Saturday, February 25, 2012

"I Know Not," by James Daniel Ross: A Book Review

Surprise! I have another book review for you!

Since finishing Second Sight (G. Hamerton), I've marched through a few more Kindle samples, looking for (and finding) a few worthwhile books -- most notably Homeland (R.A. Salvatore), The Revisionists (Thomas Mullen) and Nation (Terry Pratchett). I added them to my List of Books To Buy When the Price is Right, and moved forward.

One book sample that I randomly selected hooked me so hard and swift, I bought the full book (only $3!) and devoured it in less than a day. This is the book I review for you today -- a fantasy book I'm sure you've never heard of, by an author who is at once incredibly talented and careless...

I Know Not, by James Daniel Ross
A man slowly wakes, finding himself in the stinking courtyard of a large keep, surrounded by corpses. A great battle has taken place here, and the gruesome aftermath surrounds him. He is severely wounded, exploding with pain, and he has no memory of how he got there, or even of who he is. Barely able to summon the strength to move, he begins the process of extricating himself from the massive fortress of death.

This is how I Know Not, by James Daniel Ross, begins.

Now, before you dismiss the tale outright because it employs one of the oldest tropes in literature (Amnesia? Seriously?) keep this in mind: sometimes it's acceptable to use a tired trope IF it is done really REALLY well. And in this case, Ross employs it to incredible effect.

The story is told in first person perspective, from the POV of this nameless warrior. He knows things instinctively that reveal to him the type of person he is (as far as his skill set), without knowing the full truth of who he actually is. He has no idea if he is a hero or a villain, or which side of the battle he was fighting for. As he escapes and heads out into the realm, seeking first to survive, and then to find a healer to help patch him up, he wages an internal war, as impulses to embrace extreme violent tendencies threaten to overwhelm his desire to help, to do right.

A sequence of events sees him joining a small caravan to protect it as it heads for a capitol city, while he struggles to discover who he is -- all the while dreading what he might find out.

It is a remarkable character study, skillfully shoe-horned into a visceral, violent, tightly-scripted action story. It reminds me of what I love best about Joe Abercrombie - the action, the humor, the violence, the good "bad guys" and the bad "good guys"...

And yet, the Kindle version I bought was literally riddled with typos. I couldn't go two pages without catching something that even a moderately-skilled proof-reader should have flagged immediately. It speaks volumes to me about the author that he could so enthrall me, in spite of the grating formatting. That, plus the rather limp cover design, screams the kind of careless apathy of a person who is naturally gifted at many things, but doesn't care enough to polish up what he does before moving on to the next thing that he/she wants to do.

The story is extremely compelling, very well-told, with some flashes of truly incredible phrasing and laugh-out-loud dialog. I cannot stress strongly enough how surprised I was at this book. And yet, it screams out for a little more love and polish and professionalism. It could use a deft editor's hand as well. When a perfect descriptive phrase is used, it greatly enhances the reading experience... but when that same phrase is used a second, and third time, it detracts as much as it initially enhanced. Redundancies and typos -- how the author can offer something like this, which is at once so half-baked and brilliant, puzzles me to no end. It's almost like the reader has to contribute to the writing process, which is really unnecessary.

Summary: 4/5 I can't help but dock it a star for the formatting problems. Everything inside me wants to give this a 5/5 and tout its praises. For what it is, it's a terrific ride and an even better character study. If gritty, violent fantasy is your cup of tea, you will love this book. But be prepared to wade through lazy formatting. I am so glad that I read this book. Plus: it is a stand-alone tale -- no sequels to wait endlessly for!


logankstewart said...

It's a shame that Kindle books are so ripe with typos and formatting issues. It doesn't matter which ebook you pick, it's bound to have formatting issues, much to my chagrin! I'm not sure why ebooks don't get the same treatment/love from publishers, and it would seem like self-published/small-press books (as this one seems to be?) would work twice as hard to ensure no formatting issues.

As for the cover, authors generally have little-to-no say-so over that unless they self-produce everything. But I agree. It's a bland & boring cover.

All that, and still, like you, I'm intrigued by this book. The trope is tried, but if it's done well (a la Jason Bourne) then it's done well and who can argue?

Good review!

Anonymous said...

Of course, every time you or Logan post a review I feel I must have the book. Hurumph.

Dave, are you an Amazon Prime Member? I'm doing the one month trial, and the book you reviewed is one of the many "library" books that you can borrow for "free." I won't be able to join for a while, but the trial is useful, and I can read your reviewed book for free!

Beth A.

David Wagner said...

Logan: Most of the Kindle books I've read have been "noticeable typo free"... this one is way bad, however. Not sure what drew me to the title to begin with, but I'm glad I read it. Great story.

Beth: When I bought my wifey a Kindle Fire, it came with a free month of Prime, so I found out about the lending library. Haven't ponied up the dough for a year subscription, however.

A lot of titles that you buy for the Kindle can also be lent to friends that are Kindle owners as well... I can assemble a list of borrowable titles from my collection, if you ever run out of things to read...