Rules are meant to be broken … or at least bent

One of the unwritten rules for authors is to never, ever respond to a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Far be it for me to say that rules are made to be broken, but the other day I happened upon a multipart review across a couple of the Pax books that made me laugh, shake my head, and mutter under my breath in a matter of minutes. I’m perfectly happy to receive constructive criticism, but there are points and accusations made that range from outright falsehoods to … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As boring as it is, I’ll be a good boy and follow the unwritten rule. While I’ll refrain from responding directly fisking is always a good alternative. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Webster’s defines fisking as ‘the act of making an argument seem wrong or stupid by showing the mistakes in each of its points.’ That dry dictionary explanation fails to present just how fun they are to read and write.

Buckle up, you’re in for a ride. Fair warning, though, I’m going to spoil a few plot points, so if you’re not caught up on the series you may want to circle back once you’re caught up. Attached images are screenshots from reviews of Night’s Black Agents and Come, Seeling Night, from the same person.

Edit: the screenshots I took turned to a low resolution after publishing, I have replaced them with copy-and-pasted text. Reviewer’s comments in bold.

It needed to be proofread. There are dozens of sentences that are missing words and it’s pretty annoying to read. On top of that it’s just not really put together well on a nuts and bolts level. People set things on fire and there’s no smoke. People get shot and don’t have to worry about the bullets, just the blood. People don’t really seem to need to eat, or go to the bathroom, or do anything that normal people spend their days doing. The main character over exerts himself and needs calories to replace his lost energy and never really makes much of an effort to replace them. 

As far as proofreading, that’s usually a fair point. My stuff goes through several beta readers before I send it to my marvelous editrix at Silver Empire. We generally go through a couple of revision drafts. Typos are kind of like cockroaches, those things always pop up when you least expect them. Dozens, though? The way the rest of the review proceeds, I suspect there’s more than a bit of hyperbole here.

(As an aside, if you do notice a typo, let me know, so the publisher can fix it! That’s one of the awesome things about Amazon’s platform, you can update and correct issues over time.)

As far as smoke and fire … in Night’s Black Agents, the only fire that comes to mind is Helen setting Kent’s house on fire … at night … and it’s later mentioned the Sikoras and the rest are being treated for smoke inhalation. Shooting … there isn’t a ton of shooting in the book, save for the fight in Tlaloc’s catacombs. Not sure what point is being made here.

The rest of the tidbit is what really tickled me. I will fully admit that I haven’t written one scene of anyone using the restroom throughout the entire series. Maybe that’s why Val’s so grumpy. The man hasn’t had a chance to read a magazine across five books. I don’t know about you, but I read books to be entertained, not for the riveting descriptions of bodily functions.

The mention of eating is also demonstrably false, given that the literal first line in the book is “I was halfway through a plate of pancakes when …” There’s also a meal scene with Cassie, Pax, and the Sikoras. I grew up in Phoenix, and I found it amusing to have them visit one of my favorite restaurants.

I’m not the only one, either …

Then there’s the scene where Cassie gives Paxton a Snickers bar as “emergency wizard fuel” that he later gives to the kidnapped kids. I mean, maybe our reviewer skimmed past those parts, but as you’ll see as we go on, this isn’t the first thing he lies about.

Also, the author (apparently deliberately) insists on mis-stating common expressions. For instance, “she’s no shrinking violet” which by the way is a very old expression and not something 25 year olds would say to each other, is rendered multiple times as “she’s no wilting flower,” “she’s no wilting lily,” “she’s no shrinking flower” etc but never once is it used correctly. Or someone will say “it’s raining cats and coyotes” instead of “it’s raining cats and dogs”. It’s really just pointless and baffling and only serves to remind you that you’re reading a weird story and breaks the immersion totally.

Cassie tells Kent at one point that she’s no wilting flower, yes. It’s a snarky comment made by a younger person to an older one, and the subtext is that yes, she got the phrase wrong, because it’s not something someone of her generation would use frequently. To be fair, I don’t explicitly make that point. Shrinking violet and shrinking flower do not appear in the text, nor does ‘raining cats and coyotes.’ The latter was so unique that I did a web search and the term does appear in the novel Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler (and, to put into context how oddly specific the phrase is, Google found a grand total of 9 results for it.) Maybe our reviewer is reading multiple books at once? I have no clue.

In the first book the entire thing was told from Paxton’s point of view and in this one we have about 6 different narrators, which I don’t think really works, but that’s personal taste. I feel that too much work was put into making everyone quirky and weird and not enough into making the story believable in any way at all.

Totally fair assessment. This is something that comes down to personal preference. Although if I’m being precise there are multiple chapters in the first book from other than Paxton’s POV.

Also, the “twist” at the end is the most obvious thing in the universe, and the Feds disregard all their orders for absolutely no reason I can tell just because it’s convenient for a cliffhanger. It’s poor writing, to be honest.

Okay, pardon my French, but holy crap, my dude. Agent Valentine’s true identity, (spoiler spoiler spoiler) as a cursed and nigh-immortal Doc Holiday is the most obvious thing in the universe? Do you have next week’s PowerBall numbers, too? Because I’ve had multiple people tell me, if anything, that I was far too subtle about Valentine, Eliot, and the crew.

As far as orders go … Paxton magically assaults a Federal agent and is arrested. (Then there’s the fact that Valentine not following orders is one of the ongoing themes of the series, but I digress …)

All in all, a little odd with some reasonable points, but things really go off the rails in our reviewer’s take on Come, Seeling Night. I’m surprised he didn’t go all caps because you can practically feel the spittle hitting the monitor.

Reviews of book one complained that all Paxton did was get his ass kicked. Three books in, after experience, intensive training, and recovering from crippling injuries, he defeats his mother with the unbelievable power of … forgiveness. All righty, then.

In book 1 Paxton is a kid who banishes ghosts for pocket money. In this book he is the only person on Earth, hand-picked by God, who can save the entire planet and everyone on it from two different threats that might end the world. He is both a wizard and a paladin, and also a federal agent. Also, of course, all his co-workers agree that he is basically the coolest dude around and people who have worked together for over 100 years accept him instantly and rely on him without question. Also, it turns out that he’s known more about monsters than the federal government has the entire time, and his limited experience with magic astonishes professional wizards who are literally hundreds of years old. Oh yeah, and he hasn’t had sex in 10 years but has no trace of social awkwardness and feels totally comfortable telling federal agents and Senators to take a leap.

Hand-picked … that’s explored a bit more in The Dragon and His Wrath, but no. He’s a replaceable cog.

Yes, he is anointed as a ‘paladin’, which in the Paxverse is little more than a title. He’s not going to start riding a horse and carrying a sword and lance while … well, crap, okay, he’s not going to start riding a horse. And those are special circumstances for one book only.

Are these the same coworkers that haze him when he joins Division M halfway through the book after spending the first half a) being a victim of rendition, b) a prisoner in magical supermax, and c) a fugitive from justice? Yeah, no. The same workers that spend months helping train him for the concluding fight by trying to kick his butt at every opportunity while shooting him with Nerf guns in the back to get him to pay attention to his surroundings? Yeah, they accept him, but there’s an onboarding period of several months involved. To be fair, maybe I wasn’t explicit about the time jump when it was Thanksgiving in one chapter and the spring equinox the next.

As far as knowing more about monsters, I’m baffled here. Pax’s knowledge base usually comes from consulting Karen, and other than the griffin, he doesn’t know what any of the cryptids he runs into are before meeting them. I wouldn’t say Morgan is astonished with his abilities; more intrigued at what he can do while being flabbergasted at the simple things he can’t. Magically speaking, Pax is an idiot savant with fewer spells than he can count on both hands who’s almost killed himself with magic because he doesn’t know how to throttle his power use. But yes. Absolutely a Gary Stu.

And telling federal agents and Senators to take a leap … I mean, do we really have to dig into the psychology here to understand why Pax has no great respect for authority figures? Especially stupid authority in the case of Senator Prince?

As far as the sex thing goes, eh … maybe he has, maybe he hasn’t. I’m not writing something for Skinemax, here.

There isn’t much of a plot beyond “Boy, Paxton sure is cool you guys!” and “Boy, this Federal agent team sure is amazing you guys!”. The first book was fine and presented a hero who had limited powers and actually had to use his brain a little bit sometime to get out of trouble. He limited what he did and tried to blend in as much as possible. In this book he’s had a personality transplant because he is the exact opposite, showing off his powers at every turn and ambushing people on the side of highways and compelling innocent civilians to do his bidding. There’s no explanation for what changed or why

No explanation for Pax’s growing desperation? Sure, I mean, except for the Federal manhunt and trying to stop his mom before she brings about what everyone thinks will be an apocalypse. Maybe reviewer skimmed that part. When he does use his power to compel assistance from the civilian after escaping from magical prison (that he’s in even though the Federal agents think he “sure is cool you guys!”) he agonizes over it and feels incredibly guilty.

And you don’t think a Federal strike team composed of an immortal Wild West gunslinger, a guy with a serious Mr. Hyde case, a rune-powered ‘mech suit with heavy machine guns, and an ancient sorceress is awesome? I guess I need to get out more.

And, speaking of guilt …

They just go “Right on man! You’re so cool!” In the last book he got his adopted father’s house burned down and in this one the guy doesn’t even mention it, like literally doesn’t even say “I wish you hadn’t gotten my house burned down” or anything like that. It’s just fine.

Paxton didn’t “get” the Sikoras house burned down. Helen did it. Kent, at least, is astute enough not to blame someone for something they had no responsibility for. Perhaps that level of compassion is over our reviewer’s head.

The whole thing is ridiculous, I’m sorry. It’s stupid and not believable in the least. On top of all of that, we still have dozens of sentences with words missing and freshman-year philosophy presented as something angels would actually tell people in real life. Just no. I will not read anything else in this series.

Again with the dozens of sentences … for some reason I’m even more dubious, but okay. If you see something, let me know, folks. We’ll take care of it.

As far as the angel goes, Michael’s dialogue amounts to, “you were meant for bigger things than banishing imaginary ghosts” and “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  That’s Luke chapter 12. I don’t think they teach the Bible in freshman year philosophy save for particular colleges. Or maybe it was Spider-Man; I always get those mixed up.

As far as not reading anything else in the series? Please, don’t. For whatever reason the story sets you off to the point you have to stretch the truth in your reviews for no discernible reason. Life’s too short for that. Do something that makes you happy and doesn’t spike your blood pressure.

And the same goes for everyone else, not just Mr. Reviewer! Have a great rest of the summer, and I’ll see you next time.

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1 Response to Rules are meant to be broken … or at least bent

  1. Pingback: Sometimes, you've just got to ignore the rules - Richard Paolinelli

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