A Wizard’s Gambit, by Ryan Toxopeus (5:52)

IOD-WizardsGambitToday we see that the choppy, frenetic prose of a battle scene is fertile ground for declarative sentence parades.

What I gleaned about the story: Matthew Strongblade is only a fighter in training, so when he goes up against the Demon Lord Glexnodin, things do not look good.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The story opens on a prologue about a battle with a demon lord. The author chose well to use short, choppy sentences to convey the chaos of the battle, but unfortunately, in doing so, he didn’t vary the sentence structure much, and fell into the trap of a declarative sentence parade. The trudging ploddingness of that parade felt at odds with the adrenaline-soaked terror of the battle, and that cognitive dissonance quickly put me on guard.

With that, I was already wondering about throwing the first flag when I reached the middle of the page and found an entire paragraph of “The”-headed sentences, followed immediately by two paragraph-level echoes on the protagonist’s name, “Matthew.”

So despite the drama of what was happening within the story, those editorial effects dragged my attention back out to the page, forcefully enough for me to notice and throw this first flag.

WTF #2: Confusing prose

Analysis: But the Strongblade was forged by dwarven blacksmiths of the toughest metal known to man. There are two ways to read that sentence, and as Murphy dictates, my first read was the wrong one. The blacksmiths were made of metal? I had to go back to re-read it in order to correct the simple ambiguous phrasing. A comma after “blacksmiths” might have helped, or “from” the toughest metal. But as written, it induced a stumble.

That was followed shortly by this reference to Matthew’s sword: It was not the demon’s blade, but Matthew knew it would serve him well. This was another head-scratch moment for me. Clearly Matthew’s blade is not the demon’s blade, so what is the author saying here? Had Matthew picked up the demon’s sword earlier and I missed it? No. I think perhaps it was intended in the sense of, “This was nowhere near as powerful as the demon’s blade…,” contrasting his own blade with the strength and powers of the one wielded by the demon. But that reading was not the one suggested to me by the wording used, and so I stumbled again, right on the heels of the metal dwarves speed bump. And taking both of those together, I had to throw a flag. Especially since we’re still on page one.

WTF #3: POV violation

Analysis: The narrative is being carried by Matthew, a relatively inexperienced fighter-in-training, who is battling some kind of magical demon lord. From that POV, we read about the demon’s encounter with a zombie-magic attack: The demon lord’s eyes widened as he tried to break the zombie’s iron grip. Such a potent spell should have been beyond an apprentice’s ability.

Unfortunately, the second sentence seems to be explaining the demon’s surprise. So either Matthew is telling us what the demon was thinking, or else the POV has suddenly shifted to omniscient. One might plausibly attribute the second sentence to Matthew as a supposition, but then he would be exhibiting a sophisticated understanding of the uses and requirements of magic, which seem to conflict with the inexperience already established for the character. So no matter how I slice it, the POV seems to have been violated here.

What Looks Back by Zachary Adams (0:53)
King Callie, by B. Lynch (7:37)

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.