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Almost in place

By G.S. Williams, author of No Man An Island

Jul 9, 2012: A lot of the time rating a story is fairly straight-forward. You can tell right away when something is one or two stars, because it’s just that bad at a spelling and grammar level. Five stars stands out because right away it’s original, creative or just that darn fun to read.

But three or four stars can be really difficult to judge. There it becomes subjective—the story isn’t head and shoulders above the crowd, but it doesn’t suck either. If it’s technically sound, it comes down to whether or not it’s enjoyable, and that’s personal.

"The Misplaced Hero" is difficult for me to place on a star scale, because it’s too good to be two stars or even a straight, solid three—but I can’t go four or five. It’s solidly written, with decent description, adequate characterization, and a command of the fundamentals of writing.

I decided to give it three and a half stars because it’s just not fun for me to read. Here’s why:

The first chapter "tells" a lot about the protagonist, Alex, and his childhood as his parents pass away, lawyers take over his care, and his summers are spent with his odd aunt. The scenes that could be shown are just mentioned in passing, so right away some emotional resonance is lost. These are formative moments that we don’t get to see, only hear about.

The second chapter improves as it shows Aunt Flavia in action, a very intriguing character. Who dies off stage. So, again, we miss the depth. Alex goes off to university and has an interesting professor and the two of them leap into a river—which takes them to a different world because of a magic ring Flavia gave to Alex.

And this is where I actually stopped enjoying the story, despite a solid further dozen chapters or so—because it’s entirely been done before. From the "John Carter of Mars" series, Heinlein’s "Glory Road," even children’s novels like "Knight’s Castle,"—the idea that there are other realities touching our own where ordinary people become heroes has been done and done again. "The Misplaced Hero" doesn’t add to the genre. Guy Gavriel Kay’s "Fionovar Tapestry" even has the professor and university student angle.

The world Alex travels to is in fact fairly dull—the people are in the middle of what looks like its own version of the Russian Revolution, with bureaucracy, bayonets, trains and thick accents. That’s way less interesting than aliens, fantasy creatures or magic—if anything it’s disappointing even in comparison to what Flavia calls our "muted reality."

"The Misplaced Hero" seems to belong to a different era, and it’s one I’m too familiar with to recommend as "outstanding" literature. It is, however, well-written and solid. No one who reads it will be let down by its quality, just its flare—and as I said, my opinion on that is subjective and entirely personal.

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