I like ideas. I like a well-written novel. Sometimes, I run across novels where these two aspects don’t mesh. Some are well-written but lack imagination. These, I give a shrug to and move on. Some, however, have ideas so interesting that I want to like them, even though the construction of the plot might leave much to be desired. The latter, to me, are the most frustrating of all books. They’re written just well enough to be passable, but not good enough to bring those brilliant ideas to the forefront, to give them the power and importance they deserve.
“The Wicked Heroine: Legend of the Shanallar Book I” by Jasmine Giacomo is one of these books. On the surface, it has everything – a legendary and immortal figure who influences the course of history, an expedition that forays into cultures foreign to the protagonists and highlights the differences between the peoples, a government conspiracy, a deep and secret evil that seems to be bubbling to the surface, sea monsters, sword fights, and a preternaturally gifted young girl who might be more than she seems.
The story follows the adventures of three main characters – Geret, a young and brash prankster who is set to be made prince, Sanych, the aforementioned talented young girl, and Meena, the legendary and immortal Shanallar, herself. They set out on a quest from Geret and Sanych’s homeland of Vint in search of the lost (and imminently dangerous) Dire Tome, a book of magic that Meena, in one of her many previous identities, had hidden away to protect the world from the dangers that lie within. They journey across their continent and into the sea, in search of the land of Shanal, the birthplace of Meena and burial ground of the Dire Tome, itself.
Along the way they encounter many adventures. There is political intrigue, as the reasons for the quest seem questionable at best, even to those partaking in it. There is the budding brotherhood-hatred relationship between Geret and Salvor, a young Lord who accompanies them on the quest. There are the tales told through flashbacks and those Meena speaks of that discuss the history of this world we’ve been entered into, which in and of themselves could be complete, fleshed-out books. There are the previously stated sea monsters, whose encounter with the protagonists makes up the most entertaining part of the book. And there are themes of innocence lost and valor that each character must deal with.
As for those characters, they are pretty well fleshed out. Meena, in particular, is interesting. Her demeanor is gritty and more than a bit rude, which flies in the face of normal conventions when it comes to wise immortals. She has a chip on her shoulder, people annoy her, and she isn’t shy about letting them all know as much. Geret is likeable in an “ignorant jock” sort of way; he’s the type of fellow one might know who’s supremely gifted yet just naïve enough to let himself get walked over. And Sanych…she’s an idiot savant, the female Rain Man. Gifted with memory and intellect yet socially inept. I mean, when do we not root for a character like that?
These characters change throughout the book, and those changes are consistent with the way they’ve been presented. But the problem I had with author Giacomo’s writing wasn’t the characters, but the construction of the tale.
First of all, it is horribly overwritten. One could probably cut about 10% off the word count by eliminating unnecessary adverbs alone. There are extended segments describing droll information regarding locations the characters simply pass through. Long stretches pass without anything happening. On more than one occasion, I found my vision blurring as my eyes scanned the text. In fact, I was a full seventy-five percent through the book before the pace picked up and the action got going. To be completely honest, the author should have cut the word count by a third or more. It would’ve made for less distracting reading.
Also, I mentioned earlier ideas and how many were present in this book. Yes, they are there, but in many ways they’re ignored or used as meaningless plot devices to explain away a character’s relevance. For example, there is a fabulous little tidbit about a forced wedding ritual (demand?) where the subject of the engagement is placed under a spell where if they give their love to another, if they’re unfaithful, that the person they are unfaithful with will die, leaving the purveyor of this infidelity to deal with the consequences. It was a shocking revelation, one that could’ve been used to make a nice statement about humans and our responsibilities to others, and I was eager to see where this plot point went. Well, it went nowhere. It was almost as if the characters (and author) said, “Oh, isn’t that nice?” and went along their merry ways. I just about pulled my hair out with that one.
Oh, and the ending. It didn’t wind down as much as fizzle. Sure, I understand that this is the first in a two-book series, but there has to be at least some resolution. In many ways it felt as if I took this long, drawn-out journey, and nothing happened. Kind of like strolling down a dirt road in Nebraska. The land is flat and uninteresting, and unless you are clued in to all the little things going on around you (if you’re even interested in them), it’s not very exciting.
As for the writing style itself, once again I find myself reading a book written in third person omniscient. When will folks realize that constant head-hopping from paragraph to paragraph is more than a little bit irritating, not to mention frowned upon? Find a character to tell the story or section through and stick with it, please.
Overall, I will say that although the book frustrated me, and wasn’t completely satisfying, I still took something away from it. Like I said, it is the first book in a series, so perhaps the later volume will clear up some of my misgivings – if I pick it up. But, again, the ideas...that’s what makes it so maddening. There is so much there, so much that could’ve made this a wild, thrilling, and original ride. But it wasn’t, and in the end, my enjoyment – and the novel’s grade – suffered.
Plot - 7
Characters - 9
Voice - 5
Execution - 3
Personal Enjoyment – 4
Overall – 28/50 (2.8/5)
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