it would have been much cleaner as: I drew a deep breath, and then took that first, confident step…, avoiding the abbreviated mode completely.

Note: The paragraphing seems rather abrupt and choppy, as though each new sentence deserves to stand alone. Used sparingly, this can be very effective, but used too often, and it begins to feel very Shatner-esque.

WTF #3: Time’s up.

Analysis: The ten-minute buzzer just went off and I still haven’t been pulled into the story. Harper’s entire life has been turned upside down, but she seems more concerned with what the new school will be like than about what horror might have triggered her family’s sudden relocation. And a character that self-absorbed and unengaged does nothing to pique my curiosity about her situation. I can entirely accept that the new school is a huge thing for her, but to have zero interest in why she’s been forced to move to another country in the dead of night? Hmm. Let’s see what’s going on in the sports section.

Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, by Elle Carter Neal (19:51)
Tiem Mechine, by Alex Hansen (24:11)

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.