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ANATHEMA

First Fifteen Review – Anathema

By zephy669, author of Cruise Control

Dec 17, 2015: Snapshot

Anathema is an action-filled serial that takes place in 2012, two years after an event known as the Pulse which changed the world, plunging it into to a world of superheroes. The story follows three main characters, but the first fifteen chapters only really covers the first two (Chris and Sarina) and touches on the third character. Each of these characters have their own point-of-view, own histories, own weaknesses and strengths, and their own abilities.

For fans who like . . . 

Superhero stories and altered histories (seeing as it is 2015 at the time of writing this review and the story takes place in 2012, it’s a bit of a historical story). It’s also generally for fans who like action.

What I Enjoyed

My first good impression of Anathema was the well-developed world. There are superheroes in this world and it has completely changed everything from politics to religion. That’s what I loved most about this story: that the superhero phenomenon went world-wide (to Europe and India) and didn’t just stay in America where, typically in superhero comics and movies, the superhero phenomenon seems to be contained and exclusive. Because the superhero phenomenon is world-wide this opens up a story arc on politics: what kind of organizations are involved in superheroes, how are they structured, how do they treat newly discovered superheroes? If Anathema really wanted to be, it would totally be a Game of Thrones type of story only with superheroes and thrown into a modern setting.

Dialogue is great overall, except for a few instances of info-dumping (“did you know” type of conversations). The characters came alive and each of the three main characters had their own voice shown in their dialogue. To be honest, I looked forward to the moments of dialogue, not only because it was well written but because it increased the pace of the story and the long chapters.

Chris’s internal conflict is interesting: a girl struggling to find her place and who has a hard time believing in herself. I also liked that her superpower is that she can create this practically indestructible shield, but even with that power she finds she can’t protect everyone she loves (vague for spoiler purposes, of course). The fact that Chris has a clear problem or character flaw that she struggles with makes her a character worth investing some time in.

By far, though, Sarina was my favourite character. She seemed to have a useless superpower. This made her an unlikely superhero in a world of superheroes and was someone I wanted to find out more about. Her story in the first fifteen was also the most fast-paced, the most original and unique (a dancer in a concert), and she is the most active of the characters shown in the first fifteen. She does things in her story which change where she is and what happens to her.

What Put Me Off

The opening sentence lacked a hook, even though the rest of the chapter was well written. The first sentence is a thought and it doesn’t tell us the essentials of what a great first opening line should do, that is: introduce a character, tell us what’s happening, give us a tone of the overall story, and provide a flavour of setting. The opening sentence instead is ambiguous using words like “they’re coming” (who’s they?) and “she thought” (why not name the character?) and “stopping her steps to gaze up at the sky” (great moment to say what kind of sky it is to give us a flavour of setting).

The writing is competent but doesn’t go deep enough. There’s lots of telling details, especially in the first chapter, which almost serves as an info-dump on the very cool world. The story and the pacing gets bogged down by exposition and description, mainly because the exposition and description are too shallow and aren’t written from the perspective of the character. The description is there just for the sake of description, but any sentence in writing ought to do double-time, meaning that the descriptive text shouldn’t just provide description but could tell us something about the character’s personality, or provide tension or mood. Sometimes the descriptions are long and confusing like: “The familiar sound of an emergency siren began to whine in the distance, condemning her in its own way.” That’s a really long sentence that could benefit from some trimming. Remove “familiar”; use the active voice (just say whined instead of began to whine); why was an emergency siren condemning her—or was it more like a police siren? Would it have been better if she saw a police car drive by and thought it was for her so she lifted the hood over her head? That would be showing that detail instead of telling us and also lets us know that Chris, the character, is anxious about getting caught as a “criminal.”

The writing style in Anathema can be quite dense. There’s a lot of long and complex sentences that could benefit from a rewrite to make them simple and direct. For example: “Chris smiled to herself, and for a moment the amusement she felt after an amazing stroke of predictive telepathy was stronger than her frustration over her mother’s adulation.” That sentence is way too long, and far too confusing. It could benefit with a rewrite. What exactly is the point of that sentence? What do you want to say? I’m not sure, and that’s the problem with long and complex sentences. There’s also: “There was a pregnant pause that Chris stubbornly refused to fill”—why not just say, “Chris was tight-lipped”? Or, “‘Samael!’ the boy articulated the covenant hero’s name with enthusiasm.” Why not simply say, “Samael!” the boy blurted out.”?

The other thing that put me off was the pacing. I wasn’t sure what was going on with this story, what the dramatic premise was, and felt like the chapters I had read were only the setup of each character (and they were long setups!). I never really got a complete understanding of the major conflict. Anathema is obviously a massive story, but it would’ve benefited from having story arcs, each with their own beginning, middle, and end, like small stories in a bigger story. It would’ve been nice for the pacing to get the major story arc, which is the main conflict of the whole serial, and then have several smaller story arcs, all of which lead to and benefit the major story arc. Otherwise, the storytelling sometimes came off as wandering aimlessly as opposed to having character desires and needs that we want to see met.

On the Website

Anathema is on a website completely devoted to the serial. It really is like reading a novel online. It’s user-friendly and simple to move around. The length of each chapter in Anathema is quite long, which can make it hard on the eyes when reading online.

Should You Read It?

If you like superhero stories, then I would say to read this story. I think the story has some interesting characters in it and I’m intrigued by the possibilities this story has to offer, only I wish those possibilities would come sooner rather than later and that there was a stronger direction for the serial as a whole.

(This review is part of the First Fifteen series. To learn more about the review series and how you can get your web serial or indie novel reviewed, please see the main website at: http://cruisecontrolserial.com/the-first-fifteen/)

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