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The Chronicles of Guiamo Durmius Stolo
Written by Marshall BestGenre: Fantasy, Historical
There is a very delicate line when writing historical fiction to balance between the historical and the fiction; too much of the latter and it can feel unrealistic to the time and events it’s portraying, yet too much of the former and it feels like a thin veil of a story to cover a history text book.
In the case of this book, it felt like the author was trying to write in the styles of both ancient saga–where things are Told, in depth characterization is not required, and achievements are what’s shown–and modern storytelling, yet in trying to be both, it failed to convincingly be either.
I felt like the beginning was primarily Tell, which I don’t enjoy in modern fiction unless it’s very engaging. This wasn't. What we saw had small glimmers of good character–like Guiamo is honest and hardworking–but is mostly focused on skills he’s learning, like a systemic skill-up for what he’ll need later in this book and series. But without emotional attachment, I don’t really care what happens to the character.
The primary thing that is supposed to show how “extraordinary” he is, is how hard he works to feed his dog. I guess for some that’s enough, but to me, it wasn't. It was “of course he fed his dog,” rather than “look how great he is.” And then when the dog is quickly set aside later on, it makes it look less like a real attachment and more like a device. (Although he is brought back later, it still feels like device.)
All authors have to use devices and conveniently convenient things, but you have to hide them, because when they’re obvious, they remove the reader from the experience.
About a third of the way through and we’re seeing more Show and more glimmers of character, but it’s still somewhat bloodless and not enough. The dialog often comes across as clunky and heavy-handed. (Perhaps trying to sound natural to the time period, but it doesn't come across smoothly.) And our characters, including Guiamo, read somewhat two-dimensional. Like more was spent on historical realism than character realism.
Ultimately, Guiamo proves a somewhat inactive narrator. He’s pulled along by events, and never rebels and rarely questions what he’s doing or being told to do or when he’s told about what his “extraordinary” fate will be. Here in, I think, lies one of it’s biggest battles between ancient saga and modern story.
One of Guiamo’s big character facets is that he’s very bright and is an inventor, but it’s overused. There were literally scenes where I stopped reading and thought, “Did he invite fire and the wheel too?” Or he’d be the only person to come up with an often simple idea that made everyone else figuratively smack their heads and say, “Brilliant!” This is okay in small doses, but not when it happens as often as it did in this book.
Yet, there were some things I liked about the story. I liked what good character traits there were to Guiamo, he just lacked balanced flaws. The anthropomorphizing of the spear was cool, and I did like the dog angle, when it was presented. I liked the druid stuff, too. And there were some sweet moments towards the end.
The prose was technically competent and I do have some minor curiosity about what will come of the saga, but I don’t see myself reading the second book. This book clearly wasn't for me, but obviously works well for others. Once again, I’m the salmon swimming upstream, but it just didn't hit the notes I wanted. So, I give this 2.5 Fireballs.
Review Disclaimer: Book provided in exchange for an honest review.