9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Nice story. Well written
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Since retirement I primarily read free e-books and so far have discovered a handful of good ones. I've found only one book to be exceptional (see my Amazon review of Blood Song by Anthony Ryan) but this is the second. I set aside an entire day to compose this review of S. A. Hunt's The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree to give it its due. It actually took me two days. I hope I did justice to it.
First, it is quite well written and edited with some potential criticism for overdoing description (see below). Most of the story is told from a first person point of view that reflects how a real person would think without resorting to silly exaggerations or gratuitous gore/hyperbole/sex which many would-be writers think necessary. On this point the author is brilliant because the dialogue between characters, as well as the character's imagination when facing a dilemma, is readily believable. Humor works well throughout the book because it is interspersed in down-to-earth dialogue that frequently incorporates real life references like familiar restaurant chains and music. The author also uses curse words occasionally and vernacular phrases common to American society these days, making the context very familiar.
Second, the storyline is modest in proportion and not grandiose as is popular these days with the success of series like Game of Thrones. You get to know the characters quickly and well enough to care about their experiences. Hunt's parallel world is believable if you are willing to suspend belief on portal passage and quasi-human creatures, which you must be if you are checking this out. The pacing is excellent. Short titled chapters encapsulate action into full-bodied sequences just like scenes within acts in a play, showing a great sense of timing on the author's part. A major component of the storyline is the uncompleted series of fantasy novels written by the main character's deceased father, which Hunt brings into play by occasionally sprinkling short excerpts from the father's books between chapters. These references are very effective because it helps tie threads together and makes you want to see the "original" series completed, the apparent end game for the series. Embedding "stories within a story so that the final story can be told" is a yeoman task to do well, but it works here.
Third, Book 1 is an excellent prelude to Book 2, leaving you interested in what happens next but satisfied that you have enjoyed an adventure without evoking resentment over being manipulated into buying the next volume. In fact, I took several days to read Book 1 because I didn't want it to be over. That must be testimony of a reader's delight, as is the fact that I paid $3.99 for Book 2 (which is more than I have paid for a book in many years).
Fourth, and most important, the writing is highly creative and inventive while telling a good story. I read that Mr. Hunt was an artist for many years before picking up the pen, and that is quite apparent in his writing style. Many of the scenes are embellished with action words and colorful references that strike me like a painter rapidly splashing a canvas after he has finally captured the subject in his mind's eye. This author's rush is most vividly portrayed when the main character is forced to experience an hallucinogen: the stream of conscious struggle to figure things out goes a mile a minute. In that sequence, and in some other places, the author uses writing techniques that go against the grain of what is taught in writing classes, but he gets away with it. He uses Italics, broken thoughts, typography and even color to portray emotional or drug-charged thinking. To some this technique may look like editing flaws but it is not; to fault it would be like criticizing an impressionist's painting as a bad reproduction of a photograph. Mr. Hunt must have been exhausted after writing these sections. I was certainly floored reading them, reminding me of the first time I read Lawrence Ferlinghetti's wonderful poetry about living in America. Perhaps I reacted so strongly because a few times in my own literary career I have experienced a similar writer's rush, although Mr. Hunt's combination of an artist's eye and a writer's mind burns more potent fuel than I can muster (see for yourself by looking up Thomas Lombard's free books on Amazon and Smashwords).
Fifth, this book is hard to pin down as its genre. It is fantasy, for sure, but epic? Contemporary? Dark? Western, perhaps? Yes to all, and it also flirts with horror and steampunk. I think Mr. Hunt would be delighted with this observation, as I suspect he would not like being pigeonholed.
I did have one major criticism which almost lead me to toss this book after a few chapters. Early in the book Hunt goes heavy on description, flourishing words like rapid paint strokes by an artist overeager to flaunt too many flowers in bright colors. For me it started out as too much of a good thing. Overdescription is a tendency often shown by new writers, but some readers may not be as turned off by it as I am. Fortunately, I stuck with The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree because this "problem" gradually improved by mid-story. I think that happened because Mr. Hunt's innate talent took over as the story came together, what I call the story writing itself. I don't expect to see him overly rely on flowery, gratuitous description in future volumes.
In conclusion, what we have here is a terrific introduction to a fantasy series that could become exemplary in the fantasy genre. Book 2 is available and Book 3 is projected. It is exciting as a reader to participate in the baptism of this potential classic series.