Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Indie Book Review: Catalyst The Passage of Hellsfire

There are, maybe, seven basic fantasy plots. The readers know this. They know that just about every fantasy they open will be a variation on one or another beloved theme. This is not a shock to them. So, when a fantasy reader says a plot is predictable, they don't mean: I've seen a variation on this before (because we all have) they mean the author didn't do a good job making an old plot interesting, setting it in a well crafted world, or giving us fantastic characters to adventure along with.

Catalyst: The Passage of Hellsfire, was predictable. It's not bad, but it's also not really engaging.  Hellsfire, yes, that's the name of the main character, reads like a hybrid of Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. He's a boy with a destiny and a special power. He's also bit flat. Not obnoxious, but not fully rounded in any meaningful way either.

In fact, the whole book reads like a hybrid of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings.  The Hero is young, stupid, and The One Whose Coming Was Foretold. The Wizard is old and wise, and takes him under his wing for training. The Princess is beautiful, spunky, handy with a sword, but still in need of rescuing. The Good King is being taken advantage of by his Evil Adviser. The Evil Adviser has plans to find the magical plot device artifact and use it to take over the world. You've read this story before. I've read this story before, and both of us turned each page with bated breath when it was populated with fantastic characters in an expertly built world.

And, alas, this is not an expertly built world, either. Quick example: The Wizard is explaining how magic works in their world, how each person has six sorts of mana (Okay, how many of you immediately flashed into gamer mode there? It gets worse.) and each mana has a different color: white for life magic, black for death magic, red for fire, blue for air, blue-green for water, green for earth. Sigh. I played that game, I don't need to read it.

On top of that, Catalyst sorely needed a proof-reader. The punctuation is rough. Missing/wrong words pop up at least once or twice a chapter. It was often enough, and bad enough, to toss me out of the story on several occasions. Wonky descriptions showed up just as often. Another example: We finally get to a combat scene, and it's going well, I'm liking it, but then one of the fighters uses his "sword like a snake." Now, I get that not every sentence in a book should be read literally, but even on a figurative level this doesn't make much sense. Snakes don't use swords. And if you were holding a snake by the tail, and attacking with it, you'd be using it like a whip, not a sword. I think, from context, he meant something along the lines of: his sword flicked quickly, like the tongue of a snake... but he didn't write that, and using the sword like a snake really tossed me out of the story to figure out what was going on. (My immediate mental image of the character holding the sword in his mouth, arms and legs pressed to his sides, as he wriggled on the ground, made absolutely no sense.)

It also needed a beta reader. In the above scene, Hellsfire, who's been warned to use his magic sparingly and not tell people he's a wizard, uses his magic to burn his way out of a net, uses his magic to blow the head off an ogre, hands a stabilizing potion to a wounded man, and then thinks that he shouldn't mention he's a magic user. He wouldn't want to tip his new companions off. Apparently his companions are massively stupid and didn't notice the fire flashing about, or even though he's describing everything in glowing red flames, the magic is somehow, unbeknownst to us, invisible. Between that and the snake sword, I had a really hard time with that scene. And it's not the only one.

So, as I said, Hellsfire isn't terrible. It's rough. It's very familiar. By halfway through I was skimming along, hoping to find something to get my attention. At three quarters of the way through, I still hadn't found anything that kept my attention for more than five minutes at a time. My guess is, if you've read very little fantasy, or are quite young (The Catalyst is technically a YA book, but I'd be more interested in aiming it at the six-to-eight-year-old market. You'd have to read it to them, but I think they'd like it.) this book might be a lot of fun. But it wasn't doing it for me. I gave up without finishing it.


  1. "sword like a snake."

    Oh, dearie me. I'm afraid I would have stopped right then. I personally advocate making a law that no one can write a novel about using a sword without having at LEAST at some point in their life picked one up.

  2. Honestly, I think it was more of a failure of word/image choice than swordsmanship. The other bits of combat I read weren't bad, once again not spectacular, kind of predictable, but that's the only spot where I found myself thinking: WHAT?