09 April 2009

Review: Sorrow by John Lawson

First, The Usual Warning – probably, I am not going to do this review thing right. My 'reviews' are more a part of my own learning process as a writer than 'proper reviews’ in the traditional sense. They are more my ruminations, more my thoughts on and reactions to stories I either read or watch (yanno, movies), and more my attempt to process - mainly for my own benefit - the techniques and bits of craft that I most admired (or that didn’t seem to work for me). For that reason, it isn’t enough for me to say ‘I liked it’; I need to think about and say exactly why, so I get very specific.

Oh, and sorry about all the italics and bold and bold-italics in this one. I went sorta wild with it...

There. You have been warned. :)

On to Sorrow, by John Lawson!

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I'm not going to begin with a synopsis or blurb of the plot. I think that's boring. Sorry. I'll tell you there's an assassin and nobody knows who it is, but they need to find out before more people die. That's plenty, right? :) (OK, if you need a real synopsis or blurb, and/or would like to read an excerpt, go to Drollerie Press's Sorrow page.)

I will begin with happily admitting that it was the cover that sold me on this one. What can I say? I'm a sucker for good visuals. I just HAD TO KNOW what those black tears were about. And that's good -- a cover that creates a story question and compells you to buy a book as just as all important as those first few lines you read standing in the bookstore (or sitting at your computer, if you're in an ebookstore...). Those lines should draw you into the story in such a way that you CANNOT put the books down and simply MUST. BUY. IT.

And next I will admit that the first few lines of Sorrow had me doubting the whole purchase thing...

There is a prologue, you see, and prologues are tricky. All the writing books say you don't need them and shouldn't use them and should start the story where the story starts and all kinds of other bullshit that, frankly, isn't all that helpful. As a reader, I think a prologue is totally fine -- as long as it relates to the story and totally draws me in and makes me HAVE TO buy the book.

Sorrow's Prologue almost didn't. I mean, it's neat -- it reads like a creation myth, so it's got a cool tone and the feel of a parable and I could see it being told by elder to a bunch of people sitting around a fire at night.... OK, so, yeah, it created really good visuals there and I loved it when I went back and read it after reading the rest of the book, but as a beginning it was almost too mysterious, plus I'm impatient and wanted the story to start already. I actually thought about giving up on it....

And then, quite suddenly, it ended and I hit this:

They were going to betray him.

Which is the first line of the 'real' story, which grabbed me like a super-size vise grips and never let go, which is exactly what I love in a first line. Bravo!

Overall Impression

Better yet, the rest of the story is fantastic. It's part who-dun-it, part dark fantasy, part horror (OK, I'm a light-weight with the horror, so take that with a grain of salt), and moves quickly through a vividly imagined world with a plot that twists and turns until the very, very, very end. In other words: definitely my kind of book. In fact, not only is Sorrow a serious contender for the Bethanie's Favorite-Books-of-All-Time list, but it has also made the Yes-I-Want-A-Hard-Copy list, which is huge, because there are very few books that merit an allowance of space in my teeny, tiny house, as well as the I-Can't-Wait-To-Read-It-Again list.

The Specifics

Plot. As I've already mentioned, the plot moves quickly. This is always good. What made Sorrow really interesting for me, however, was that the who-dun-it part was somewhat non-traditional. It starts out traditional: there are clues, there are red herrings, there are possible suspects... and then, about two-thirds of the way through the story, you know the Who.

Now I suppose the pundits and mavens will tell us that is a Serious No-No and that John Lawson is a rule breaker and should be locked up writer's prison, at which point I shall happily thumb my nose at them and inform them that Sorrow is a good example when to go ahead and break the damn rules. Because instead of relieving the tension by knowing Who, the tension is instantly 10 times worse. Which makes you keep reading - just as fast as you can - because now you are howling to know WHY!? It's brilliant.

Language. I have read other reviews of Sorrow and several have mentioned that there is a lot of story-specific language, strange/foreign words, and that readers should be prepared to use the glossary. And yes, there's a lot of that and you might prepare yourself to use the glossary frequently or you might steer clear of Sorrow, if you don't like that sort of thing.

Me? I'm a language junkie. I love that sort of thing. For me, there is no such thing as too much. Especially when it's so expertly woven into the story, as it is in Sorrow, that you swear you can feel the fabric of the world the characters are moving in. I mean, it's really well done -- almost Tolkein-esque. Seriously! (And really, you can figure out most things from context, so I'm not sure what all the whining is about in the first place.)

Names. What I did find confusing at times were the myriad names, titles, and forms of address for any given character. An example, and perhaps the most confusing for me, was Hashii, who is referred to by three different names -- "Lord Ash", "Count Hashii", and "Hashii" -- in the section of the story where he is introduced. (OK, maybe the last one shouldn't count, but I'm trying to make a point here, bear with me.) I had to read that section three times before I was certain there was only one character. Even just re-reading it now, I kept thinking Lord Ash was Hashii's boss.

Perhaps my confusion is due to being American and having no clue whatsoever about titles and nobility. Or perhaps I'm being especially nit-picky on this because I'm so very guilty of it in my own writing... :D Could be... In any case, it really threw me in spots and, lesson learned, is something I'll try to avoid myself.

Characters. I suppose it goes without saying that good characters are essential for a good story. Sorrow is full of good characters. They are as vivid as the world they live in, as human as anyone you know, and are drawn with heartbreaking detail, like the woman who makes a doll for every miscarriage she has so when she eventually has a child, it can play with its brothers and sisters. (That one killed me... *sobs*)

The End. Since I'm an utterly hopeless romantic, the ending was not what I was hoping for. It's not exactly unhappy, but it's not happily ever after either. And yet, for all my romantic loyalties, I wouldn't change a thing about it. It was perfectly "right" for the story. And that's where my respect for John Lawson really soared. I hate endings. I suck at endings. I can't write a proper ending to save my life. To see an ending so expertly put together is amazing.

My Only Real Complaint... ...is that there are two other Witch Ember books, Witch Ember and The Raven, that I can't get. Boo! Hiss! OK, I guess you can get them used through Amazon, but they're, like, 40 bucks each or something crazy and, dude, that is so out of my price range. :( Bummer.

Hopefully, that will change sometime soon, but in the meantime, go get you a copy of Sorrow. You'll be glad you did. It's available here from Drollerie Press.

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3 comments:

WitchEmber said...

Thank you, Bethanie! I'm glad you enjoyed my work!

John
www.WitchEmber.com

Bethanie said...

You're welcome! It was awesome!

soleilnoir said...

Like you, Bethanie, the cover was what had me going "must.have.NOW." Ugh. Want this book soooo bad, especially now that I've seen what you've had to say about it. As I know you to have excellent taste.