Forge of the Jadugar, by Russ Linton (38:56)

IOD score cardToday we see that when a reader picks up a series in the middle, it can be maddeningly difficult to keep them on board. And when Bryce blows off his reading list, everyone suffers.

What I gleaned about the story: Sidge, an Ek’kiru (bug creature), has risen to prominence after performing an astonishing feat of magic, and now outranks his old master. Meanwhile, Kaaliya, a human woman, is befriending her new bug-creature servant, who turns out to be an excellent co-conspirator. Sidge and his old master are on a journey.

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WTF #1: Book Two Syndrome

Analysis: The first several paragraphs feel a little hard to engage with. It doesn’t help that it starts with the POV character waking up (definitely a fiction cliché, but not a dealbreaker for me).

There’s a lot to get up to speed on: the bugman’s strange anatomy, his discomfort and need to arrange things. In the rush, some things got introduced in a quick “here’s a thing now we’re moving on” way that left me unsure whether they were important or not. For example:

Master Izhar’s white stole, now his [Sidge’s] stole, was balled up where his head had been.

That it’s mentioned at all seems to suggest that both the stole and the transfer of ownership are important. It’s later revealed that the stole is wearable proof of magical mastery, so the fact that it was transferred from his old master to him has flipped their relationship on its head. But it’s noted so briefly that it feels like a random detail, not an important one.

For readers who have read Pilgrim of the Storm, aka Book One (IOD survivor, check it out!), every detail in the opening will be touched with meaning and context. It will all makes sense: the little details will conjure up the adventures of the previous book.

For someone who hasn’t (I’ve had Pilgrim sitting on my Kindle for months, but never opened it), the opening feels as cluttered as the inside of the vardo Sidge wakes up in.

Things pick up as Sidge tumbles out the back of the vardo, then flies his way to the driver’s seat to talk to Izhar.

One danger with Book Two openings is that authors frequently try to bring the readers up to speed too quickly, adding bits of context that don’t pertain to the immediate needs of the story. For example:

The wooden chests which he lay upon felt swollen and smooth, bloated by the water beneath the platform city of Stronghold.

It’s an interesting detail, and I like the prose. If you’ve read Book One, it might make sense immediately. Since I’m just picking up Book Two, it’s 1) not totally clear what a “platform city” entails, and 2) it’s a detail about a place they’re not at. It’s not crucial to the story just now.


Kudo #1: A magic system mystery

Analysis: Izhar and Sidge talk. I’m finding this part more helpful in getting up to speed on this new world. The conversation flows naturally, without crossing the line into infodump territory. But the most intriguing bits are Sidge’s private thoughts about the magical feat he performed during the Deep Night celebration, the one that plucked Sidge out of obscurity and elevated him to a rank above his old master.

What Sidge did was unprecedented, in ways that leave him questioning how magic really works. The story hints at a complex magical lore, full of traditions and mantras and rites. But Sidge knows there’s more to it than that: according to his studies, what he did at the end of the previous book shouldn’t have been possible.

The promise is that the reader will see the magic system revised, that there’s a lot yet to discover. That’s a promise that ignites my curiosity, makes the pages easy to turn.

Kudo #2: When cultures collide

Analysis: In Chapter II, we meet Kaaliya, a human woman who has caught the eye of a powerful lord. She’s with one of the lord’s new servants, an Ek’kiru (bugfolk) named Firetongue, who is full of surprises.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Chapter II. We’re learning about the city of Stronghold because Kaaliya and Firetongue are out in it, making repairs to lamps (whose workings are a mystery, controlled by Lord Chakor, who we’re also eager to know more about). We’re learning about human/Ek’kiru relations by watching a human and a bug perform a task together, while gossiping. And it’s both revealing and kind of hilarious to watch Firetongue explain what makes Sidge a desirable mate.

This chapter is a nice counterpoint to WTF #1. The information we need for the rest of the story is being revealed naturally, keeping a fast pace without feeling rushed.

WTF #2: For the want of a comma…

Analysis: A missing comma trips my eyeballs:

Firetongue stopped in the center of the square surveying the lamps.

Without the comma, it reads ambiguously, as though the square might be doing the surveying, or that it was a good vantage point for surveying the lamps (without actually saying that Firetongue was doing so). It gave me that feeling you get when a step is just a couple of inches lower than you expect. You trip just a little, then have to recover your footing, maybe look at the step to see why it’s not where you expected.

Whether a particular reader drops the book depends heavily on how well you’ve already convinced them that they want to reach the top of the staircase.

WTF #3: Dammit, Paint!

Analysis: There’s a minute and four seconds left on the timer. That antsy “I’ve found a survivor” feeling is coming over me. Then my eyeballs hit:

Izhar waddled toward the crossing, and Sidge followed only far enough to stop beside the Paint.

‘Paint’ is the name of their cantankerous horse, as established in Chapter I. Just ‘Paint’. Not ‘The Paint’ in the style of ‘The Rock.’ You’re a horse. You don’t get a larger than life wrestling persona.

Addendum: Doing some re-reading while preparing the report, I discovered that “the Paint” is deliberate. “The Paint” was in every mention of the horse back in Chapter I, and I somehow missed them on the first reading. I suspect it’s the author’s way of highlighting the Sidge’s imperfect mastery of human language.

It was still a WTF moment for me when I finally noticed, and I have to count it as such. But this is a supremely frustrating verdict, and not just because I’m going to get an earful from Russ in the IOD authors’ locker room. The book is well written and well edited, and I’m seriously locked into the story. And two of the three WTFs wouldn’t have happened if I’d read Pilgrim first.

If I was better about staying on top of my reading list, we’d be welcoming a new survivor into the IoD survivor bunker. Decontamination chamber’s to your left, rations are distributed at sunset.

:: kicks treadmill swearingly ::

So that’s my real verdict: read Pilgrim, then dive straight into Forge. And ignore the confused reviewer huddled in the decontamination chamber, muttering to himself.

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.

Three Short Fairytales, by G. Wulfing (1:03)
The Plan and other short stories, by Stephen Brandon (1:32)