Confessions of a Galley Slave

Kenny Brechner -- January 29th, 2015

Bookseller to bookseller ARC reviews – honest, direct, and informative, divorced of vested interest – are extremely useful to frontlist buyers. With NECBA’s venerable Galley Review Project having slowed down from a spate, to a stream, to a trickle, they are very hard to come by now. The primary purpose of these reviews was discovery, as it should be, of course. Discovery is the main thing, to be sure, but what of all the sequels of the great series books you discovered? Therein lies the secret shame and source of frustration for many frontlist buyers. The pressure of discovery makes it very difficult to find time to read series sequels that you were dying to read when you finished book one.

My own nightstand is telling. The Whispering Skull, The Infinite Sea, and Knightley and Son K-9, stare ominously at me. “We are out now, and you have abandoned us,” they say. The Mime Order, Half Wild, The Lost City, and The Golden Specific, emanate their own brand of opprobrium. “Be fair,” I say. “Look at your neighbor, The Buried Giant, I promised Pam Kaufman I’d read it.” They are unmoved.” You said you loved us and we are unread,” they say. It really is a dilemma; not only are there the warring promises and duties, but customers ask about Book Twos all the time, customers you handsold Book One to. They have come to share your love of Book One, why haven’t you read Book Two?

Something must be done. I’m galled to the quick, I tell you. With this in mind I did four things. First, I went on a binge read of some sequels I’ve most wanted to read. Second, I came up with a sequel-oriented layout for series sequel reviews, essentially modifying the discovery oriented layout of the NECBA reviews. Third, I posted two of them here as examples.

9780670017133Half Wild, by Sally Green
9780670017133 – March 2105
Viking

Follow up to: Half Bad.

The Lowdown: Half Wild magnifies the themes and qualities of its predecessor in a masterful manner. Both the actions and the perceptions of its characters are subject to multiple perspectives and present an aggressive moral challenge to the reader. For example, lead character Nathan’s first person voice is completely honest, and yet the accuracy of his information and his impressions, as well as the nature of his character and his actions are dynamically unsettled.

The Bottom line: Splendid characters, unrelenting narrative tension, and intellectually engaging scenarios make Half Wild a stupendously entertaining read.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Some series’ such as Hunger Games and Harry Potter,  elevated their content from book to book. This is not so of this superb series. It has been upper YA from the get-go and certainly stays there. It is visceral and violent, and its depiction of sexuality, though not graphic, is strong and emotive. Great stuff but not a go-to book for 10-year-olds reading above grade level.

Unexpected Bonus(es): One is always pleased to see one’s own personal activities get a shout-out, and Half Wild delivered a few.

  1. Appetite Suppressant:  Even Julia Child would have been put off by some of Nathan’s meals when he first exercises his gift.
  2. Hiking mountains: Nathan’s tendency to spend any down time he has obsessively doing strenuous hikes will be very welcome to any readers who happen to be hikers.
  3. Porridge. Those of us who make oatmeal for breakfast most mornings will find Nathan’s habit of making his own porridge every morning, even when fattier options are available, to be very bracing indeed. Thank you, Sally Green!

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

Half Wild Support Level  = 1

9781620408933The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon
9781620408933  – February 2015
Bloomsbury

Follow up to: The Bone Season.

The Lowdown: The Mime Order follows Paige Mahoney’s development from Sheol 1 escapee to Syndicate Underqueen. The book succeeds in sustaining interest in its lead character throughout the story; however, the central section suffers from some contrived narrative devices. Shannon keeps using the same method over and over again to move Paige around to all the scenes she needs to have. Paige keeps running off, flouting Jaxon’s standing order not to do that. Jaxon is steamed when she gets back, but lets it go. Though Jaxon is seen to be steadily drinking more, this repeated device has the overall effect of making him seem static and inexplicably treading water. Good scenes certainly do happen in the middle section, but it feels like the author couldn’t figure out how to make them happen credibly. Once the table is fully laid, however, the final section of the book is really strong. The culminating scene, a scrimmage in which most of the syndicate aristocracy, Mime Lords, Queens, and Mollishers, duke it out in an arena to determine the next syndicate ruler, is sensationally entertaining and imaginative.  Even in this moment of triumphant spectacle I did find myself thinking that no ruling elite would have allowed a formal means of succession which involved essentially decapitating itself.

The Bottom Line: Though it wobbles a bit, the book does carry the core story forward and manages to sustain readers’ interest throughout. Big action scenes, evocative imaginative flourishes, and strong romantic currents will deliver what readers of Book One came back for. Book Three will be life and death for this series.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Though published as adult, this is clearly a 16 and up crossover book.

Unexpected Bonus(es):

Great names for syndicate leaders:  The Pale Dreamer, the White Binder, The Hare, the Rag and Bone Man, The Wicked Lady, The Bully-Rook, and many more.

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

 

Mime Order Support Level  = 2

Fourth: I put forward right now that booksellers should find a means for producing and sharing series sequel reviews either on local regional listservs, ABC, or some other platform.

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