First caveat: let me make it clear that R.M. Ridley is a friend. We know each other well enough that my name warrants an entire paragraph (more about Ridley’s paragraphs later) in the author’s thanks at the end of the novel. While I do have a certain bias towards R.M. Ridley, I am sufficiently biased against crappy writing that I believe it all works out in the wash. In fact, I think I’m less inclined to take garbage from friends than I am from a stranger: if I’ve agreed to read a friend’s book, I don’t have the option of tossing it aside should it start driving me up a linguistic wall.
Second caveat: I’ve seen this novel in earlier forms. The novel’s evolution is in my head, which creates a singular perspective of the story.
So, on to the review….
R.M. Ridley is a storyteller. He’s the kind of person you want seated comfortably next to your fireplace, bottle in hand, on a cold winter’s night. Reality is such a vague construct, and Ridley plays dexterously with the things that go bump in everyone’s night. When he decides to give his protagonist free reign in the supernatural world, the protagonist uses it: time and space become merely man-made concepts. Information – that would be book learnin’ – and sheer dumb luck are the keys to Private Eye Jonathan Alvey’s abilities, and those are nourished with a great deal of substance abuse. Occasionally, one begins to question whether Alvey is human; all doubt is swept away by the (enticingly rare) tender moments between Alvey and another human being. Ridley likes to make sure his reader teeters on that beautiful razor-thin line between reality and what could be reality.
This story, however, is not for people who like introspective characters. This is an insouciant action story, complete with feminine catfights, manly brawls and supernatural duels. There is really only one character in the story who isn’t an antagonist to Alvey: the secondary antagonists range from the maternal sort to the walking dead to the flying evil to the furry… well, I shan’t give away too much of the story; let me just say there’s an imaginative range of bad guys that guarantees at least one will appeal to the fetish of the reader.
The big deal about Alvey is that he’s addicted to magic—in the way certain people are addicted to chocolate. As he explains it, “…the proper use of herbs was safe and smart. However, to go beyond that … could be considered tantamount to signing your soul over…”; he signs his soul over. He’s not fussy about the variety of magic, and so uses spells and charms from every culture. This works well, perhaps inspiring the reader to Google the finer details and thus creating wannabe practitioners. (Will Ridley gain a cult following of wannabes? Insider knowledge allows as how this is the first book in a series, so it’s entirely possible.) Sadly, with a single exception, the reader is given merely half of the spells; only once does Ridley give us the incantation. After reading the book, one may begin checking the medicine cabinet for shimmers in the Vaseline, but one will have no idea how to make it work. I wonder how much of this is a matter of keeping the wannabes in check, and how much is the author’s disinclination to broaden his own linguistic abilities.
The reader will likely forget this relatively minor issue when they encounter the grueling twenty-six-hour conflict between the two good guys and what seems like the population of Tartarus. It would be very easy to bore readers with a section like this—particularly readers who aren’t fans of the genre; however, Ridley keeps the reader riding along with the frenetic characters, buckling under the exhaustion, and yet unable to close the book. At the end of the section, I inhaled as deeply as Alvey did, and turned my face to the midnight streetlights as if they were the dawn.
As per the caveat, I will not be gentle with a writer just because I’ve known them for a quarter of a century: Ridley and the editors at Xchyler ignored a note on style, and I’m not going to let it slide as an “artistic decision” or anything ridiculous like that. The dictionary defines the word paragraph as a series of sentences on a particular topic; Strunk and White word it in much the same way. While I agree that there are no inscribed-in-blood rules regarding the paragraph, the general thought is that all sentences on one topic should go in the same paragraph.
Ridley and Xchyler seem to disagree.
They believe that two sentences constitute a paragraph. Two periods must signal an occasion to hit the enter key.
A lucky few sentences made it into a three-sentence paragraph. I rejoiced. It was very exciting.
Once or twice, there was a four-sentence paragraph. The writer in me almost keeled over with ecstasy. However, the pleasure was short-lived. I came to the realization that it was an oversight on the part of the writer and the publisher.
It drove me right ‘round the bend. Were it a book I was reading for pleasure, I would have tossed it.
On top of that, the advanced reading copy I received had 209 typos in it (i.e. actual errors, not Sheila’s Stylistic Persnicketiness). While I understand that things have been corrected for the official print copy, I’m doubtful that it’s up to my standards.
Regardless of nails-on-chalkboard editing, it is worth the read. It’s coming out on June 28, 2014: open up your take-out box of Shanghai noodles, pour yourself a double shot of bourbon and let the addiction take over. And beware of the furry….