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Great Characters; Too Much Exposition

By Tartra, author of The Other Kind of Roommate

Mar 27, 2015: One of the hardest things I find about e-reading, whether it’s a Google Play app or a Kindle or a mobile site, is how difficult it is to do on a phone. Say what you want, but I am an avid on-my-phone reader. Unfortunately, that means huge slogs of text are next to impossible to keep track of. The really immersive worlds with pages of detail fall sadly flat. It’s impressive, then, that t4nky’s balanced immersion and brevity as well as he has.

As a big tl;dr for my rating, I give it two for its world and plot so far, another one and a half for two stand-out characters that come in later and a last half star for that kick-ass opening chapter. That’s a total of four: it’s a solid read, and worth checking out.

Grammar and spelling are a non-issue here. The entire story – so far – is very well-written and obviously proofread. NIU, which stands for the unusually clunky ‘Nowhere Island University’, shines of quality and attention to detail. The author’s also working hard to engage his readers, which is another plus. I like that effort.

Story-wise, we’ve got a very limited idea of what’s happening. There are hints of a greater plot out there, but considering this story’s in its early stages (eight chapters right now), we seem to have a while to get there. As a damn good compensation, the titular island itself has a great suite of characters. Allow me to say, however, that for every fantastic, well-developed personality (props to my girl Eliza and kudos for the serial killer-y yet somehow sociable Ulfric), there are two who fall flat. Let me explain with a few examples before I get back to the really good parts.

Richard is a racist. That’s all you need to know for now, which is convenient because it’s all we do know. Salim is something-something-terrorist, which is again all you learn. They’re the villains. Full stop, apparently. The aggression wafting off of them comes so far from the left field, I finished those particular chapters wondering if I’d skipped a scene or ten.

On the hero falls-flat side of things is, in my opinion, the narrator himself. While he starts strong as an accessible, even likeable, character, hinting at a genuine friendship in the first chapter, he quickly turns to pretentiously, aggressively analytical. The story seems to stop in several places to allow him – Nathan – to sagely divine deeper meanings behind everyone’s words and actions. I understand that he’s supposed to be a smart guy, but he takes away a lot of the fun by holding our hands through a step-by-step discussion of every plot-based mystery. The readers don’t get a lot of chances to just discover things with him, only watch passively as he does it, shrugs and moves on. It’s disappointing. With that said, when it comes to character-based mysteries, those issues vanish. The fun is back when Nathan gets to learning about his new peers, and I love it.

Eliza is the bomb. She’s smart, level-headed, down-to-earth, loyal, but also suspicious, blunt, fiercely honest (and just plain fierce) and sarcastic. The author’s woven a great personality that’s not only entertaining, but easy to understand. The reader certainly has questions about who she ‘really is’, but there’s so much given up front that everything new adds on a bonus. Better still, I have no idea what her role or relation to the main character will be, and that’s a relief. Usually it’s, “Oh, you’re the first girl on the scene? Immediate love interest.” The fact that Nathan could potentially see her only as a friend, as a complete person who contributes to the story without having to mash faces to be interesting, is an immense plus for me. She’s given a lot of attention through these early chapters as an unlikely and unreliable ally. With any luck, the author will be careful not to wear her character out. She’s a big personality, and it could crowd out the more subtle ones around her.

Ulfric, the resident lovechild of Hannibal Lector and Andre the Giant – and Charles Manson, why not – is equally entertaining. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and so clearly presented as a berserker cliché that it’s amazing to see how he is most certainly not. He’s terrifying, yet sociable. He’s psychotically deadly, and yet weirdly polite. He’s massive and screwed in the head, and yet I read hints at growing alliances. Again, like Eliza, I hope his character isn’t worn out, but he’s definitely a guy I want to read more about.

My focus on characters right now is because it is a character-driven story. It makes the few chapters of almost total infodumping that much more frustrating; I expect to see the characters evolve rather than fuss about every nuance of a gun. While it’s all nice to know stuff, I skimmed a lot of the parts that refused to stop explaining the world they live in.

This story’s strength is its characters – I can’t stress that enough. From the first two agents we meet in chapter two to the shy warriors we watch blush as fast as kick total ass to even the drill sergeants who’ve made this a crazy as hell boot camp more than any stretch of the word ‘university’ (make no mistake, this place is a hell filled with every extreme group, including the KKK), every one – except the cartoonish villains – shines. For that reason, the author should take note: if the mysteries of the world aren’t important enough to the characters to discuss them in a natural conversation, the reader isn’t ready to read pages of straight analysis yet.

I recommend this story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes on.

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