Welcome to my third set of THREE-CHAPTER REVIEWS, where I hope to answer that eternal question: “Should I keep reading this or not?” For an explanation of why I’m doing reviews of only three-chapters, refer to my previous post here.
In this episode, I will be reviewing the first three chapters of Near-Life Experience by Emma G. Rose, Eight God Engine by O. Josephs, and Girl Malfunctioned by Dustin Holloway. All three of these are self-published. All three are debut novels. Two of them were debut novels published last year—in other words, my cohort—while one (Emma Rose’s) was from the year before. Although, I would maintain, taking the pandemic into consideration, it’s all of a piece.
All three would be under the rubric of Urban Fantasy, at least two of them contemplating ‘superheroes’ as a salient feature in their worlds, if not enough to make it the main sub-genre.
First, some housekeeping. For anyone who landed on my previous Three-Chapter Reviews, the scorecard looks like this:
Soon, I Will Be Invincible (3-chapter: 6.5/10, Final: 5.5/10)
Keely, A Steampunk Story (3-chapter: 5.5/10, Final: 4.5/10)
Eyes of the Grave (3-chapter: 7/10, Still Haven’t Finished)
King of Shards (3-chapter: 9/10, Final: 8.2/10, Review Here)
Under Heaven (3-chapter: 7.5/10, Final: 8.4/10, Review Here)
The MC, Eric Silva, is a snarky first responder. By the end of the third chapter, he has been [spoilers, sort of] killed, sort of, and [spoilers, sort of] resurrected, sort of.
The dialogue is snappy and the excitement of the opening scene pulls you in. The universe expands to include: such mundane supporting characters as his friends and family, including his sister Amelia (another POV character), along with more cosmically-oriented characters like Death, who also ia a POV character.
Although, perhaps the best character of all was the bureaucracy which has sprung up in The Beyond to support Death’s efforts. Multi-dimensional bureaucracies are always fun, and this one is maybe the best one I’ve encountered this side of the Disney+’s “Loki” series. It isn’t likely, but, personally, I hope the majority of the story involves navigating that buearacracy.
Rose’s prose style is sharp and fun. The POV is 3rd person limited, with appropriate scene breaks to indicate the shifts, when they occur inside a chapter. All very clear.
The only…misstep is a strong word, but…discordant beat in these first three chapters is a somewhat random phone call between two ancillary characters. It’s obviously being set up for some kind of payoff later, but I really couldn’t see what it could be. The most effective foreshadowing beats are either interwoven into the main story or are deliberately misleading, letting the audience think they are getting a glimpse into what’s coming but then pulling the rug from them later in a fun way. This one is an entirely separate scene and it is just…there.
But, the rest of the chapters are so well done, it was only a minor inconvenience.
While this isn’t a superhero fantasy, per se’, I am also liking the use of a first responder (and their natural heroic bent) as the one who’s world must expand to incorporate their new super abilities, or vice versa. He may not be a superhero, but Eric is a hero with super powers, then what you get is what you got.
As a classic event-driven speculative work, it will be interesting to see how the author chooses to resolve this. In event-driven works the end of the story usuallly ends when the main character ‘puts things back right’. But, how is this going to be framed? Does putting things back right mean going ahead and dying/accepting death, ala Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense? Or will putting things back right mean dealing with his newfound ability to live in both worlds?
And how will Amelia and Death come out in the end? Changed?
~~~~> My 3Ch Review: The odds of finding self-published works this good and polished are like being struck by lightning.
The first three chapters: 8.5/10
Keep reading: yea or nay? Yes, absolutely.
Eight God Engine
The MC, Jaq, is a former janitor who now subcontracts herself out for her psionic abilities.
In the first three chapters, we’re also introduced to her employer, a CEO of a Process Server company whose firm is, itself, being hired out by a shadowy organization. That organization (and their counsel) meets our protagonist in a van with the words “Brian’s Plumbing & Pipe Works” on the side. It remains to be seen what sort (if any?) of foreshadowing that entails.
Although we first meet her in a tense prologue that also introduces us to another, ahem!, backer of hers—her brush with the demonic as a child sets the stage for what we can expect—sizzling excitement that is parsed out so as to entice.
In addition, the overall tension of each and every character being, perhaps, in just a bit over their heads is effective. Josephs’s prose style carries you along, although the noir-ish dialogue is a bit forced and homogenous up to this point. In the author’s defense, this seems to be more of a idea/plot-driven work than a character piece and Jaq is a fine audience proxy through which to experience this all first-hand.
One idea that I cannot shake is the coffee-as-demonic-sacrifice ritual in Chapter Two. That’s the sort of detail that can really carry a book for me.
Another thing I appreciate is how the superheroes (referred to as “masks” in this work) are part of the fabric of this world. They are mentioned, in passing, as part of the background environment of these characters in much the same way the cops, or the media, would be in ours.
The chapters are short. Counting the prologue as a bonus chapter, they average about seven pages, each. That lends itself to really crips scene-cutting, which happens for the most part—although a coffeehouse scene where Jaq interacts with the barrista is supposed to endear her to us, but instead sort of lands flat. Instead, we just get a scene reinforcing how closed off she is to the world, a point that had already been made several times.
Which is fine. But, letting the reader inside a bit more will help. I hope that happens sooner rather than later. I’m interested right now…
The world-building/magic-system, etc., hints at something top-notch. So, I will keep reading, for sure. But, to be clear, it could go either way. I’ve seen books start out this good and end up as solid 4 or 5 star efforts, as the world-building continues to ramp up.
And I’ve had others end up a DNF. This is a case where the three-chapter sample size is almost too small.
~~~~> My 3Ch Review: A cool book title and some cool ideas. That and 3 bucks will get you a cup of coffee (with which I can appease my Demons). So, I’m ready for more.
The first three chapters: 6.5/10
Keep reading: yea or nay? Yes, with a short hook.
Krista is a homeless teenage super-genius. Paul is an abusive, trailer-trash, piece of shit. Nathan is a police sergeant who lost his rank as a detective, but still has a job to do. The first three chapters begin to bring these three (and, by the look of things, a few more POV characters later on) together in a plot that smacks of some criminal intrigue and perhaps some science-fiction beats (it is listed as “Crime & Mystery Science Fiction”) on Amazon.
That would be the first thing I noticed. Apart from most works that I read these days, this is very much focusing on being a crime novel, with the speculative fiction trappings being few and far between. I, personally, love slipstream works. To my way of thinking, the best art almost always defies easy categorization. So, I’m down for that.
The next way this book seems to be standing apart is the quality of its characterization. To put it succinctly, each main character has their own voice. That sounds easy, but, in my own debut novel, it was one of the hardest things to do and I’m sure many will tell you I didn’t really succeed. I don’t think I always did. Most don’t (certainly not in their debut novel).
But in this, you really could cover up the chapter titles (which are the names of their respective POV characters, for each chapter) and within a page or two of reading dialogue, you’d know who’s head you were in. That part is very well done.
As is the budding mystery. Characters (and therefore, also the reader) are allowed to intuit things. Not everything is exposed via exposition. In every way, this reads thus far like a ripping tale from a confident, talented author.
Personally, I hope Holloway leans into the SF angle a bit more, especially as it pertains to the backstory of Krista, the obvious plot linchpin. And it remains to be seen if the scope of this story ever broadens to the larter world, of if it continues in this cozy-mystery vein. But, either way, I’m in.
~~~~> My 3Ch Review: I already know (from Good Will Hunting) that it isn’t Krista’s fault. The mystery is: Whose Fault Is It?
The first three chapters: 8.0/10
Keep reading: A strong yes.