A Heretical Divide, by Serban Valentin Constantin Enache (6:47)

IOD-A_Heretical_Divide.jpgToday we see another story with a strong sense of character brought down by a lack of production polish.

What I gleaned about the story: Adamis is a demigod who has foreseen a terrible future and must convince his brothers to set aside their petty wars to do something about it. I think.

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WTF #1: Confusing imagery

Analysis: The prologue opens with a trope that I find over-used these days. The “pause to reflect on how urgent everything is” gambit. Our protagonist, Adamis, pauses to wonder where some “fallen brother” is, and then we get: His question was met with silence. But all the same, he couldn’t go back… not with what he knew. He then goes on to catalog the vision he has seen of a world in ruin, and how everything is now too desperate for him to go back. I rolled my eyes a bit, but I didn’t charge a WTF for it.

The real culprit was a strange image. While Adamis is recounting his vision of terror, we get: A terrible future, Adamis reflected, his teeth working behind his lips. And that threw me. I can visualize his jaw working, or maybe his tongue, but his teeth? To me, that conjures up a vision of his teeth independently wriggling in his gums, which is an extremely unnerving image. I have heard an  expression in which someone’s jaw is said to be working, implying that they are chewing something, or maybe grinding their teeth, but by working the teeth instead implies to me that the jaw is specifically being left out of the expression, which in turn suggests that the jaw itself was motionless. Hence the mental image of wriggling teeth.

Clearly that’s not what was intended, and it was easy enough to correct my mistaken interpretation, but since it had pulled me out of the story to unpack the problem, my immersion was clearly broken.

WTF #2: Confusing imagery

Analysis: At the bottom of the first page, Adamis has met a demigod named Rornir. We are told that Rornir has “white tally marks” on his face and head and that both Rornir and Adamis both prefer to heal their scars rather than display them as trophies. But then what are those “tally marks”? By talking about scars immediately on the heels of the “tally mark” reference, I assumed that the marks were just an in-world term for scars. But by the implied contrast, they must be something else. Are they some kind of paint or makeup that indicate where the scars would have been if they had not been healed?

I was already tottering on the brink of confusion over these marks when I encountered this next line: He himself had earned numerous scars in the fratricidal war and that against the tyrants.

Where does “that” fit into this sentence? Is it in the mode of “fratricidal wars and such“? Or is it intended as a separate clause, in the sense of: moreover, the war had been against the tyrants? By this point, I was battling confusion on too many fronts to move forward, so I had to stop, charge the WTF, and try to sort it all out.

Note: We are told that Rornir’s people are “satans.” Later, they are described. Some are half man, half horse. Some are men with hooves. Etc. In other words, the group are all within a class I would normally have called “satyrs.” Was this an intentional corruption of the one word into the other? Or was it a case of the author not knowing the correct word? Since this comes at the very start of the book, at a time when readers will not yet have decided whether the author has the right stuff, it would have been a great place to hang a lantern. Not a show-stopper, but it remains a niggling erosion of confidence in the author.

WTF #3: Confusing typography

Analysis: Once Adamis and Rornir have finished talking, we are told:

After hearing his words, Rornir voiced his own uncertainties on the matter…

I paused mid-sentence to wonder why that word was being stressed. Then I continued on to read the second half of the sentence: …yet the better word for them was fear.

That’s when I realized that italics had been used instead of scare quotes. In general usage, italics add emphasis to a word, whereas scare quotes are used to convey a lack of conviction in a word. In essence, it’s a kind of de-emphasis. So when I hit it at speed, the effect delivered was the exact opposite of what was intended, and getting myself untangled from the wreckage pulled me out of the story world.

Final Note: This is another one of those frustrating cases where the story seems to have some fascinating depth to it, but it is plagued by issues of production polish.

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Get Out of My Head: Ninth Anniversary Edition, by William Coker (2:02)
A Curse Upon the Saints, by J. Rutger Madison (12:15)

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 underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.