Chapter 3: Baby-eating. Yes, really.

Well, at last I’ve managed to convince my brain that it wants to be hurt very badly indeed, so here we are again. Hurrah hurrah. Anyways, it’s mid-morning the next day after Bodiel’s murder, and Evil King goes up to the roof of his palace to sunbathe. This, of course, is an excuse to give us a massive infodump on the state of Evil King’s kingdom, which is described as being three hundred miles from east to west, and an unspecified distance from north to south (well, it is given, but ‘far, far’‘ is hardly a quantitative unit of distance). (Un) fortunately, there’s no map that came along with the book, so we’re stuck with this description. Anyways, we learn that “impassable mountains”, “endless, trackless marshes”, “endless oceans” and the Ghostlands, whatever they are, form the boundaries of his little kingdom, which apparently is all that’s left of the world.

Again, I’d like to point out that to a flying people, land barriers should be utterly ineffective. All right, so I might just accept mountains forcing flying creatures so high up that there’s no oxygen. But marshes? Oh, come on. And endless marshes? I don’t think so. Salt or freshwater? Where does the water inlets come from? Where does it go, if it doesn’t flow out to the sea? I suppose I’m just irked that all the landforms are just so conveniently placed, like the way mountain ranges are often too straight and meet at right angles to other ranges. It just doesn’t seem natural. Then there’s the problem of putting mountains right next to marshlands, which grates on the old sensibilities—in between those two elevations there’ve got to be some foothills, some flat, passable land.

I just get the feeling that Mr. Maxey didn’t give two shits about proper geography and plonked landmasses where they were convenient. Fail x1. Anyways, we get even more of Mr. Maxey’s Wonderful Characterisation Methods:

“Beloved Bodiel was dead. He wanted to trade his wealth and power, his own life, even, to undo this horrible truth. But there was no one with whom he could demand such a trade.” (Pg. 60)

Sigh. Again, I remain unimpressed by Mr. Maxey’s methods. We’ve never seen Evil King care for Bodiel, we’ve never even seen him INTERACT with Bodiel, and suddenly I’m supposed to believe that the guy who has had a history of offing his sons suddenly loves one so much, just because the author told me so. For goodness’ sake, Bodiel was a fucking McGuffin. So far, I could replace Bitterwood murdering Bodiel with Bitterwood stealing the wonderous plot device of hoopla from Evil King’s palace, and it wouldn’t make one whit of difference.

Fail x2.

Anyways, if this shit wasn’t enough, we get a whole one-page description of Evil King’s palace, after which comes shit about its history, how it was constructed, shit like that which will probably have no impact whatsoever on the storyline and then we get these wonderful little gems:

“The vibrant, explosive light of the external palace hid a cold, stony heart.”

“Autumn lay close. Cold days were coming to the kingdom.” (Pg. 61)

Nice foreshadowing there, la la la la la. Minor fail x1. Anyways, after landing, Evil King goes down into the depths of his palace, and apparently this is where Bodiel was born. Yes, born.

“More, it was where he had gazed upon Bodiel, damp from birth.” (Pg. 62)

I’ll only echo Sam when she considered the idea of giving birth to something with scales, sharp feathers and talons: owwww. Now the scene from humanoids from the deep is stuck in my mind, the one where the alien baby claws its way out of…yeah. Yes, some snakes birth live young (then, they’re oviviparous as compared to being truly viviparous like mammals are), but those don’t have talons, sharp feathers and scales. Again, it just irks me, because it’s more evidence that our dear Mr. Maxey didn’t give a shit when building his dragons. Eggs might be the so-called cliched thing to do, but they’re highly justified in this case.

La la la la la, crappy worldbuilding, la la la la la. Nothing new here, move along, move along. Fail x3.

Anyways, the queen’s waiting down there, and they natter on a bit over Bodiel’s death. Evil King is convening a council of war to begin a manhunt for Bitterwood, and there’s more bullshit said, but here’s what I want to point out:

“Talk of vengeance is not the same as talk of grief,” she said, her voice trembling. “I hear no pain in your voice. Where are your tears? Come with me, my king. come with me to the Burning Ground. By now, bodiel lies in state. stand by my side as I go see him.” (Pg. 63)

Of course, Evil King refuses on the grounds of not showing weakness, from which I want to draw two points:

-Again, it’s a complete rehash of Evil King’s flipflopping all over the place. First he loves his son, then he doesn’t, then oh yes, he does, then oh no, he doesn’t, because Bitterwood needs to escape, then oh yes, he does again, so that there’s an excuse for the plot to go on, then oh no, he doesn’t, because Mr. Maxey wants to arm-twist us into thinking Evil King’s a cold-hearted bastard. This is the biggest pile of flipflopping bullshit I’ve seen a character go through, and it’s not making me happy. Fail x4.

-Secondly, Evil King is supposedly HORRIBLY EVIL for not wanting to show weakness. Problem is, this is EXPECTED of him as a head of state. After 9/11, what would be your impressions of Bush if he’d been weeping and wailing as he addressed the world? Heads of state are supposed to be focal points about which the citizens of a nation can rally about. They’re supposed to be pillars of strength, to be slightly cheesy about it. So what if we had Evil King show weakness? Then he’s a bad ruler. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Lovely. Fail x5.

So anyways, Evil King throws the Queen a sop by saying he’ll join her later, the war-council’s summoned, and the Queen is left to weep. We’re supposed to infer that Evil King is a cold-hearted bastard, but his actions here are utterly justified, which completely ruins the effect. Lovely.

Scene change time! We cut to a flashback of Vendevorex during the night before. For some reason, he’s gone out to find Cron and help him escape by giving him food, clothes and a knife while being invisibible. I suppose it’s to his credit, but this does put me off on a very interesting tangent:

Why is it that “good” characters follow (or eventually do) twentieth-century western morals and ideals, and “bad” characters reject them? Oh, we all know the reader sym/empathy reason, but that aside, why? I don’t mean as in anti-heroes, where the rejection of standard morals and values, either of the world itself (in which case, it’s still the same old bucket) or western morality is more often than not portrayed as a virtue in itself, appealing to the “cool” and “rebellious” factor to attract the readers to them. I’m referring to traits like not liking children, being unegalitarian (which neatly covers discrimination of any sort), wanting money, being sadistic and unecessarily violent so on and so forth—it’s rather easy to spot who’re the protagonists and who’re the antagonists these days. Of course, there’re always a few exceptions like good old GRRM, but I’d like more greyness in my characters, that they’re, y’know, more like real people.

Yes, it can be an uphill task to make such characters likable, but whoever said writing a novel was easy? Coming back to the character of Vendevorex, if I wasn’t already sure he was holding the Protagonist Ball during the court scene, I damn well am sure now. Anyways, Cron isn’t dumb, and he figures it’s Vendevorex. La dee da dee die.

A side note on the invisibible powder: Materials Science and Engineering class in here, so this might get a bit technical. transparency occurs when a material’s potential energy states for electrons do not possess values that correspond to the energy values of the photons of visible light—I.E, the “band gap” is too wide for the photons to be absorbed, and so the photons pass through the material unimpeded—hence transparency. We can still see glass, of course, because a number of the photons are scattered by the material’s surface.

For Vendevorex’s invisible powder to work, it’d have to either redirect the photons around the user and leave him or her in the exact same direction that they would have been of the user hadn’t been in the way—something which I cannot accept a powder doing due to the randomness of the particles, although I think researchers are working on a rigid cloaking shield which can do this (don’t take my word for it. It might have been a brain fart). The other way is to alter the chemical composition of the user him/herself such that the “band gap” in the user’s chemical composition is to large to accept visible light AND prevent any reflection or refraction from occuring. I don’t think you’d like it if your chemical composition was changed.

TL:DR? Invisibible powder is impossible on our world, by our current technology standards and to be honest, I don’t think it’d work in a hard SF setting, either. Since Mr. Maxey was kind enough to confirm that our setting is post-apocalyptic Earth, my conclusion is that this magic invisibibibibibility powder is a whole pile of bullshit. Fail x6.

Thank you.

Anyways, Cron’s all proper and grateful, and asks about Jandra. Because she’s beautiful, and he’s wondering just what is her “job”, and what’s the life like, and—

“What I’m wondering is, is there, you know, sex involved? Do dragons find humans attractive? I know some girls get hot over dragons. I have a sister who—” (Pg. 68)

I’m now chewing my delicious sandvich with deliberate slowness. Gag reflex, you see.

No. Stop it. Get it out of my brain. Ugh. Touched by Venom aside, I’m getting all the bad memories of the times when I was writing about Dragonkin, and I would mention it other writers, and they’d be all “You sicko, you write furry porn!”. That aside, though, I’m sure it did happen in some instances, given that a) all sorts of fetishes exist and b) given the dragons’ position of power. Which still leaves the question of the actual mechanics, given the physiological differences; as Victor points out in Morally Ambiguous, a size twelve bolt is going to have a hard time fitting into a size one nut, but…you know what? I’m not going to think too hard about this. Ugh. Fail x7.

Anyways, Vendevorex shuts Cron up, and essentially tells him to go to the river where he’ll find a boat and escape from there. We get another scene cut back to the current day, and Vendevorex’s back at the palace, still invisibible and looking for Jandra. Apparently she’s down at the human servants’ quarters, playing the old game traditionally favoured by royalty or the otherwise privileged in the genre: Being With The Commoners, because associating with them and being able to go back to your comforts later on is just like being a member of the working class. Minor fail x2. There’s some description of the filth and squalor in which the humans live, and finally, we get to see some real oppression of the humans, no matter how expected it is.

On a side note, while I know how much Mr. Maxey wants me to know the humans are being Evilly Oppressed™, it really doesn’t make sense to have humans living filthily RIGHT NEXT TO THE PALACE, especially since these buggers supposedly know plenty about biology, and I should hope by extent, pathology. They’d probably want to clean up the place for their own health’s sake, or at least, to not have a disgusting view from outside the window.

It’s also interesting to note the fact the most cities in the middle ages were stinking and dirty without anyone needing to do the oppressing, even for what might be the rich sections of town—people simply didn’t bother throwing their trash properly, and dumped it into the street or yes, a ditch dug into the street. If there were rivers, so much the better—plenty of rivers were positively fouled with waste.

Blah blah blah, shanty town, blah blah blah, stinking ditches to carry away waste, blah blah blah, children playing in filth. Because we’re supposed to feel sorry for the children playing in filth—nope, nope, not working, not working. Minor fail x3. You’ve probably heard my diatribes on “women and children”, so I’ll stop that here for a lovely snippet:

“If a man were to ever try and live with the wealth and comfort of a dragon, Albekizan’s tax collectors would simply come and take it all away. Humans lived in squalor because that was all Albekizan would allow.” (Pg. 70)

Yeah. Whatever. Fine. You know, I really do get annoyed at this sort of shit. Wahh waah waah, we’re so oppressed, and all we’re going to do is to sit around until the great hero comes along and inspires us to overthrow our shackles and rise up against injustice.

And here I am wondering why exactly, if Evil King’s regime is so horribly EVVVVIL and UNJUST and HEAVILY TAXED, the people haven’t done a single piece of shit about it? A well-known example is the history of Black slavery in the US of A. Slaves didn’t just sit down on their hands and say “woe is me” until the Emancipation Proclaimation was issued. Some of them rebelled by pretending to be too dumb to understand orders, working the minimum to avoid punishment, stealing small items from their masters to inconveneince them and make their lives easier, and keeping snippets of their old cultures alive even with the cultural indoctrination they faced. More overt actions included the Underground Railroad, and even those most slave uprisings were bloodily suppressed, that didn’t stop them from trying every now and then.

Next example: Nazi Germany. You may have read about the Japanese diplomat who managed to save the lives of many Jews by issuing them visas out of Germany to Japan, about people who holed up and hid for years, about Schindler’s List, about efforts to smuggle Jews out of Nazi-occupied territories.

But what I’m getting at is that no matter how horrible and hideous the regime is, there usually isn’t any sort of resistance except what the hero’s associated with. People just sit around hand-wringing until the hero turns up, says a few trite, cheesy lines, and it’s viva la revolution time, which of course works. Because it wouldn’t be an uplifting story and all that crap if it failed, would it? It’s just dumb. Because tax collectors can’t be bribed, assets can’t be disguised or hidden, people simply CAN’T resist because they need the hero to save the day.

Bleargh. Fail x8.

For some reason, we get to do some head-hopping, switching from Vendevorex’s PoV to Jandra’s PoV without rhyme, reason or even a bit of warning. Minor fail x4. La dee da dee DIE. Personally, I’m wondering why exactly Jandra is allowed to wander in and out of the castle as and when she likes it—even if she is tolerated as Vendevorex’s pet, most people would woulder if they saw the neighbour’s dog running wild.

But never mind. Today Jandra’s gone down to the shantytown to talk to Ruth and Mary, two women whose mothers happened to give Vendevorex advice on how to properly raise a human child when Jandra was still very young, so that’s why she’s friends with them. Apparently, Ruth and Mary are in their twenties but seem “middle-aged”, because of the hard life they’ve been through due to Evil King’s oppressive taxes.


Frankly, I’m not surprised. Even with a reasonably balanced and steady diet, most people in that technological level didn’t live past their late forties—primarily a combination of manual labour being much more widespread than it is today, a general lack of medical knowledge and a cavalier attitude towards hygine were the main contributors. I.E. People weren’t middle-aged, because they were dead by then. It was rather uncommon for a low to whatever passed for a middle-lower class woman in the 1500s to live past her last menustral period.

Well, there’s plenty of gossip about as to who killed Bodiel. I suppose talk does get around, but it’s almost as if there isn’t an attempt to control or suppress the exchange of knowledge, a central pillar of any proper dictatorship. Oh well. Anyways, Ruth and Mary are pressing Jandra for information about Bodiel’s death. Of course, silly little Jandra spills the beans on all that she knows. There’s some speculation on whether Crom really managed to kill Bodiel or not, blah blah, everyone’s going to be in trouble if that was really the case, and we have something particularly appalling:

“Do you think that matters to Albekizan? I’ve heard that in villages where they can’t pay the tax, he takes the babies and devours them as the parents watch. (Pg. 71)

(Twitch) Epic fail x1.

Ow. My sensibilities. So the queen eats kittens while the Evil King eats babies. That’s how you know they’re EVVVVIL. Of course, Jandra doesn’t really believe that, or at least, claims she doesn’t, and Mary and Ruth all are like “you’ve been pampered”, and Vendevorex takes the opportunity to make a dramatic appearance behind them, take Jandra in hand and hustle her back to the palace, but not before this…bit…

Vendevorex decided he’d heard enough. With a thought he allowed his aura of invisibility to fall away, revealing himself behind Jandra.

Ruth turned pale. Mary turned a bright shade of pink. (Pg. 72)



Are you absolutely sure that character’s name is “Mary” and not “Zarq”? Because I damn well think it is. Oh, and again, I’d like to reiterate the whole Dr. McNinja-ish feel to this conworld. Fail x9.

Thank goodness the chapter ends here. Our Failscore for this chapter totals to 3*1 + 9*3 + 6*1 = 36.

Tagged as:


  1. sansafro on 16 April 2009, 01:48 said:

    It seems like King Allakazam’s characterization is all over the place. Is the informed angst over his son supposed to be a really ham-fisted attempt to make him a sympathetic villain, do you think? It’s hard to tell without reading the actual text. Obviously the author is inept in his execution, but do you as a sporker have any idea what he is really trying to go for with all this willy-nilly characterization? Like, is the author’s goal for the character at all discernable?

  2. OverlordDan on 16 April 2009, 07:41 said:

    Albekizan: “I is here for my taxes. Personally, apparently.”

    Peasant: “But we has no monies!”

    Albekizan: “You gots any baby?”

    Peasant: “Yes! Yes we do. How nice of you to ask! :)”

    Albekizan: “Then your delicious babies are mine! OM NOM NOM NOM.”

    Peasant: “Woe is us! If only this was common knowledge, so that we could have hidden said baby!”

    Albekizan: “Slurp Ah man, thats tasty. Well, you too should probably start on another baby. Peace, Alby out!”

    I just can’t figure out how people would keep falling for that. Is it wrong that I find the idea hilarious? He is actually eating babies. Its cartoonish in its evil.

    Anyway, great job with this. I think I’m the only one not getting the sanvich joke, though. Anyway you could help me in my ignorance?

  3. falconempress on 16 April 2009, 08:02 said:

    Richard from Looking For Group called. He is not amused by your douchebaggery, Albrakadabra. He and only he alone can eat babies and at the same time make it sound awesome. He will go warlock on your wussy ass:P

  4. Tiwar Sauil on 16 April 2009, 09:01 said:

    Based on witness accounts, I have produced a stunningly accurate portrayal of Azbeksan:

    (Wait, how do you do URLs? I forget)

  5. Spanman on 16 April 2009, 15:05 said:

    Oh, ouch. That was painful. Thanks for burning your eyes out for our benefit, lccorp.

    @Tiwar Sauil: there’s a link that says “Textile Help” underneath the comment box that tells you how to post links and images and things.

  6. Tiwar Sauil on 16 April 2009, 15:32 said:

    …I didn’t see that.

    Image in all its full viewyness:

  7. Tiwar Sauil on 16 April 2009, 19:08 said:

    I just realised I completely forgot to say what I was going to say about the whole “invisibility powder” thing.

    There is a real material that bends light around itself (well, so far it hasn’t been made to work with visible light, as we are unable to produce small enough structures to make it work) but the stuff is not exactly light. It also would render you unable to see, as the light you would be seeing by will be being bent around your eyes instead of going into them.

  8. James Maxey on 17 April 2009, 01:28 said:

    “Obviously the author is inept in his execution, but do you as a sporker have any idea what he is really trying to go for with all this willy-nilly characterization? Like, is the author’s goal for the character at all discernable?”

    Hi, Sansafro, I’m the afformentioned author, and I thought I’d jump in here with some thoughts on the character of Albekizan. He keeps getting referred to in this review as “the Evil King,” and criticized for flip-flopping into less evil behavior, such as grieving his slain son.

    One problem I have with a lot of fantasy is the portrayal of evil as some supernatural force or energy. People are bad because there is some dark god making them bad. And, a lot of people believe the same thing applies to our world—bad things happen because there is a supernatural force of evil that wants bad things to happen.

    I’m an atheist, and don’t believe in supernatural forces of good or evil. Albekizan was never intended to be a great, unflinching pillar of evil. He is, instead, of the mold of a more mundane and common earthly evil: He does bad things in the name of making the world a better place. He sees himself as the hook upon which civilization hangs. He has many bad traits: He’s blustery, he’s a bigot, and he’s surrounded himself with advisors who don’t dare offer him actual advice, but instead exist mainly to tell him what a great king he is. None of this makes him evil, nor all that unusual among dictators. And, he doesn’t eat babies, any more than Saddam Hussein’s soldiers used to dump infants out incubators. When Jandra hears the baby eating rumor, she dismisses it. At no point in the novel is a dragon shown eating a human (I think… it’s been several years since I last read the book) but I purposefully opened chapter one with Bitterwood eating the tongue of a dragon to show that if there is cross-species feeding going on, it’s not just in one direction.

    In chapter one, the dragon say derogatory things about humans that human readers will presumably know aren’t true. I hoped that when human characters voiced similar slanders against dragons, the reader would find reason to be sceptical of these claims. (Jandra, having been raised by a dragon, is often on hand to dispute the slanders. But, as noted in the review, Jandra has led a very sheltered life. Dragons aren’t a bad as most humans believe, but they also aren’t as good as Jandra believes them to be when the novel opens.)

    Albekizan’s good traits are that he’s maintained twenty years of peace since he put down the last human uprising, and he genuinely does love Tanthia and Bodiel. Also, while the lot of humans seems fairly retched under Albekizan, I have other characters (including Vendevorex, the protagonist) make the argument that humans are better off under the rule of dragons, since if they aren’t kept in line by a powerful ruler, they tend to kill each other off in wars over who worships the one true God. American slaveholders made similar arguments—slavery, to their minds, brought the gifts of civilization to creatures who lived as little more than wild, heathen, naked beasts in their homeland.

    Albekizan and Bitterwood are mirror images of each other in motivation. Both spend the novel seeking vengeance for wrongs committed against them, and care nothing for those swept up in the middle. They are intended to represent the endless cycles of revenge violence that plague the world today: Israelis versus palestinians, catholics versus protestants in Ireland, hutus versus watusis, or any of a hundred other ethnic conflicts that have carried on for generations. Neither Albekizan or Bitterwood is more good or evil than the other.

    As noted in the review, the protagonists of the book are actually Vendevorex and Jandra, a rather disfunctional little dragon/human family who get swept up in the violence. They aren’t classical good guys. Vendevorex especially isn’t keen on playing the role of hero, and spends most of the book focused only on saving Jandra from the violence, while really caring little about the misery that will be inflicted on everyone else. He wants to run rather than fight. It’s not due to cowardice; he just thinks the world’s problems are too big for him to realistically tackle. Not a typical fantasy hero stance, but it felt to me like a plausible one.

    I remember when I first saw the blurb for the back of the book, I was befuddled how anyone could describe the book without mentioning Ven and Jandra. Their adventures make up about 2/3rds of the book.

    Finally, if I may defend myself on a scientific point, I included the live birth of dragons as a hint (confirmed in a later chapter) that their biological make-up contained some mammalian DNA. I presume that their feathers and claws aren’t terribly sharp while in the womb. Lions and tigers and bears give birth to live young despite being well endowed in the claw department later in life. And, porcupines give birth without the aid of eggs. They are covered with quills in the womb, but the quills don’t harden until they are exposed to air. If porcupines can have babies, it’s no great stretch to think that dragons can manage as well.

  9. falconempress on 17 April 2009, 02:58 said:

    @James Maxey – I do not have much time at the moment, so I will keep this comment short – I think that a lot of what you said cleared some things up and contributed to us understanding your book better and getting an insight to it from your unique perspective, since you are the author.

    And hedgehogs can have babies too:)

    But I still cannot bring myself to find the character of Albekizan very believable. No offence, but in all honesty, he feels just a bit too generic of a “villain”. That may probably be contributed to the fact that we havent seen all that much of him so far, but we will see.

    Also, there are quite a few stretches of reality there as well (the bowshot). I am not the physicist here, but I find it really hard to believe that Bitterwood got to pull such a stunt.

    From the political point of view, I wasnt too happy about the succession rites of the dragons – it makes very little sense that whoever the “winner” is should go into exile and try to overthrow his father in the course of time. Is it not easier for the loser, who stays with the court, to gather enough support of the other members of the ruling élite and enough power to do so himself, long before his sibling manages to gain enough support from the outside of the ruling circles? From what I know about how power works, that does not seem very plausible.

    Lastly, I am quite impressed that you spoke out. A debate with the actual author is a rather refreshing thing to see:)

    Oh, so much for keeping this short:P

  10. Asahel on 17 April 2009, 03:04 said:

    Mr. Maxey,

    For one: “He keeps getting referred to in this review as ‘the Evil King,’ and criticized for flip-flopping into less evil behavior, such as grieving his slain son.”

    I don’t think that’s the problem. From what I’ve gathered reading the three sections, it’s that the behavior seen is evil while the good in him has no textual justification. We just have to take your word for it. Why is he grieving for his slain son despite having killed other sons? We’ve never seen him even interact with said son, so why are we to believe that he really loves this one when he apparently didn’t love the others?

    By the way, I’m a religious person, and I even believe in supernatural forces of good and evil. But I also believe humans have to take responsibility for their own actions (no blaming it on God or Satan or any other force of good or evil). Here’s two other important things I believe:

    1) There is no person so good that does not have some evil.
    2) There is no person so evil that does not have some good.

    So, despite not being an atheist, I’m more than ready to accept that Alby has a good side. You just have to show it to me instead of telling me about it.

    One last thing: “Also, while the lot of humans seems fairly retched under Albekizan, I have other characters (including Vendevorex, the protagonist) make the argument that humans are better off under the rule of dragons, since if they aren’t kept in line by a powerful ruler, they tend to kill each other off in wars over who worships the one true God. American slaveholders made similar arguments—slavery, to their minds, brought the gifts of civilization to creatures who lived as little more than wild, heathen, naked beasts in their homeland.”

    Where to even start with this? How about you’ve attributed the attitude of slaveholders to that of your protagonist? Is he supposed to be like Darwin, believing that the savage men are natural servants for the civilized? Is this an attitude that is validated in the book? If so, for shame. I was going to go into more — a lot more — but I’m going to cut this short in the interests of civility.

  11. sansafro on 17 April 2009, 03:22 said:

    Props to the author for showing up. That’s not something you see every day :x

  12. James Maxey on 17 April 2009, 04:02 said:

    “Is he supposed to be like Darwin, believing that the savage men are natural servants for the civilized? Is this an attitude that is validated in the book?”

    Asahel, Ven is a product of his culture. By the end of the third book, the humans have finally managed to form an independent mini-kingdom without killing one another over religion, so in the long run it’s not validated, though the humans in all three books do devote a lot of their energies to fighting each other. Vendevorex has an inate sense that sky-dragons are smarter than humans or sun-dragons, but he’s not dogmatic about it, and he has reason to suspect that environment plays a more important role in mental development than inate ability.

    The story of how Vendevorex came to adopt a human child as his apprentice is revealed in Bitterwood, but it’s also a stand-alone story that serves as a prequel to all three novels. It’s called “Tornado of Sparks” and it’s available as a free download at

    The humans are kind of a backwards lot in Bitterwood, but, as was pointed out earlier, the dragons have kept them poor and ignorant by keeping them as slaves, then justify slavery as a merciful fate for the poor and the ignorant. The logic is absurd to our modern thought, but it’s a pattern that has arisen repeatedly in human cultures.

  13. lccorp2 on 17 April 2009, 17:01 said:

    All right.

    First off, I fail to see what religion and belief in the supernatural has to do with this, and number two, one doesn’t have to be an unflinching pillar of evil to be, for all intents and purposes, one. The Knight Templar is a commonly used antagonist type.

    That aside, I’d like to clarify the whole issue, just in case people on this forum aren’t quite clear of it yet. There are a number of problems with Evil King’s characterisation with regards to Bodiel that all point to him being used for plot convenience.

    First off is the actual execution. As Falconempress and Ashael have pointed out, all of Albekizan’s shown characterisation up to this point has been inanely and cartoonishly evil. He’s said all the lines, done the deeds, got the props right down to the oafish redshirt minions. At this point, when he’s clicked into all the “evil” tropes and marked all the checkboxes, it’s hard not to picture him as stereotypical and absolute evil. He’s simply been placed too far on the moral scale of things, and we’re not allowed any insight into why he does what he does.

    Then comes the execution of Bodiel and Albekizan’s relationship, which is almost all informed, since Bodiel dies off in chapter one. I feel nothing for Bodiel or his death; there simply wasn’t enough setup for me to accept that yes, there’s something special about this son that Albekizan really likes him enough to not kill him off like the last two. For that matter, I don’t consider the author telling me “X character has Y trait and you will accept it now, because I am the author and I say so!” setup.

    There is no setup, there is no reader empathy, all of Albekizan’s characterisation goes against this particular bit, and the heavy-handed way the prose is trying to beat me into accepting the Bodiel-Albekizan relationship all point to said relationship being there merely for plot convenience. At this point, I’d rather go for a completely black sea and a Disney villain instead of one with a spot of white which does nothing except break the consistency and make it look even uglier.

    Even if the spot of white was properly done, so what? So what if he did love Bodiel and Tanthia, and it was done in a believable manner?

    Again, this is a “But Hitler was an artist!” argument. And yes, Hitler is an appropriate comparison, considering this quote:

    “That’s why I’ve called you here. We are going to devise a way to remove the stench of humans from my kingdom forever. I’ve tolerated their kind far too long. They breed like rats. Their dung-encrusted villages spread disease. They create nuisance by leeching off dragons as beggars and thieves.” (Pg. 79-80)

    Right before cuing his version of the “Final Solution” to the Jewish—I mean, human, problem. Congratulations. Albekizan is pretty much now the world’s equivalent of Hitler, which is in ours, pretty much synonymous with evil. At this point, that spot of white against the sea of black doesn’t really matter anymore; it’s not going to make the character grey. It’s not going to affect the stock stereotype he’s conveniently fallen into, it’s not going to make most readers like him better. It’s just there. Hitler loved his dog and mistress, too, but that doesn’t stop people from rightfully calling him a monster. For all intents and purposes, Albekizan is an Evil King.

    It’s like in those scenes in old movies where the SS officer leads the English or American PoW to his quarters, stands around in vest, braces and lederhosen listening to classical music on a gramophone, and says “You see, Herr Captain, ve are not all animals.”

    An analogy would be in some fantasy novels, where the protagonist’s inability to play a ukulele or something equally obscure is supposed to be a “character flaw” that balances out abilities like earth-shattering magic, yet it has absolutely no bearing on the story at all.

    I hope I’ve made myself clear enough now.

    Next point. I’d like to question your quote here:

    “He has many bad traits: He’s blustery, he’s a bigot, and he’s surrounded himself with advisors who don’t dare offer him actual advice, but instead exist mainly to tell him what a great king he is. None of this makes him evil, nor all that unusual among dictators.”

    One. If you looks at many dictators throughout history, they’ve actually had considerable charismatic power, which was partly how they managed to keep the populace and their subordinates under control (and which I note is distinctly absent in Albekizan’s regime). If you look at the methods famous modern-day dictators like Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Kim Jung Il and even as recent as Velupillai Prabhakaran employed, they were well-spoken and articulate in their speeches.

    Example here

    Note the crowd’s reaction in the video. Sorry, I don’t believe blustering is common is dictators.

    And bigotry not being evil? Sorry, not buying. Equal rights is so burned into the psyche of most readers that any hint of discrimination tags a character as evil, or at least, morally flawed. Especially when said bigotry initiates genocide.

    And finally, the whole “surrounds himself with incompetents” thing ties back to the basic antagonist competency problem—if all the king’s advisors are so horribly incompetent, how the hell is he creating a reign of terror for the humans? Again, let’s look at a classic real-life example: Nazi Germany, in which I’m seeing parallels in here. People like Goering, Goebbels (Metron), Heinrich Himmler (Kanst), Dr. Mengele (Metron again)—they certainly were competent at what they did, and the same goes for the rank and file. If you look at some old photos of the systematic rounding-up of the Jews onto the trains to the death camps, it’s horrifyingly organized, which is more than I can say for how the dragons handle things.

    But here? If they’re all so ineffectual, why hasn’t Evil King’s dictatorship collapsed under its own weight already, especially since it’s highly centralised? Why hasn’t the treasury been emptied due to mismanagement? Why aren’t the peasants taking advantage of the situation to hide their assets, lynch tax collectors, plot revolution (without the need for Bitterwood)? Up till now, I haven’t seen any suggestion of a cult of personality, which is all too common to your standard dictatorship, right up to literally worshipping the dictator as a god, neither have I seen any attempt by the government to control the spread of information, as evidenced by the fact the humans are allowed to freely gossip amongst themselves, so there’s no reason why this can’t be the case. Why aren’t the soldiers grumbling about why they aren’t paid? Why aren’t the roads running into ruin? Again, I’d like to ask the question: how is this government still standing if there isn’t anyone halfway competent around?

    Then there’s the taking-candy-from-a-baby problem—if the antagonists are hardly effectual, then there’s not much challenge or tension in the protagonists fighting them. During the whole chase scene in chapter 2, there’s no tension at all, even if Zanzeroth’s CSI-style reporting hadn’t been around. Of course I know Bitterwood’s going to escape, but at least, I’d like to be fooled for a moment that there might be a chance he might actually, y’know, get captured. The complete incompetency and cartoon-like behaviour of Evil King and the palace guard completely wipes that out.

    Now on to the baby-eating. Jandra questions the baby-eating, but there’s no conclusive evidence that she does shrug it off, and both Mary and Ruth accuse her of being sheltered and naive. Of course, by this time, the reader already knows that Jandra IS sheltered and naive, take that into account, and summarily conclude that the rumour is true. It doesn’t help that Albekizan is for all intents and purposes a stock villain and could be conceivably seen to be doing such a thing, while it’s painfully obvious that Albekizan’s lines in chapter 1 are so over-the-top they’re untrue.

    And there IS a difference between baby-eating and tongue-eating that I shouldn’t have to point out, thank you very much.

    Your comment about Vendevorex. You claim that he’s a product of his culture, yet I haven’t seen him do anything but plead the humans’ case; even when he views the humans‘ squalor he quickly reminds himself that yes, it‘s really the dragons’ fault that they’re so horribly repressed. Could you please point out the page and quote where he expresses such misanthropic views and they actually are of consequence?

    The problem with Bitterwood/Albekizan is that from the book blurb, readers are led to expect antiheroic qualities of Bitterwood, and thus are more forgiving of acts on his side as opposed to those of Albekizan; he is, supposedly, fighting for freedom (appealing to the anthrocentric views of many readers) whereas Albekizan has no such excuse. It’s also a lot easier to justify and gloss over murder than outright genocide on the scale Albekizan proposes.

    I’ll give on the live birth issue. My bad.

  14. OverlordDan on 17 April 2009, 18:51 said:

    This more than I could ever hope for from one of these articles; A polite, well written response from each side of the argument.

    And not one single “Lol Noob, wut?” in the whole of the comments!

    …Oops :(

    p.s. Please continue!!

  15. swenson on 17 April 2009, 23:02 said:

    I just have one very small comment to add to the whole ordeal that, IMO, is the clinching argument against this book, and that is that regardless of who is showing, not telling and the sociological impact/representation of characters, the quoted portions were… well, shall we say they were not quite the most superb writing in existence? It reads like something I would write… on a first draft. I understand that they were select quotes and do not accurately reflect the whole of the writing, but still…

  16. James Maxey on 18 April 2009, 02:49 said:

    Swenson, you’re free to judge for yourself the quotes of chapter one in full context. A free download of the chapter is at

    The quality of the prose is a matter of taste. A lot of the writing is in a more arch style that my current books. Bitterwood is a fairly old novel for me. I wrote the original before I went to the Odyssey Fantasy Writers Workshop, and that was back in 1998. After Odyssey, I wrote a novel called Nobody Gets the Girl that became my first published novel. The same publisher then read Bitterwood and agreed to publish it. I made some changes at the editors suggestion, then the publisher went out of business. Then I used the manuscript as the book I was shopping in search of an agent. I got an agent, rewrote bits at her suggestion, then when she sold the book, the publisher felt it was too skinny for a high fantasy novel, and wanted me to add another 40k words to it. So, even I view the manuscript as a somewhat lumpy beast. I don’t feel like it flows as well as my other novels, since all of my other books were written in compact time frames, while this one was knitted together over several years.

    That said, I’m still quite happy with the book. It’s the kind of pulp-adventure stuff I devoured voraciously when I was sixteen. Despite the “serious” content like the ethnic cleansing and religious criticism, the main thread of the plot exists mostly to provide as many fights as possible. My fantasy roots lean more toward Conan than Tolkein. (And, truthfully, they lean more toward Marvel’s Conan comic books, and Mike Grell’s Warlord series, which were my first introduction to fantasy back in the seventies.)

    While the critiquer is free to dislike Bitterwood as much as he wishes, most of the response to the book has been positive. It’s sold out twice and is in it’s third print run, it’s the first book I’ve ever earned out my advance on, and it generates more fan mail than anything else I’ve written. Still, one reviewer did write he threw the book across the room when he realized it was science fiction instead of fantasy. Apparently, robots and dragons don’t mix well for everyone. These things happen.

    Again, feel free to check out the short story mentioned earlier and the sample chapter. If you find it as bad as the critiquer does, at least you’ll get to enjoy the articles even more. (I’m sorry to keep referring to him (or possibly her) as “the critiquer,” by the way. It feels somewhat impersonal, like I can’t be bothered to say his name. But there’s no byline on the article, so I’m in the dark.)

  17. Ari on 18 April 2009, 06:36 said:

    I’m impressed. The fact that Mr. Maxey has grace to take our crit well makes me want to read the book if I could get a grab at it. Props to you, Mr. Maxey. But of course, perhaps you meant to do that.

    Nice discussion you’ve all got going. :)

  18. Puppet on 18 April 2009, 09:26 said:

    Now if only CP and SMeyer would do this…

  19. Zanzi on 18 April 2009, 13:14 said:

    I’m impressed as well. Although I enjoy the spork very much, I think it’s great of Mr. Maxey to come on and discuss it from his point of view.

  20. James Maxey on 18 April 2009, 14:11 said:

    Ari, I don’t think I’m that rare among writers in appreciating critical analysis of my work. I do, of course, love good reviews, but I also try to spot recurring trends in critiques and address them. One common criticism of Bitterwood was that it had too many POV characters. I agreed—I had frequently jumped into a minor character’s viewpoint to describe events when I could have chosen to portray the same events from the eyes of one of the main cast. So, since I was still writing Dragonforge at the time, I did my best to keep the POV flowing between a tighter core of characters, and tightened even further for Dragonseed. Another criticism was that the dragon names were too long and unpronouncable. In later books, I capped all the new dragon names at two syllables. (And, I have an in-joke early in Dragonforge explaining the convoluted origins of the tongue-twister names.)

    If I have one problem with this specific critique, it’s that the writer frequently isn’t critiquing the text, but is instead criticising me. For instance: “I just get the feeling that Mr. Maxey didn’t give two shits about proper geography and plonked landmasses where they were convenient.”

    It seems fair game to say that he found the geography implausible. It seems less fair to say that I was lazy or careless when constructing the world. As noted, the setting is our world; the novel is taking place in central Virginia near the present day city of Richmond. I cleverly disguise this by calling the human city near the king’s palace “Richmond,” on the theory that some local place names survive for centuries even as the larger world around them changes dramatically.

    I used to live in Richmond and know the terrain well. The local geography is accurately described—a big broad, deep river heading east, with a town whose economy is centered around canals built at a series of rapids beyond which the river is navagable once more. (The river, alas, is named the James. I couldn’t use the actual name without appearing to be egocentric, so I only call it “the river.”) If you go about 150 miles west of Richmond, you hit the Applachian mountains, which stretch up into Maine and south into Alabama. Go east, and you hit the Atlantic. To the north, the Ghostlands are the toxic remains of the heavy industrial cities of the American east coast—part of the backstory that isn’t spelled out is that a nuclear war devestated most of the east coast from Washington DC north to about Boston. Head south far enough, and you hit coastal Georgia and Florida, which I’ve summed up as “endless marshes” based on the assumption that sea levels have risen since present day, and these places aren’t exactly dry land even now. Bitterwood’s first rebellion was fought at Conyers, a real town in Georgia, and the kudzu covered City of Skeletons are the remains of Atlanta.

    Also, at several points in the book, I point out that Albekizan’s claims that his kingdom constitutes the whole world are just flat out lies. Vendevorex and Zanzeroth both reveal that they’ve travelled beyond the “impassable” mountains, and Shandrazel openly mocks his father over his Albekicentric model of geography. I try to hint that the world is a lot bigger than what is shown in the book.

    It’s perfectly fair to criticise my text. I summarize the outlines of the kingdom in a couple of sentences; I didn’t want to bore the reader with a ten page summary of every important geological feature of the eastern seaboard of the southern US. And, I am in Albekizan’s POV when I’m describing the world. A sun-dragon normally can only fly a few dozen miles without resting. The Atlantic isn’t technically endless, but for a dragon, endless is just shorthand for “too big to fly over or see across.”

    So, I think it’s a fair and useful comment to say that my geograophy was too confusing or sketchy. But to say that I didn’t give a shit when I was designing the world would require, I dunno, psychic powers or something. It’s a statement on my motives instead of my execution.

    Of course, I also recognize that these essays are primarily a work of humor rather than a serious and staid work of literary criticism. I’ve enjoyed them so far. Hopefully he’ll carry on.

  21. falconempress on 18 April 2009, 15:11 said:

    The little blurb at the top is right – you are a pretty cool guy:)

    Probably we are so surprised (or at least I am) when somebody is willing to participate in an actually civil and intelligent debate because we mostly get to deal with fans of, ahem, works like Twilight and Inheritance. And yeah, very few of them are willing to discuss aspects of the, hm, books we are not too happy about. Anyways, it is great to see somebody like you showing up, willing to talk instead of just going postal all over the place.

    Also, multiple POVs can work just fine and give the final piece more insight as of what is going on in several locations in which tha book is taking place. It has worked for authors like G.R.R. Martin, Sean McMullen and Steven Erikson, so why not?

    Though I am still a bit irked about some of the political issues I noticed so far (rites of succession of dragons, for one).

  22. peppercake on 18 April 2009, 15:20 said:

    i ditto that

  23. lccorp2 on 18 April 2009, 17:29 said:

    Very well, sir. While I would have enjoyed a debate, I’m sure you’re quite busy and hence am going to assume that all unaddressed points are conceded on your part. Like it or not, I will express a certain admiration in your admission that Bitterwood is not the best it could have been—it is hard to murder your darlings. Now all that remains to be seen is just how bad it is.

    -Ah, the “everything boils down to taste” argument. It’s the ultimate subjectivity argument. Does what is considered “good” writing change from era to era? Well, yes. But no matter where you go, there are standards, there are ways of doing things which have reasons behind them, there is what’s considered what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. This ties in with the “popularity equals quality” argument (or at least, insinuation) you make next —just because junk food tastes good, it doesn’t mean it has to be good for me. While people have different dietary needs, that doesn’t make junk food good for you.

    Eugenics used to be pretty popular in the early 1900s, but that doesn’t make it any more right. Two often-discussed books on these forums—Christopher Paolini’s Eragon and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight are hugely popular, yet most critics would agree they are hardly well-written and there are pages upon pages of exposition on this site on just why this is the case. Sure, a book can be popular because it’s good—look at GRRM and Terry Pratchett—but unfortunately, that isn’t the always the case.

    Is there a market for the cheapest sword-and-sorcery? Is there a market for Harlequin romances? Of course there is. That doesn’t make them unformulaic or good—it just shows there are people who are willing and buy (and presumably read) such books.

    -Next point. Sir, while I indeed have read the whole book, do understand that I am writing these reviews (or ‘sporks’, as they are understood by the internet community) from the perspective of someone reading the book for the first time. This is justified in the fact that if you have Seemingly Unjustified Trope A in chapter one, and this trope is justified later on in say, chapter ten, if the reader gets fed up enough with the trope at chapter one to stop reading and never gets to see the justification later on, it might as well not be there.

    To take your exact point about Evil King’s kingdom, right in the next chapter there’s a whole long drabble about Zanzeroth’s past journeys, and I’m summarizing that bit right now. However, I’m writing from the point of view of someone who’s only read up to chapter three, and recall my impressions when I read those lines for the first time. To be fair, I have conceded where you have explained beyond reasonable doubt, such as in the cases of the live birth of dragons. The flight mechanics of pterosauria are still not completely understood, so the issue of dragon flight is still in the balance.

    Still, there’s a saying in the industry that once the manuscript is out of the author’s hands, authorial intention is voided and it’s all up to reader interpretation. We’re fortunate enough to have you around to explain matters, but most readers won’t be able or care enough to contact you for clarification on aspect of the book that irk them. They won’t be able to ask and understand that, yes, Evil King’s kingdom is really Virginia, that yes, THIS is really what “endless” means, that yes, this is really this real-world landmark and so forth.

    Oh, and by the by, I find it hard to swallow this quote:

    “I summarize the outlines of the kingdom in a couple of sentences; I didn’t want to bore the reader with a ten page summary of every important geological feature of the eastern seaboard of the southern US.”

    when eye-glazing infodumps abound throughout the entirety of the book. Again, you might have had this intent, but I simply don’t see any evidence of it in the prose itself. For all intents and purposes (oh boy, I guess I’m overusing this phrase) it might not have existed.

    -Look, sir. I don’t want to be offensive with this particular point, but I’m not sure how I would be able to get it across without any offense at all.

    We are mostly writers of speculative fiction on this forum here. With the exception of you, all amateur (to the best of my knowledge), but we are writers. We have some idea, no matter how faint, of what it is like to build your own world, either from scratch or through modification of already-existing worlds.

    One doesn’t have to be a psychic to guess at what goes through the author’s mind as he or she writes the text—one can infer from the prose and worldbuilding itself. True enough, inferences can be wrong, and I have readily admitted where my inferences were as such, but already in the first three chapters (plus the prologue) things already aren’t looking up for the rest of the book. Want me to list the most egregious ones?

    There’s the distinct lack of linguistic evolution, despite the reset button being pushed on civilisation. There’s the fact that the dragons, for all intents and purposes, are just humans with a few traits tacked on, and almost no exploration into how the physical affects the mental, social and (god forbid) spiritual worlds (which don’t just have to be about gods). I’ve already pointed out the flaws with the dragon’s supposed method of succession, which isn’t just flawed, but doesn’t make the slightest shred of sense for a complex, sentient species. I’ve already pointed out the fact that Albekizan’s kingdom should already have fallen a long time ago if he was so idiotic and uncharismatic. The problems with the dragons drinking from bottles, using paper and conventional fabrics, and apparently speaking English despite the shapes of their mouths.

    Add to that a whole “zombie robot pirate ninja” or “Dr. McNinja” feel (for those who don’t know, Dr. McNinja is a comic series involving the good doctor, who is from a line of Irish ninjas, and often takes refuge in the absurd, from drugged zombie ninjas to raptor-riding gun-slinging Mexicans to boys who grow mustaches of power through sheer will. The current story arc’s about the good doctor entering a pyramid built by a Native American civilisation that’s really a doomsday device that needs to be won against in a game of tennis every year of the world will be destroyed. I think you get my drift.) with dragons, humans, Ancient Ruins That Were Really Us, Really Advanced Robots, psuedo-eugenics, invisible powder (which I have explained as to the scientific impossibility) seemingly thrown in willy-nilly, and it becomes a mess that’s hard to tease apart.

    That’s not even taking into account the way the prose and the characterisation is handled. At this point and given this evidence, sir, what am I supposed to conclude? I’d like to quote your comment:

    “That said, I’m still quite happy with the book. It’s the kind of pulp-adventure stuff I devoured voraciously when I was sixteen. Despite the “serious” content like the ethnic cleansing and religious criticism, the main thread of the plot exists mostly to provide as many fights as possible.”

    What, sir, am I supposed to conclude?

  24. Anonymous on 18 April 2009, 18:02 said:

    I hate to tell you guys this, but Mr. Maxey definately seems to be coming out ahead in this discussion.

    He seems very willing to admit his shortcomings as an author and from his responses has at least put thought into many of the “problems” you address. This just means that it’s an error in transmitting this issue to the reader.

    However, do we really need to pick apart at the tiniest of things? “Endless oceans” is obvious hyperbole; why do we care, really, how large of an area the marshes cover. Ditto with the invisibility powder: if he gave an explanation, we would likely call him out for adding superfluous information, yet since he doesn’t have one, we claim it’s “scientifically impossible.” Whether it is or whether it isn’t, I really don’t care—I can suspend disbelief, given everything else fantastical that is going on.

    And really, I have to ask: do people actually read books this way? I mean, did these things actually occur to you naturally while reading this? They seem pretty minor; almost as if you were looking for things to complain about (but, as pointed out earlier, I can’t rightly know as I am not able to read your mind while you write these).

    Characterisation I can’t really judge, seeing as how all I have to go by are these exerpts, so I’ll fully admit that it may be off.

    Overall, though, I think Mr. Maxey has been, like the blurb says, a “pretty cool guy” and fairly conciliatory through this all.

  25. Kevin on 18 April 2009, 19:25 said:

    Mr. Maxey, I tip my hat to you sir. I’ve never seen an author jump in with some haters and match point for point. And a hat tip to the II critics, for matching those points. This thread was fun to read.

  26. Morvius on 18 April 2009, 20:07 said:

    I am not sure if using fan mail as an example is a wise example. I am sure Twilight gets plenty of them.

  27. Marie on 18 April 2009, 20:36 said:

    I agree with Anonymous above, in that Mr. Maxey does seem to coming out ahead. Thank you Mr. Maxey for being such a good sport :)

    @lccorp2, I’d take it just as he says. It’s a pulp fiction, and is only meant to be a fun, light read. It’s entirely valid, and right, to point out that you can only take things as you read them, and a reader may well have far different interpretations/impressions than the author intended; however, simply because the linguistic/cultural/species-ist aspects aren’t covered in depth and complexity as might be more effective from a world building standpoint doesn’t mean it’s really necessary to the story for what it is. I think the primary problem is simply that writing a spork means the text must be read and analyzed far more closely than it was intended to stand up for. Much as I’d like to discuss my own reasoning I really should be writing a paper due tonight ;)

    And yay for Terry Pratchett!

  28. lccorp2 on 18 April 2009, 21:46 said:

    Look, I understand Mr. Maxey is a great guy. He’s taken this bad-natured ribbing much better than some other authors I’ve heard of (the infamous “venom cock” episode, for starters), he’s taken the time out of writing his next novel to clarify some issues to no-names like us, and he’s been articulate and polite. That’s great. That’s very professional of him.

    But would people please stop shifting the goalposts and cherry-picking your arguments? First, the actual points in the critique were questioned. That’s good. I reply with my reasoning as to why I believe a certain way with regards to the points that were raised, admitted that I was mistaken on a point, and everything was happily ignored. Now the issue’s about my presumption of authorial intent. I explained why I thought in this manner and the reasoning behind it, admitted that yes, I might have been wrong on certain issues, but it doesn’t show in the prose—which is what really matters once the book’s gone into print. Then the goalposts are shifted again, and suddenly all my arguments are invalidated because it’s light reading, and that somehow negates the need for some sort of logic as to how things go about in a conworld, or that fact that when you choose post-apocalyptic Earth as your setting, you set some expectations in your readers, and not being able to get your point across in writing is somehow not a flaw. (See Steven Brust’s Taltos the Assassin books for something that’s light, yet has good internal logic.)

    Oh, and I’m suddenly a “hater” for not wanting my sensibilities impinged when I read fiction (and yes, I do read like that. Probably comes out of the socio breadth modules).

    So much for logical discussion. I’m not going to argue anymore.

  29. Anonymous on 18 April 2009, 22:40 said:

    So far as I can tell, no one has referred to anyone as “hater” or used any other sort of name-calling in this topic, though if you feel you’re being singled out as one, I apologize.

    And I can’t make any sort of judgment on authorial intent; I admittedly haven’t read the book. My comments were more concerned with a few examples of what I considered to be over-analyzation; in particular the world-building and the “scientific accuracy” portions. Over-analyzation is fine for a spork/parody: After all, the audience is hardly expecting an impartial review, and expects humor more than anything else. But then you bring up things that I consider to be minor points as issues for debate.

    And when I wondered if you “read like that”, I wasn’t criticizing you, as if you were some horrible person for an (imagined) style of reading. It just seems alien to me, for a person to read something like “invisibility powder” and think “No, it is impossible for this to happen. Ever.” in a fantasy setting, or even a real-world setting.

    Regarding “not being able to get your point across in writing is somehow not a flaw”, well, that’s untrue. I’m not sure if anyone has said it so far, but if they have, I disagree. And from the sounds of your review, this may be a flaw of the book. Characterisation, from those exerpts, certainly seems like an issue. But some of the arguments you’re pursuing, well, I don’t feel really bother me as a reader. Perhaps I’m atypical, perhaps not.

    And really, I guess that’s all I’m trying to say. So far, I don’t find this to be a particularly good book (I do intend to read it now, though, after all this discussion), but I don’t find it terribly bad, either.

  30. James Maxey on 19 April 2009, 01:37 said:

    Lccorp2, I don’t think you’re a hater. I didn’t come here to pick a fight. If you’ve mocked Eragon and Twilight in the past, I’m honored to be in good company.

    I think you make a very good point in the difference between what my intent is versus what you’ve actually read on the page. I’m in a position where I’ve written four books set in this world, plus the prequel short story. There are a lot of weird things throw into Bitterwood that don’t get addressed until later books, such as why anyone would ever build a bible-thumping, axe-murdering robot named for an Old Testament prophet. Hezekiah tells Ven he was built by Jasmine Robertson, but we don’t meet her or learn her motives until the next book. So, for Bitterwood, the reader is left to contemplate the plausibility that anyone smart enough to build a humanoid robot that can function for a thousand years would bother to give it such a seemingly strange and unproductive mission. I know his true purpose, but don’t bother to reveal it in the first book, since even Hezekiah doesn’t know. So, while I hope most readers will be intrigued enough to stick around to find out why he’s in the book, I certainly can’t blame readers for finding his presence confusing or implausible.

    And, of course, there’s also the very real problem that I myself created: I lie to the reader about the very nature of the book. It opens like a fantasy novel, and unfolds like a fantasy novel, with a cast of pretty common fantasy players—we’ve got a king, a prince, a wizard, a priest, etc. True, these are the dragons, but it’s still familiar territory for most fantasy readers. Along the way, there are minor hints that something is slightly off about the world: Some readers recognize the ghost lines as the remains of interstate highways, and, as noted in the article, there’s a manhole cover, and a few chapters later there’s a reference to stainless steel. But, the reader is two thirds of the way into the book before I stop being coy with the science fiction underpinnings and the book turns into Planet of the Apes, with dragons. It turns off some fantasy purists, who don’t want nanotech mixed with their dragons. On the other hand, I probably lose some science fiction readers before the book even begins, since they are never going to pick up a book with a dragon on the cover.

    I’ll again appeal to a steady diet of comic books to explain my moral laxness with genre. Iron Man and Thor manage to get along in the Avengers. You’ve got Zatanna working side by side with Green Lantern in the Justice League. The Dr. McNinja series you mention sounds pretty good to me. I like cartoony stuff that’s a mish-mash of weird and seemingly random elements, especially if it later turns out there’s a logic behind it all.

    One last point, then I’ll go away and leave you alone: I’ve never read Twilight. Can’t even stomach the two or three pages of exerpts that I’ve read. Would probably gnaw my arm off if I was handcuffed to a bed while the movie was showing on TV. But, I’m not a 14 year old girl. Meyers has obviously found a stylistic approach, themes, and characters that resonate with her audience. Who am I to judge her as a bad writer?

    I think most of writing really does boil down to a simple matters of taste. There is no work of literature, period, that every reader in the world is going to enjoy or even respect. For instance, my favorite novel of all time is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I love every page of it; the rhythm and pacing, the surreal humor, the over-the-top depravity of the drug use, and the biting social criticism. I regard this as the best thing I’ve ever read, but I know that my mother, a good christian woman, wouldn’t make it to the third page before she would fling the book from her hands as if it were some sort of large, vile bug that had crawled onto her fingers. A book that opens with a full scale drug freak out and reflections on cutting off someone’s head and burying the body in the desert would probably qualify for her as the worst book imaginable.

    I guess the one thing that confuses me is: Why did you even read Bitterwood? In your earliest post, you found the back copy full of cliches, you disliked the cover, and you were turned off by the prose and the characters by the time you were halfway through the prologue. Why bring the book home from the store or library in the first place? I can understand sticking with a book and hating the ending, and feeling like you’ve been a sucker for reading the damn thing. But if you knew by the end of the first chapter that the book was one of the worst things you’ve ever read, why press on?

    One of the reasons MST3K worked so well was that you could tell the producers and writers of the show had a great deal of affection for the material they were mocking. They actually enjoyed the movies that they were ridiculing, even if not for the reasons that the original directors intended.

    Again, I’m not trying to argue that you don’t have the perfect right to read a book and suffer through every moment of the experience. I believe you when you say that nothing worked for you. I just think it’s a strange hobby to read books you don’t enjoy even a little.

  31. Marie on 19 April 2009, 06:15 said:

    I’m very sorry, Lccorp2, I didn’t mean my reply to say that your reading was invalid. It was careless writing on my part. I actually totally agreed with it, and I have no doubt that I would find some (hopefully many) of those same issues on my own reading, should I actually read it. I guess I just meant that another reader who isn’t familiar with reading good literature (I confess, I do make a distinction between literature and pulp fiction) isn’t going to notice. Kinda like…Harlequin (no offense to Mr. Maxey). Those books can be fun to read (at least to me) up until my brain engages…soo that’s what I meant.

    I really loved your analysis behind the authorial intent vs. textual evidence. If there’s not enough internal logic in the created world to not jar the reader then something is wrong. A detailed analysis, especially a spork, is intended to point out the flaws…and we as readers have no responsibility balance out the good with the bad, or even try to find the good. That’s the job of an editor before publication, to get the author to make changes.

    This critique, plus the comments which are really illuminating…for instance, about the powder—that’s interesting, and a valid issue in the world-building. I’m an English major, this is the stuff I love. I shouldn’t have jumped into the conversation so abruptly, it’s a bad habit of mine. I do hope you’ll continue the spork, or at least forgive me for being a jerk. ):

  32. Kevin on 19 April 2009, 09:18 said:

    I used the word ‘hater’ above, sorry lccorp, poor choice of words. Didn’t mean it as it was intended.

  33. Kevin on 19 April 2009, 09:20 said:

    That is to say, I didn’t mean it as it was TAKEN. As in I meant it completely inoffensively. Hater=non-fan, in my comment earlier, nothing more.

  34. Morvius on 19 April 2009, 11:19 said:

    Actually someone did mention that Mr. Maxey should be commended for jumping in with the “haters”.

    I agree with lccorp on several points, though some may be nitpicking (like the invisible powder). And like someone mentioned earlier, it’s great that you had so many ideas you wanted to convey as an author. But in this book, you have not really succeeded in bringing those points across. But since he did mention that he is going for those kind of “actiony” books, I guess it’s fine.

    But lccorp, your comments will be a great help to any person hoping to write a book of epic proportions and so I thank you.

  35. Spanman on 19 April 2009, 12:37 said:

    James Maxey, I think that lccorp2 reads Bitterwood (even though he’s turned off about every other sentence) because he enjoys criticising and because, above all, there is a way to make bad examples into good ones. Don’t do this, don’t do that, please make sure to not make your characters shoot arrows from manholes. Impish Idea is a site created by writers to help writers, and while there is a certain sarcasm and humour to lccorp2’s criticism, so far it has been useful to me as I’m sure it’s been useful to others reading it.

    I have never read Bitterwood, but what I have seen of it hasn’t convinced me that it would be the sort of book that I would enjoy. However, it’s interesting that you are combining fantasy and sci-fi in a future America, so props to you for that originality. I’m very impressed by your willingness to discuss your writing with us in a civil way, instead of just leaving when we use it as an opportunity to criticise you more. You also brought up good points about certain books catering to certain audiences, which is definitely something to consider when we’re sporking. We’re all really surprised to see you here. Congrats on stepping in to defend yourself.

  36. James Maxey on 19 April 2009, 13:02 said:

    “But in this book, you have not really succeeded in bringing those points across.”

    Morvius, are you saying this based on having read the book? Or only on having read another person’s opinions and a few lines from the book? Because I really do think most people who pick up the book and who find the cover, the pitch, and the prose of the first chapter acceptable wind up liking the total package. Anyone who likes the end of the first chapter, with Albekizan melodramatically holding up the arrow and shouting Bitterwood, is going to problaby enjoy the whole book. Anyone turned off by that scene, or by the crazy robot bloodbath n the first chapter, is probably wasting their time.

    The book does contain a rather atypical mix of SF, fantasy, steam-punk and superhero action that won’t please everyone. (I count Bitterwood as a superhero since he’s had his body rebuilt and retuned by nanites, as revealed in the first book, explaining his modestly superhuman agility and reflexes. Vendevorex and Jandra are also more superheroes than they are wizards.) This mash-up is fairly common in manga and anime, but for some reason it’s still rare among books.

    I’m not trying to win over every possible reader in the world with this series. Hard core Tolkein fans are going to find little to appreciate here. There aren’t any bards wandering around singing the epic histories of the Elven kings. On the other hand, graphic novels fans might find themselves right at home. The key to understanding all four of my published novels is to realize that I’m writing prose comic books. If you like reading a book about a crazed, bitter loner who lurks in shadows to avenge the death of his family (Bitterwood=Batman), and a cute teenage girl runs around with superhuman abilities yet feels like a hideous freak (Jandra=just about any X-Men), anchored by a coldly logical father figure who is powerful but restrained (Vendevorex=Professor Xavier), then I think you might enjoy the book.

    And if these things aren’t to your taste, no problem. There are, like, a million other books in print. Read what you love to read, and, if you’re a writer, write what you love to write. This is the only true law of literature.

    I swear to god I’ll shut up now. As noted earlier in the thread, I really should be writing this morning instead of fiddling away hours on the internet. My current project is another superhero book, by the way, along the lines of Nobody Gets the Girl. The heroes are a radioactive indian (Atomahawk), a bully in a bondage mask who enjoys beating up teenage gangsters (Retaliator), and a woman who bested Satan, ate his heart, and gained all his powers (She-Devil). The antagonists are time-travelling comic book collectors, space nazis, and the prophet Elijah. It’s a love story.

    Okay, seriously, going to get some work done now. Seriously. Bye.

  37. James Maxey on 19 April 2009, 14:23 said:

    ARGG! I’m back! Crack can’t possibly be as adicting as internet discussions. But Spanman and I cross posted, and something he said made me want to offer one piece of outright advice. Assuming that most of the readers here are people who are working hard to improve your writing to reach a level where you can see it in print and in bookstores, I can only say that analyzing published works to figure out why they are so bad is a somewhat backward way of getting into print. If you want to write and sell a book about vampires, then figuring out all the the reasons that the Twilight vampires suck (no pun intended) seems kind of counterproductive. It’s like a person who wants to be a pop musician sitting down and figuring out all the ways that the Beatles failed so utterly to produce original or thoughtful music.

    Right now, editors at every major house are desperately searching for the next Twilight. You’re far more likely to get your book read if your cover letter says, “This will appeal to fans of Twilight” than if you write, “This story completely avoids all the awful mistakes of Twilight and any intelligent reader will recognize it as a superior work.”

    As said, I haven’t read Twilight. There are, in fact, a nearly infinite number of books I haven’t read, because they weren’t written with me in mind. And, I couldn’t write Twilight if I tried. You might think, oh, man, it would be easy to write a book that bad. But, I assure you, it’s almost impossible to write a book like Meyers if its not in your blood. I think the reasons that books like Twilight, Eragon, Harry Potter, Interview with a Vampire, Carrie, or hundreds of other books break out of the pack is that they are labors of love. The writer was a true fan of that particular type of story, but felt there was still one specific story they hadn’t yet seen in print, so they wrote it.

    Style, characters, and plot are nowhere near as important a selling point of a book than the difficult to pin down qualities of passion and enthusiasm.

    As noted, my first published novel was a superhero fantasy called Nobody Gets the Girl. I wrote it completely in the absence of hope I would ever see it published. I wasn’t blind—I could go to the bookstore and see with my own eyes that there were no original superhero novels on the shelves. There were adaptations of superhero movies, and some liscenced novels starring Batman, but the only original, non-marvel and DC superhero stuff in print was Wildcards, and these were all part of a shared world.

    I knew a little bit about publishing. To sell a book, a publisher has to know what shelf it’s going to be on in the bookstore. The novel I had in mind didn’t have a shelf.

    But, I’d written other novels before that hadn’t sold, and I figured, as long as I’m going to write a book that won’t sell, I may as well write a book I want to read that no one else has bothered to write for me. I banged out Nobody Gets the Girl in 45 days. I sold it a year later to the first editor who looked at it. The book promptly tanked… there was, after all, no slot in the bookstores for it.

    But, it opened doors for me because it’s the first book I ever wrote without trying to second guess what an editor or a reader might want. I just wrote the type of story I wanted to read, just as Paolini did, and Meyers did, and probably any number of other successful writers who get trashed as “bad” writers.

    Every thing you write should be a love story. Not a romance. But a story written because you loved it.

    Follow your passion. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Fill your book with the stuff that makes your heart race and leave out the stuff that bores you. If you don’t make it into print, at least you’ll have a book you can look at with pride as being truly your own.

    Now, seriously as hell, I’m shutting up.

  38. Snow White Queen on 19 April 2009, 15:33 said:

    Internet discussion IS addicting, isn’t it? XD A waste of time, but a fun waste of time nonetheless.

    Even though fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk with dragons is not really my preferred genre, I can recognize your passion for what you write. Which is great, but I’m of the opinion that you can have BOTH enthusiasm and good writing if you try hard enough. Mostly everyone on this site has a passion for writing, and is trying to improve their craft.

    Writing what you want to read is great, but you can still make it good quality.

  39. Devin Monahan on 19 April 2009, 15:39 said:

    “Every thing you write should be a love story. Not a romance. But a story written because you loved it.

    Follow your passion. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Fill your book with the stuff that makes your heart race and leave out the stuff that bores you. If you don’t make it into print, at least you’ll have a book you can look at with pride as being truly your own. “


  40. Spanman on 19 April 2009, 15:59 said:

    True indeed. The reason we spork popular fiction, though, is probably that many of us know we can write better than that (I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen many unpublished writers here who could easily pass up the likes of Meyer and Paolini) and we wish that the readers of Twilight and other such books would realise that there are better things to read. The Beatles, your example, were popular and good. A vampire romance novel for high schooled girls is popular, that’s for sure, but not good. That’s the difference. That’s what we want to show.

    And for the record, I’m a girl.

  41. Marie on 19 April 2009, 16:44 said:

    As an editor-in-training, I would like to point out that an editor is not just looking for the next Twilight. Well, I mean, of course they’re looking out for the publisher’s interests, but they want to publish works they can be proud of. Someone liked Twilight (I’m not sure that’s a good thing) but I don’t know if you’ll be any better off saying your book is like Twilight than it better than Twilight. At most you’d want to say it’d appeal to a similar demographic. I’d say the best thing emphasize in a cover letter would be how your book is different from all the other books, and why it’s good.

  42. SlyShy on 19 April 2009, 17:42 said:

    My impression is that the publishers are looking for the next Twilight, while the editors wished they got more art.

  43. swenson on 19 April 2009, 17:47 said:

    Meh, from what lccorp2’s been saying, there’s more to the book than problematic world-building and writing we don’t happen to like. There’s also unexplained inconsistencies, like dragons using conventional cloth, paper/pens, and ordinary bottles. And the longbow and spear ones from Chapter 2. They seem like the sort of thing that should have been caught and fixed before the book ever went into print- something that was put in while the book was being written, but was fixed in the editing process.

    That being said, I haven’t actually read the book, and I probably will now, so I can argue one side or another more effectively. I do respect you, Mr. Maxey, for having the guts (and wits!) to argue for your book, though- kudos to you!

  44. SlyShy on 19 April 2009, 17:59 said:

    Meh, from what lccorp2’s been saying, there’s more to the book than problematic world-building and writing we don’t happen to like. There’s also unexplained inconsistencies, like dragons using conventional cloth, paper/pens, and ordinary bottles.

    This is enternally consistent with the worldbuilding. So what you are really saying is that you just don’t like the worldbuilding.

    Which brings up a pretty big issue, in my mind. Theoretically, we don’t like conventional or cliched settings. After all, a big criticism of Inheritance is that it is Star Wars set in Middle Earth. But… it seems like people pushing the fold aren’t really received very well. Once people begin feeling uncomfortable with the setting they decide they don’t like originality that much. Seems like a hard balance to strike.

  45. The Angel Islington on 19 April 2009, 20:39 said:

    My main problem with the worldbuilding is that the Preist/Robot isn’t actually acting all that Christlike. I mean, he’s the window into religion in the book, correct?

    Well, religious or non-religious, he’s kind of a dickhead. Jesus didn’t go around burning people’s idols, he just hung out with them and said ‘well, this is what I believe, and you can take it or leave it.’ I don’t know, maybe I’m just angry about this stero-type about religious people. Not all of us are huge bigots and morons, some actually do what Christ said and spread the Gospel by loving the people we are trying to reach instead of saying ‘do this or stfu and gtfo.’

  46. lccorp2 on 19 April 2009, 20:49 said:

    (Sigh) I swore I’d give this up and go work on Morally Ambiguous and my upcoming presentation, but Mr. Maxey does make a few valid points I’d like to address.

    He’s perfectly justified in asking why I, as a reader who has shown such extremes of antipathy to the book, read it all the way through despite knowing right from the book blurb that it’s not going to be a smooth ride. The reasons are fourfold:

    1) I have a friend who has the habit of introducing me to titles, giving me a brief synopsis as to their content, and betting small sums of money on me not being able to finish them for one reason or the other. Bitterwood happened to be the most recent one, and incidentally, the bet was fifteen dollars—the largest amount of money in one sitting so far. That’s partly due to reason #4.

    2) The “trainwreck syndrome”, also known as “morbid curiosity”, where one can’t tear one’s eyes away from something one knows is terrible in the hopes of finding out just how bad things can get.

    3) Interestingly, I happen to have queried an agent (and being summarily rejected, or at least, assumed to be, since I never received a form letter) at the agency Mr. Maxey’s agent works at, (I do remember seeing Bitterwood on their list of books represented, but didn’t think much about it at the time. Well, I guess I’ve burnt that bridge by admitting this) and was wondering just what sort of book they were accepting.

    4)Interestingly enough, I used to write in a setting that was extremely similar to the one Bitterwood takes place in. The manuscript I was shopping around had various sub-species of biped dragon-humanoids, magitek, a whole science-fantasy setting, questions about ethnic relations, eugenics, the role of technology in society, etc, etc, etc.

    I’ll admit I was curious if there was something I could learn from something that apparently, was deemed good enough to make it into print, and I think I’m as disappointed as you to say I didn’t find very much at all.

    I hope that clears it up. Which brings me to the next point. A science fantasy setting or a juxtaposed world isn’t something that’s inherently stupid or wrong. If I can accept the setting of Full Metal Alchemist, or the Warcraft universe, where swords, wizards and dragons coexist with guns, flying machines, magic robots (well, technically golems) and dimension-travelling spaceships crashing on islands (although that last one caused a stir in the community), technically there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a science fantasy setting.

    But the problem here is how it is handled. I’m supposed to infer that the setting is post-apocalyptic Earth. Fine, I have no problem with that, and because the setting is post-apocalyptic Earth, I now bring in my real-world knowledge into the fray, since if this is post-apocalpytic Earth, there should be no reason why basic things like Newtonian Mechanics shouldn’t apply without a given explanation.

    It’s essentially the same problem as the characterisation. There’s simply not enough setup, and when things beyond the scope of our (let alone their) technology like Vendevorex’s invisibility and escape-while-charring-your-foes-to-a-crisp powder surface with no rhyme or reason, there’s a moment of “huh”? and things start appearing as if they’ve been haphazardly slapped on. I’ve loaded the “hard sci-fi” paradigm, and here comes along things that don’t even fit into the “soft sci-fi” paradigm, and without any explanation or justification in the text proper.

    Of course, in the case of Full Metal Alchemist and Warcraft, it helps that the stories are set in their own conworlds and thus one can safely assume that the laws of science as we know them might not necessarily apply here, increasing the capability for suspension of disbelief. Look at the way Fallout 3’s setting is made, then look at something more fantastical when not constrained by these limitations, and there IS a difference.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the taste issue, since neither Mr. Maxey nor I are going to budge on this. While I don’t believe in absolutes, I do believe in general consensus, or else where’s the basis for writing classes and awards?

    The same goes for “you need to take into account the target audience” (it’s possible to write novels that appeal to different people for different reasons, so that different groups, the author included, have something to like about it. Still, I have pointed out that there is a time and place for the airport novel. That doesn’t make it good, by any extent) “it’s better to identify what works than what doesn’t” (because as has been pointed out, what does and doesn’t work are often conjugates) and the reason some things stand out are because they are labours of love (By that extent, a lot of writing should be good. A lot isn’t. And of course, marketing or hype has plenty to do with popularity. “He wrote it at fifteen!”, anyone? Besides, I’ve already pointed out is hardly any indicator of quality.)

    What I WILL agree with, though, is that you should write about something you love. By all means, go ahead; there’s no point in writing something you don’t want to.

    But I’d like to add the caveat that it is my belief that before you foist your writing onto the world and the unsuspecting public, you have a responsibility to make it as good as you can. I’m not accusing anyone of doing the following, but if you’re writing for therapeutic purposes, or to vent your anger at those silly people who’re making your life hell through the use of thinly-veiled idiot characters and your own authorial self-insert, or to tell everyone how great and superior your belief system is compared to the stupid idiots on the other side of the fence, or anything on those lines, I don’t want to know about it.

    And that’s it for me. I have an exam to study for, a chapter to build, and one to shred.

  47. Morvius on 20 April 2009, 08:05 said:

    No, Mr. Maxey, I was referring to the points you raised earlier on. About what you intended with the those scenes in particular. So perhaps referring to it as the “book” was misleading as it seemed as though I was referring to the whole book. Anyway you did mention this: The main thread of the plot exists mostly to provide as many fights as possible.

    But initially, you were telling us about the significance behind the words. The deeper story they tell. So it contradicts in a way.

    Anyway, to tell you the truth, I am sure I would enjoy your book. I enjoy most books actually. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t read Twilight). And this kind of “actiony” book is the kind I read to entertain myself. But, we are looking at the book from a literary standpoint. If not we would not have any complaints with Eragon, which is entertaining at the very least. (Eldest was far too boring and Brisingr had far too much purple prose).

    Perhaps we should not judge your book too harshly since, like you said, you were planning on a book that was more fun rather than deep and thought-provoking. I guess when we review things, we need to look at the author’s intentions too. Okay, I seem to be babbling as usual.

  48. Artimaeus on 22 April 2009, 23:08 said:

    I haven’t read through this entire discussion yet, but it’s nice to see the author talk about his work and respond to criticism. It exposes us anonymous online writers to a perspective that we’d rarely get to see otherwise.

  49. Proserpina FC on 27 April 2009, 01:53 said:

    Awesome to hear from the author, although I would really appreciate less of the “Your Mileage May Vary”.

    I know it is hard not to continue “addressing” issues, but, to both Maxey and lccorp2, it is meant, ideally, to improve the writing craft for us all. I also haven’t read the book, but I would agree that at this point, it is not about the tropes you use, but purely your execution.

    What can we say?….

    I have a question to add to the mix.

    If Ven and Jandra are the real protagonists, then that by itself is a wonderful subversion to the usual trope of Freedom Fighter vs Dictator. Prey tell, why is the book named Bitterwood?

    I would LOVE to read a book about advisers, peasants, guards, princes, queens and tax collectors who are struggling to survive the messy war between an arrogant, demonizing Anti Hero and an arrogant, demonizing Villain.

    But, instead, the story starts off with some sappy and poorly done Origin Story about BITTERWOOD. (Who you compare with Batman, who has been everything from a campy Superman-in-black to a phobia-driven vigilante, but never a character to be openly compared to his evil counterpart the way you claimed Bitterwood to be with Evil King. Batman is still a Super Friend, a hero meant to be admired for his fettered code of honor, not the sort of character needed for the plot for which you claim to have been writing.)

    At this point, my disappointment is solely with your execution.

    The Sporker is right. The only thing the writer has control over is the theme she sees in her work and the execution she puts into it. After that, the reader can interpret the exact opposite of what she intended.

    If what’s-his-face was really Evil King’s beloved son, then they should interact.

    If Evil King is Not Baby-Eatin’ Bad, then why can’t he take reasonable advice from a biologist without resorting to cliche, villainy like “You’re just soft on them.”? When we meet him, he’s ranting about hunting them, but we are meant to take a baby eating with doubt?

    And dear god, if dragons and humans are too different species with two different societies, what the hell is he taxing them with anyway?! Harvest? Because dragons are omnivores now?

    Anyway, all the “hints” you were talking about leave alot to be desired. A story shouldn’t be a series of useless exposition, a couple hints, some informed attributes and then another fight scene. A story should be exactly what needs to be known, shown through character-setting-plot interaction and organized into internal conflict, external conflict, tension and mystery.

    That’s all….