We’ve been presented with Bitterwood, by a certain James Maxey. I’ll confess as to not having read this before, but this is standard operating procedure for most BFT3Ked books anyways—the whole “evaluate as you go along” schtick. Here’s a shot of the cover art, for those of you schmucks who happen to be interested in this sort of stuff.

Hm. Not particularly inspiring, at least from my jaded and cynical point of view, or maybe it’s because of the fact I’m listening to remixed soundtracks from “Zombies ate my neighbours” while typing this out. Anyways, let’s take a look at the blurb:

“It is a time when powerful dragons reign supreme and humans are forced to work as slaves, driven to support the kingdom of the tyrannical ruler King Albekizan.

“However, there is one name whispered amongst the dragon that strikes fear into the very hearts and minds of those who would oppress the human race. Bitterwood. The last dragon hunter, a man who refuses to yield to the will of the dragons. A legend who is about to return, his arrow nocked and ready, his heart full of fiery vengeance…

“Bitterwood plans to bring the dragons to their knees. But will he bring the remnants of the human race down with him?”

This is when I get the popcorn out. Hmm. Evil Dark Lord? Check. Oppressed people? Check. One-man army? Check. Last hope of humanity? Check. Revenge plot? Check. No visible subversion of tired, overused tropes? Check. Of course, book blurbs can be misleading (just look at that of Touched by Venom’s), but more often it goes the other way, and chances really, really aren’t looking good for this one right from the outset. I could have forgiven everything on that list if there’d been just a hint of a subversion, at place, but it seems not. Oh well.

Well. Time for a bit of schadenfreude, then. We’ll see if this is third-grade drivel, or not.

We open in the middle of a peach orchard, in the PoV of a boy named Bant. Heh. Now I’m reminded of DO. Anyways, apparently there’s an ongoing fertility rite to some Goddess Ashera that’s being held in Bant’s Rustic Little Village (you know, the kind which inevitably gets destroyed in order to serve as the Call to Adventure for the hero), and it involves lots of people having sex each other. Seems like this Goddess isn’t all feminist, though:

“In theory, on the Night of Sowing, women were free to choose any partner they wished. In practice, no woman could even refuse any man of the village on this night; to do so would be an insult to the Goddess.” (Pg. 10)

I’m not sure if this portrayal of the Stereotypical Fertility Goddess is intentional, or just a side effect of the whole attempt to inject tension into this “forbidden love” scene, since he’s waiting for his “love” to make it here so he can have her all to himself, and she doesn’t have to be gang-raped by a bunch of men. Mm. So in time, the lucky lady—her name happens to be Recanna—arrives in the orchard, and Bant tries to talk her into going along with the plan:

“What’s wrong?” he whispered, rubbing her back.

“This,” she said, sounding frightened. “Us. Bant, I love you, but…but we shouldn’t be here. I’m afaid.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Bant said, stroking her hair. “As you say, you love me. I love you. Nothing done in love should cause fear.” (Pg. 11)

Uh-huh. I wonder how many men have said that to women, just before getting her pregnant with an unwanted child. That doesn’t appear to be an issue here, though; Recanna is more afraid of going against the rites of the Goddess and calling down punishment for their sins. anyways, they’re about to do the deed when they spot a light on the road leading into the village. Apparently this isn’t a good thing, because lights aren’t supposed to be lit this night, and the two of them are wondering on whether this spells doom for the village when Jomath, Ban’t‘s Evil Elder Bullying Brother, turns up.

Whee. Naked Good Woman. Evil Bullying Man. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next. Invoking the name of the Goddess (of course, not because he really believes in her, but just as a justification), Jomath proceeds to beat the shit out of Bant, taunting him all the while, and then there’s a whole half-page of DARK RAGE on Bant’s part, after which Jomath proceeds to almost-rape Recanna. Because y’know, it’d be too horrible if she actually got raped, since she’s the Designated Love Interest and everyone knows that the Designated Love Interest must have his/her (but more often her) first time with the protagonist, and it’ll be the Best Sex Ever.

But more importantly, here’s a small question: why does the OMGDARKRAGE work in DO, but not in here? What’s the difference between RuGaard’s OMGDARKRAGE and Bant’s OMGDARKRAGE that the former inspires actual anger on the part of the reader directed at the character/s the author means it to (in the former case, the rest of RuGaard’s family, in this case, Jomath)? The answer is simple: in DO, we’re allowed to sym- and empathise with RuGaard first before he goes and has his fits of OMGDARKRAGE. We’re allowed to make up our minds, get enough information as to whether the OMGDARKRAGE is justified, and most importantly, I didn’t get the vibe that the author was trying to arm-twist me into feeling one way or the other.

Compare it to here—three pages into the narrative proper, and we’re already getting our arms twisted by Mr. Maxey. I don’t know why I should be caring about Bant or Recanna; Mr. Maxey’s just banking on the automatic rape of a woman = bad reflex in an attempt to produce sympathy in readers. It’s not stupid, because it does work on an undiscerning audience, but it damn well is lazy. I have zero emotional connection with any of the characters; they could die this very moment and I couldn’t care one whit less. It’s only made worse by the fact that Mr. Maxey has to resort to the stupidest of stock tropes for a minor character and make him a one-dimensional satellite character grates on the ol’ sensibilities, not to mention I’m getting the impression here Recanna is being fought over like a trophy to be had.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the end result is the same: instead of being afraid of and for Bant, he’s now just a stupid emo, and if you’ve read my drabbles on first impressions, this is going to have lasting damage on any future analysis. Yes, there’s a fine line between working and not working, between cheesiness and and being truly intimidating, but there’s no reason why it can’t be walked, considering that good authors can do it consistently and without requiring the so-called “standard” tools, which more often than not are counterproductive (not a book example, but see Seymour Guado from FFX, which after a bit of toning down to make believable, could have worked very well. Too bad SE just HAD to make him over-the-top).

Anyways, there’s a scream from the direction of the village and from the orchard they can see a huge bonfire burning in the middle of the village. Ayup. You know what’s going to happen here. Conveniently for Recanna’s virginity, Jomath drops the matter, and they race back to the village, but not before more Informed Attribut-ing:

“Alone, Bant could have outpaced Jomath, even with his head start. Jomath had gotten all the brute strength in the family, but Bant’s slight, wiry build made him the fastest runner in the village.” (Pg. 16)

Because, as we all know from RPGs, big people can’t move quickly. Yes, you will tend towards a lean frame if you run a lot, but lean does not mean you can’t be big, and it damn well doesn’t mean you can’t move fast, or else no one would watch heavyweight boxing. End of story. What I’m bitching about here is a) the mindless adherence to stereotypes and b) the telling style of the narrative used here. The three of them get closer to the village, and on their way back, just outside the village is a big black dog tethered to a cart.

That’s right, a big black dog. As big as an ox. Which smells like rotting meat. And belongs to the Evangalist Strawman.

Facepalm I know Christianity’s an Acceptable Target right now, but why don’t authors go and kick another Acceptable Target for a change? Like hetrosexual white men, for example? Or people of oriential descent? Or megacorporations? When I read this for the first time, I was already thinking “all right, I know how this is going to go.” And true enough, I was disappointed in everything but my expectations.

But that’ll be covered when we go across it later. For now, what we get is a two-thirds page description of the Generic Fertility Goddess’ temple, which we will never see or interact with again after it gets burnt down, which it it doing right now. Anyways, our dear Evangalist Strawman comes out of the burning temple with the statue of the Goddess, plonks it right in front of the villagers, and recites the First Commandment in “a thunderous voice”, before taking out an axe and cutting off its head:

“It may be,” the stranger growled, “that you dwell in ignorance, and are unaware of your sin.” He lifted the heavy tool with a single hand high over his head. “I have been sent by the Lord to show you the way.” The axe flashed down like lightning, splitting the Goddess in twain. (Pg. 18)

Clap clap clap clap Of course the people of the village don’t like that, and they all bugger off to swarm him. All their blows come to naught, and the EVIL BIG BLACK DOG happily slaughters them down to the last man, all while Bant and Recanna watch on. We’re supposed to get the idea that Bant is an antihero, because he supposedly feels nothing for the people being slaughtered, even those of his own family, but it isn’t working. Some of this can be explained by the sheer amount of telling that’s going on and the idea that the author expects me to take everything he says about his characters as gospel, part of it can be explained that I STILL don’t have any sympathy or even empathy for Bant, and another part can be explained by the plain fact that I’m already hating this story and am disinclined to like it any further, which only goes to show the importance of getting off on the right foot.

Anyways, when the carnage is done, our Evangalist Strawman dismisses the dog and walks up to Bant and Recanna, asking their names. After that little formality, Mr. Strawman forcibly marries the two of them, telling them “do not question the commandments of the Lord”. We learn that Mr. Strawman’s name is Hezekiah, Bant gets a copy of the Bible, and he’s to be taught how to read. Of course, him actually learning to do so is skipped over. More blah as Bant and Recanna kiss, and we end the prologue with this head-banger:

“This is how Bant Bitterwood learned that hate could change the world.

This is how Bant Bitterwood found God.” (Pg. 24)

Twitch Thanks for insinuating that God = hate.

Where should I start? I’m not even a Christian, I’m an agnostic, and this pisses me off so much. Christianity-bashing in the genre is so stupid, unimaginative and overused that the moment a single Christian Strawman appears on-scene, that’s it; we’re going to get treated to a whole sideshow of wonky antics that’d put real-life Islamic Radicals to shame for not trying hard enough. Hezekiah turning out to be a Really Advanced Robot later on doesn’t mitigate it any. It’s just like the Red Queen in Dragon Strike. You can put the shit in a different bucket, you can make your stupid villain a squid from the butter jelly dimension of Atlantis, and in the end, it’s still a stupid villain, it’s still the same stupid shit.

Hell, it makes it even WORSE, since all the “thunderous voices” and “protection of faith and god” turns out to be really because he’s a Really Advanced Robot. Which falls neatly in line with the “religious people don’t really believe in their religion, but merely use it as an avenue to power” paradigm. Hezekiah later reveals that a) he knows he’s a robot, since he needs to make repairs to himself and b) he has a maker that isn’t God. It’s insinutated there that whatever small measure of belief he has, it’s just there because he’s been programmed to do so, and he doesn’t have much at that.

Great job being prophet of God if ten centuries of being a prophet still ends up with Christianity being a no-name religion in this conworld; Christianity only took a few hundred years to become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Oh wait, he destroys anything he touches.

All of the above could be true and a reflection of our world. All real-life evangalists could be evil robots working out to destroy all we hold dear in the name of some religion. And it’d still be unimaginative and stupid to follow the conga line of Christianity-bashing in the genre.

And DO authors even THINK of the implications of what this means for the conworld? The existence of Christianity and the Bible mean that this has to be some post apocalyptic-version of Earth, since I don’t remember Hezekiah crashing in a space pod onto the planet’s surface. First off, that means magic as it’s commonly understood, and not “television shown to cavemen” is flat right out of the equation. Then, you’ve got basic physics of Earth, which dictate that there’s a limit to the weight versus muscle cross-sectional area ratio (which determines strength), and the heaviest flying bird on Earth is ten kilogrammes. That means the dragons, flying as they are (not gliding), are RIGHT OUT.

Then we have all the stupidity, like the English language being used exactly as we know it today after a thousand years at least, which is incredibly stupid given linguistic evolution, and the question of why the paper-and-ink bibles haven’t fallen apart, and—

—You know, at least most post-apocalyptic settings spend a lot of time addressing these questions.


And here’s the minor rant:

You know, I really, really am wondering about the diametrically opposing suggestions in having a borderline Sue, who happens to be not just a Paramortal psychologist dealing with the mental problems of all sorts of supernatural creatures (from vampires. And werewolves. And ye typical Fae. Maybe if we got a Jiangshi or Potianak my eyes wouldn’t glaze over so badly, but I understand the book’s written for a western audience), when dealing with the psychological problems of humans is already tricky enough ground. Oh, then there’s the fact that said Sue is a Marine Special Forces Operative who “can get physical with them when the situation calls for it”.

Fine, whatever. I won’t go into that now.

Alas, the cover art appears to be dedicated to a blond bombshell in a tight-fitting singlet and jeans. Said blond bombshell is of course, physically perfect without the excess musculature you’d expect of someone in excellent physical condition, either bulky or wiry, a nice hourglass figure, and the pose said character is in is perfectly positioned to let anyone looking at the cover art get a nice view of her approximately 42DD-E sized mammaries, complete with gratituous amounts of cleavage almost right up to the nipples. Which doesn’t make sense, since most women who work off all that fat don’t usually have enough left over to get very big mammaries, especially if they do a lot of running. When was the last time you saw a female athlete with anything over a B?


Oh, and did I forget to mention the very manly-man vampire brothers she has a love triangle with? Very manly-man indeed. Oh, and she gets captured and needs the manly-man vampire brothers to save her, whereupon they fight over her. Actually, they fight over her for pretty much the whole of the story.

…Really, every single UF story is starting to look the same. The ones with female protagonists always involve kick-ass girls who happen to come into contact with very manly-man male-types and get into psuedoromantic relationships, while the ones with male protagonists seem to always involve poverty-stricken private detectives who live at the edges of society, both mundane and supernatural, and who all have tortured secret pasts.

Gets out sandvich Nom nom nom, om nom.

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  1. Ari on 9 April 2009, 01:47 said:

    Man, I hate Christianity bashing. Being a proud Christian just makes it all the worse. I mean, there’s dozens of other well known religions out there: Buddhism, Hinduism, you name it. Why not bash that? Plus it makes me not want to read the book because it goes against my beliefs, even if it is fantasy.

    Nice review, though. I spit out my diet coke during some times. Totally made my day, and I hope to see more.

  2. SlyShy on 9 April 2009, 01:59 said:

    Eh, I suspect you’d see more bashing of other religions if you read other languages. The fact is, Christianity is the most powerful religion in the English speaking world, so it figures you’d see that in English language writing. Christianity is also one of the most persistently imperialistic religions. I’ve never been talked to by a non-Christian missionary, even in other countries.

  3. Sing on 9 April 2009, 03:02 said:

    :3 Buddhism is to sexy to be bashed XD

    Not that I’m buddhist. It’s just my natural asian defense mechanism.

    I guess it’s because Christianity to just so well-known among English speakers. How many English speakers out there know the workings of Buddhism or Hinduism?

    As for this rant XD It got a bit long so I stopped after a little while. I actually think the cover is pretty neat, but from the bits and pieces of the book you gave us, the story doesn’t seem worth much. Nothing original at all. We’ve had the evil dragons in the dragonlance series no?

  4. Tiwar Sauil on 9 April 2009, 06:54 said:

    Very good review, although my thoughts got COMPLETELY derailed by the TF2 reference at the end.


    “My blood! He punched out ALL MY BLOOD

    “You call that breaking my spine? you red team ladies wouldn’t know how to break a spine if it- AARGH! MY SPINE!”

  5. OverlordDan on 9 April 2009, 08:45 said:

    Great article, are you going to keep at it? Would love to know what happens, just not very interested in reading the book :)

  6. sansafro on 9 April 2009, 15:48 said:

    I’m just really annoyed by the misconception that small, thin people are somehow quicker and faster than bigger, stronger people. I could buy it for long-distance running which hinges entirely on endurance, but outside of a difference in fast-twitch fibers, becoming strong is the best way to become quick. Look at Olympic sprinters for one. For two, take your average reedy little shit most of these MCs are described as being and put him against an 300lb+ NFL lineman. I guarantee you the lineman will be quicker than any skinny kid.

    I might be projecting, but the only thing I can guess is that the authors who write that sort of cliche WERE the skinny kids they are describing, and it’s in the same vein as getting back at kids from high school by adding one-dimensional bullies obsessed with the respective heroes.

  7. Legion on 9 April 2009, 17:04 said:

    Funny that the titular character who is supposed to be an expert bowman is doing it completely wrong on the coverart. Ladies and gentleman, that is NOT how you draw a bow if you want to actually hit your target. To me, that’s already indicative of how much fail this book is going to be. >_>

    Good job with the review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Hope to see more like this from you in the future. =]

  8. Juniper on 9 April 2009, 17:35 said:

    Maybe I’m not as much of a fantasy fan as I thought, but robots and dragons don’t seem to go together. Not with Eng and not here, either.

  9. Artimaeus on 10 April 2009, 00:13 said:

    @ Legion, lol I didn’t notice that till you pointed it out. Of course we can’t have Studly McDragonslayer’s rugged, beaten face blacked by his hand, can we?

    In any case, I like the article’s format. It’s like a spork, only with more imput from the person writing the article.

  10. lccorp2 on 10 April 2009, 02:42 said:

    The “small people are quick” trope really annoys me, because my weight training is plyometrics (about generating maximum impulse in minimum time) rather than conventional strength training (which is less about impulse and more about…strength). I’m no hulk, but I wouldn’t call myself reedy.

  11. Puppet on 11 April 2009, 07:23 said:

    If I was rich I would buy all the bad books in the world and burn them.

  12. CGilga on 11 April 2009, 18:09 said:

    If I was rich I would buy all the bad books in the world, and ship the authors different books that made the list. When they complain, I’ll tell them to do better themselves.

  13. Sinister Minister on 26 April 2009, 01:56 said:

    @Tiwar Sauil: So I wasn’t the only one who noticed that! Awesome.

    “He was good lunch who played by the rules, until the rules robbed him of everything he ever loved…” Haha.

  14. Amelie on 8 June 2009, 14:23 said:


    The most disturbing part of all this is that if you look closely at the cover image, you can see this quote:

    “For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood’s revolt.” ~Kirkus Reviews

    I rest my case.

  15. asdf on 22 June 2010, 18:24 said:

    Actually, there are quite a few tennis players with big boobs (Serena Williams and Sam Stosur). On second thought 75% of them probably have big boobs.