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A book like any other human endeavour is a construct. Books contain characters who we follow through a story. What distinguishes one writer from another is both their skill with words, to build worlds and characters, and their stylistic choices.
George R. R. Martin related events in the Game of Thrones through the choice of having each chapter being from a single perspective. Stephen King presented Carrie as a series of factual interviews and police reports. Iain Banks went to some extreme by writing his novel Feersum Endjinn phonetically in the first person. Each of these choices made their books distinct and in the case of Martin or Banks, the writers had enough of a following for readers to accept the style, regardless of how strange or obscure.
The reason I bring all of this up is that somewhere within Snakewood (2016. 414 pages), a fantasy novel written by first time novelist, Adrian Selby, there is a good story trying to get past an overabundance of stylistic tricks.
The book is designed so that we are told that the stories within have all been gathered by Scholar Goran, who has collected together the reminiscences of his father, Gant. There are also collected papers, all of which come together to tell the history of Kailen’s Twenty, the most renowned and successful mercenary crew. It’s a good premise for a novel and promised intrigue and adventure.
Unfortunately, to get to what was good about the book it was necessary to wade through a morass of information which most readers would not care about as the writer had taken no time to introduce his characters or have the reader spend enough time with them to empathise about their fate.
The reader is further bombarded with lists of place names without any context and that wonderful fantasy writer staple style choice of renaming ordinary things and occupations by just a subtle change in the spelling; because that always makes the reader think they are somewhere else. If that didn’t satiate your desire for stylistic jiggery-pokery Selby also throws in regional dialects. The collective effect of this is to create an almost impenetrable barrier between Selby and his audience.
This sort of thing is ok for an established author but maybe a little over brave for the novice novelist, after all, the readership has no history and no real reason to continue reading.
If that sounds like a good old drubbing, well there is some truth to that. However, Snakewood is a book worth sticking with. The first third is a bit of a struggle, but this settles down and eventually you're left with a good, if not easy, read.