22 February, 2010

Shadow Prowler Breaks All the Rules![sic]


Deviating from the standard review, I have something a bit special for you today. The Guardian, on its books blogs, posted a very neat article that was filled with tips on writing from great writers. The spec fic fan will quickly recognize both Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman who give us ten great writing bullet points to live by. For you entertainment pleasure, I give you the five rules that Shadow Prowler, by Alexey Pehov, sinfully breaks - and then breaks again.

From Elmore Leonard:

Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

I am guilty of breaking this rule myself, but Shadow Prowler makes my abuse look like a coffee addict standing next to a heroine junky!

This handy and sadly unheeded rule comes form Geof Dyer:

Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

Absolute and total fail. Every single review of Shadow Prowler has lamented the fact that it is a massive ball of le cliche. I can confidently say that if sheer abundance of cliches makes for good reading, then Shadow Prowler is going to win The Locus, The Nebula, and The Nobel. On a side note, has spec fic ever won a Nobel?

This recommendation comes from Jonathan Franzen:

Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

Ok, so Mr. Pehov only sort of breaks this rule. I found the first-person perspective to be engaging for the most part.

This next piece of mind-blowing advice comes from Margaret Atwood:

Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

OK, so I might have exaggerated a bit about the mind blowing part... Did you do back exercises Mr. Pehov? Did you?! (See what I mean about the exclamation points?!)

Last but not least, some more sage advise from Jonathan Frazen:

The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

Wound within this rule lies my main criticism of the novel; I felt like a spectator and not a friend. Highly subjective I know, but just like this snarky pseudo-review I can't help but be myself.

As a last little side note, I want to add that the language was probably my favorite aspect of the book. The slightly off-kilter humor and the strange idioms gave the novel an authentic, almost earthy feel. So yes, chalk up some good points and unbroken rules for Shadow Prowler, but all in all a slightly childish and lackluster read that will send you running back into the arms of your favorite authors. Oh, and to whoever it was that compared this to the Wheel of Time and named it epic fantasy at its finest... ware my wrath.

14 comments:

PeterWilliam said...

I've seen this one popped a couple of times now. Along with The Left Hand of God, this one is going in the "No Deal!" column.

Alec said...

Only one of the reviews I read was entirely negative. To be quite honest I think people have been too generous with the book, but then again isn't it all just subjective? Check out Ottinger's review for a really positive take.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Awww, sucks that you didn't enjoy Shadow Prowler (the cover looks cool and I'm a coverwhore), but the pseudosnark more than makes up for it! And yes, I throw around exclamation points like confetti.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And that is one of the best darn reviews I have ever read! Thanks for taking such a unique angle with this book.
And just for good measure - !!!!!!

ediFanoB said...

The book is on my list. Now I have concerns.
Before I delete it from my list I would like to read a part of the book.
Is there an excerpt available?

Alec said...

As quoted from Shadow Prowler:
!!!! !! !!! ! !!!!!!!! !!! !!!! !!! !!! !!! !!! !

ediFanoB said...

That looks like a barcode :)

Thanks for depiction. I think now I get an understanding.
Once upon a time there was a book on my list which eliminated itself by the abuse of !!!!

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Oh man, this wins the award for Most Creative Reviewing Style. Love it.

p.s. !! !!! !!!!! ! !!

Anonymous said...

It's silly to claim to the Russian author that his books do not correspond with English-speaking standards.
Incidentally, Pehov has been accepted in Science Fiction&Fantasy Writers Of America. Probably American critics and writers discerned something in this book that the reviewer couldn't.

Alec said...

@ Anon,

Thanks for commenting. I was honestly surprised I had not gotten a snarky comment before yours.

As far as joining SFFWA, the requirements are not all the stringent:

"Established authors with three qualifying short story sales, one qualifying novel sale, or one professionally produced full-length dramatic script."

In point of fact, thanks for pointing me towards their page, because reviewers are eligible to join as well!

As far as the "rules" that I posted go, do you really think they are limited to the English language? As a speaker of three languages (french, english, and dutch) I can tell you that I personally do not think so. Now, if Russian has a rule that requires the use of "!" I would love to see it. Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

OK. I will try, though I'm not the linguist ))
In Russian the exclamation mark is used, when there is:
- amazement;
- surprise;
- an appeal;
- command;
- strong feeling;
- emotion;
- an expression;
- curse;
- categorical statement;
- reproach;
- fright...

It is less often used at the compellation, gratitude, greetings, farewells, excuse...
The exclamation mark can be combined with a question mark (?!) and with dots (!.)

And there are some statistics. I counted in "Word" quantity of exclamation marks at other Russian SF&Fantasy writers:
Pehov A. 1600 "!" per 150 000 words
Lukjanenko S. 700 "!" per 80 300 words
Panov V. 800 "!" per 100 000 words
Oldy H.L. 2600 "!" per 100 000 words
Perumov N. 1240 "!" per 180 000 words

Believe that "exclamation mark" it not reason to criticism.
I will agree that there are fantasy-cliché and longueur. But ten years ago I've read all 3 books in one breath and then re-read.

Alec said...

@ Anon (same as first anon?)

Thanks for posting the stats. That puts things nicely in perspective. I wonder if you could do a count of some mainstream English authors and see if the average holds. About 1000 per 100000 I think. I tried counting with word but I can't seem to find the option to count just !. I can only get a word count. Prove me wrong good sir, prove me wrong!

Helena said...

Thank you for your article, really helpful material.

Anonymous said...

'Shadow Prowler' was never among my favourites, and for years, I used to turn my back on Pekhov. However, recently I rediscovered this writer with his latest books. 'Mockingbird' and 'Under the Sign of Mantico' are not published in English yet, but they - suprrisingly! - turned out to be much better than Pekhov's debut, the 'Shadow Prowler'. IMO, publishers shouldn't start with his early books that can make Pekhov a bad reputation in the West.