Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr

Patrick W. Carr.  The Shock of Night.  Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

The Shock of Night is a Christian fantasy book.  It is technically the first book of The Darkwater Saga, but Patrick W. Carr did write a prequel entitled By Divine Right.

In The Shock of the Night, a priest named Elwyn is wounded in the Darkwater Forest, and his protector Robin is murdered.  Before dying, Elwyn gives Willet Reeve the ability to read people’s minds and memories.  Willet Reeve works for the king and is called upon to investigate the crime.  In the course of the book, he comes across the Vigil, a group of people with the same sort of gift that he has.  The Vigil is suspicious of Willet because Willet spent time in the Darkwater Forest, a place that corrupts those who go there.

The plot does sound interesting.  Patrick W. Carr is to be commended for creating an intriguing world, one in which some people have gifts and can give their gifts to others.  There were aspects of the book that I actually liked.  Carr mentions two characters, a librarian and the reluctant leader of the Vigil, who were more comfortable with books than with people.  I could identify with that, and thus I was pleased that Carr had characters who were like that.  Carr describes how the Vigil’s giftedness tended to alienate it from the broader world, and he portrayed Willet’s attempts to hold on to his own personality when he was filled with the memories and thoughts of others.  The mechanics of giftedness and the transmission of gifts was also interesting: passing on half of a gift could dilute the gift, for example.  The question of how Willet could have gotten corrupted in the Darkwater Forest is brief, yet noteworthy.  There is a poignant scene in which Willet questions whether the equivalent to Jesus in that world can truly understand what he is going through, or what certain human beings go through.  The last scene of the book had the potential to be great: Willet must decide whether to kill a key character whose ambition had been negatively amplified by the Darkwater Forest, or rather to show mercy on her.

I am giving the book two stars, however, because, overall, I did not care for the book.  I will explain why shortly, but let me make some things clear before I do so.  First of all, I acknowledge that my reaction is subjective.  As you can see from the Amazon and Goodreads reviews of this book and other books by Carr, Carr has received high marks for his work.  He has even been a Christy Award finalist.  I am not saying that the book is inherently bad, but I am simply stating my subjective reaction to it as a reader.  Amazon is asking me whether I “like” or “dislike” a book, and that can entail me sharing whether the book and I had a chemistry.  I recall a person saying that reading is an interaction between a book and a reader.  Many readers may enjoy this book; I, based on where I am right now, did not so much.  Second, I do respect Carr for writing this book, and other books.  Third, I am not suggesting that I can write a fantasy novel with prose that I find more compelling than what is in The Shock of Night.  Some may read my review and say, “Well, can you do better?”  My answer to that is, “Probably not.”

What did I not like about this book?  The prose followed the rules of grammar, and, on the surface, it appears rather simple: Carr used no big words, and his sentences were of reasonable length.  But I just found the prose to be dry and overly formal.  All of his characters sounded alike to me in terms of how they talked.  Some may say that such prose effectively conveyed a medieval tone that they find endearing; I, however, would have preferred for the prose to be more vivid, compelling, or engaging.

The prose could also be rather elliptical.  I would be reading a conversation, and I had difficulty understanding how what a person said in response to another person was actually responding to what the other person had said.  Sometimes, the book was from Willet’s perspective, and sometimes he was referred to in the third person.  I do not mind a book using different perspectives, but I do wish that it would tell readers explicitly what it is doing and who is speaking.  Otherwise, people like me get confused.  The book’s plot was also rather difficult to follow.  I do not know if Willet even solved the mystery.  Willet somewhere in the book appeared to entertain the possibility that Robin, Elwyn’s protector, may have wounded Elwyn to prevent Elwyn from being impacted negatively by the Darkwater Forest, or from misusing the gift, but my impression is that Willet abandoned this idea.

A lot of times, when reviewers critique a fiction book, they say that a good book shows rather than tells.  I am a bit conflicted on how this relates to my assessment of The Shock of Night.  On the one hand, there were times when I thought that Carr should have followed the “show not tell” rule, when he should have constructed vivid scenes of Willet struggling with his gift, when he should not have told us what people were thinking.  On the other hand, Willet’s telling is what enabled me to understand the book to the extent that I did, to have some inkling of what was going on.  Moreover, there were times when I wished that Carr was more explicit than he was.  Maybe my problem is that I am not used to fantasy, but I find that being thrown into the middle of a world and figuring out its rules can be a challenge for me as a reader.  I think that Carr could have made things a little easier.  Perhaps a glossary of characters and terms (“gifts,” “Vigil”) would have helped.

I am hesitant to read more books by Carr, but people who are used to fantasy may have a different desire.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest review.

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