Monday, December 17, 2012

Released

Series: Shapeshifters' Library (#1)
Genre: Adventure
Author: Amber Polo
Publisher: Self-published

Yes, I know. It was barely a month ago I swore off self-published books, and now here I am with another one. This is a special case. Most self-pubs, I get a request from the author to review, forget about how much I hate these things, and say "sure, I'll do it." Released is different; I approached the author about doing a review, because the idea was interesting. Then I promptly forgot about it. So, when I was clearing my slate of self-pubs, I remembered this, and figured that since I was the one who asked and that they've already been waiting quite some time, it would be rude of me to just toss the book out unread. So I read it, and I'm giving it a writeup, and I really wish I could say I enjoyed it. But alas, it's just the same problems as always.

Our heroine Liberty Cutter (the name, aside from being ridiculous, is a Library and Information Services pun) is the head librarian for the town of Shipsfeather, Ohio. After her library goes up in flames, the town decides to shut it down and convert the building into an upscale restaurant. Having already faced endless opposition from the town's leadership over just about everything, Liberty is about ready to call it quits. Public outcry intervenes, however, and instead she's put in charge of converting the old, abandoned Shipsfeather Academy building into the new library. Unbeknownst to the world at large, the Academy is home to an underground city of therianthropic dogs, which make their presence known to Liberty soon after she moves in. Academics and librarians themselves, the dog-shifters were trapped underground decades ago by a pack of book-burning werewolves (their ancient enemy). Chronus, one of their number, takes a shine to Liberty and begins offering clandestine assistance. But as the curse weakens and the dog-shifters' power grows, the werewolves that still control the town above make a play to eliminate their old rivals once and for all.

For a moment it really looked like Released was going to rekindle my interest in self-published novels. Okay, so it's cheesy as hell, with characters having absurd names like Bliss D. Light or Elsie Dustbunnie. And yeah, it's packing some rather annoying librarian stereotypes, and wields its pro-library, pro-literacy themes with the subtlety of a fifty-pound sledgehammer. But it has energy, at least in the early chapters. You can tell the author had a keen interest in what she was writing about. And it has a unique plot -- I've seen a lot of takes on therianthropes, but never seen them made the guardians of human knowledge. Most authors go the opposite way, playing the man-as-animal theme. So it's imaginative, if nothing else.

But a few chapters into Released, everything goes to hell. Often, while writing one of these reviews, I will mention a novel's pacing. Whenever I do, I cringe inwardly, because it always feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to say. But if nothing else, Released reminded me just how utterly crippling bad pacing can be. About a quarter of the way through, we get the first Big Exposition Monologue and the plot stops dead in its tracks. For most of the remainder, it's big clumps of exposition, pointless filler scenes, and bad attempts at comedy. The decisions this author has made for her story are utterly disastrous; she devotes large amounts of pagespace to boring crap like holiday celebrations and keeps potentially interesting plot threads -- like the race for town mayor -- in the background. I'd go into details, but to be honest with you, by halfway through the book I had lost so much interest that I was skimming, and only sheer stubbornness kept me reading at all.

One thing I did manage to pick up on is the fact that this book has an idiot plot of the highest order. Just a few examples of the flagrantly stupid things major characters do to drive the plot:
  • Elsie (who is revealed to be both werewolf and witch early on) was charged with the destruction of the dog-shifter library way back when, and instead of just killing and burning she locked them inside with a magic spell that A) still leaves them a limited degree of freedom and B) ensures that her fellow werewolves can't get into the library to finish the job.
  • Knowing they can move relatively freely, nobody in the library thinks to move the books to a different location. For that matter, although they're able to get food and internet access inside (which doesn't make a lot of sense either, but never mind that,) nobody think to send a message to their fellow shifters in the outside world saying "Werewolf trouble, plz send wolfhounds. Preferably w/guns."
  • Despite knowing that the werewolves are running the town, Chronus never tells Liberty that she should deal carefully with the townspeople. Liberty, for her part, doesn't make the connection between the bureaucrats who are blatantly stonewalling her at every turn and the werewolves she knows exist.
  • Despite coffee having been around since the 17th century, none of the dog-shifters in the library knew that it was bad for them.
I could go on. I wanted so much for this book to renew my faith in the self-publishing movement. As it is, all it proved to me was that self-pub is a woefully poor way to produce quality literature. The seeds of a good story are in here, and if the book had had an editor to point out and fix all the stupid things the author did wrong, it might have been worthwhile. But a self-pubber can't afford those resources, and so the result inevitably suffers. A pity.

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