F’n-A! Reviews

bad book reviews

Reviews that exist in lieu of a big, red “Electrocute Author” button.

1 out of 5 stars – Unusual…….and not in a good way.

“I managed to make it to the end, but it wasn’t worth the time invested. I just did not connect with the story or the characters.” – bamabandmom on Amazon

1 of 5 stars – Shelves: just-couldn-t-read-it

“I had a really hard time with this book. I made it almost halfway before I had to call it quits. From the start it felt a little disjointed. I was having a hard time understanding what was happening, but this is often the case with a lot of books for the first couple of chapters, so I decided to soldier on. Unfortunately, things didn’t get better. I frequently had to keep going back to re-read paragraphs to understand what was happening. As all of my time reading was spent trying to understand what they were saying or doing, I didn’t enjoy the story at all. It may be a good one in the end, but I just can’t get there. Perhaps this is a book for those literary types who enjoy complicated sentence structures more than the story itself. I certainly didn’t take the short yellow bus to school, but this was just too much for me.” – Rose on Goodreads.com

1 of 5 stars – Wow.  That was awful.

“I finally got through this book, and it was rough. That was not a good read. I cannot recommend this book to anyone as is. I’m not concerned with spoilers in this review because I really don’t expect anyone to read this book. That being said, there is a germ of a good story in there. The ideas are interesting, but their execution is terrible. First and foremost is the structure and format of the book. I think many of the problems could be alleviated if this book was consistently formatted.This writer can write, but I don’t think they are ready to publish. I feel this writer is at the stage where they need to be critical of their work and hone their craft. I would recommend some books on writing; I find Orson Scott Card to be especially useful. Also, swallow your pride and pick up Writing Fiction for Dummies. I know the title is a little insulting, but it’s actually a really good resource. One thing they harp on a lot, and I have come to agree with, is that you should never, never, never, never use head-popping POV. That is to say, do not change the POV character back and forth between multiple characters within the same scene. That is such a rookie mistake, and it is really disorienting. That happens a lot in this book, and it stirred a burning hatred inside of me. It got better as the book went on, which is a trend throughout, but it was still bad, and in the beginning, it was really bad.This is a book that really could have benefited from editing. Someone needed to sit the author down and give honest feedback on it about where things didn’t work, and about how the book is inconsistent. The beginning of the book is very rough and uncertain, and by the end of the book a certain confidence and skill are revealed. It proves that the author can write and craft a story, but he should have gone back and given the same to polish to the beginning that he gave to end.

I think the strongest parts of the book are the human interactions, which are few, and the “paths to riin.” When you get into real, human emotions and characters interacting with each other the book comes together. This is most evident between the paladins and their apprentices which happens very late in the book. Prior to that the characters are very wooden and ring false. After the flash-forwards, the characters seemed to spontaneously develop personalities. Maybe the breadth of the cast was too intimidating at first and once people starting splitting up or dying it became easier to manage?

I think it was more the author growing as a writer as he got further into his work. That’s great that you got to that point, but don’t neglect the trail of inferior writing you left behind you to get there. That must be addressed before publishing. I thought the “paths to riin” with the one emotion forever dominating a character’s personality was a great take on the “jedi” character. It’s an interesting concept that is hurt by the story’s structure.

To return to the structure of the story, I feel it is too back loaded with information. I know the conventional wisdom is not to front load a story or you lose a ready, but if you back load it, then your reader isn’t going to stick through to the end. If I hadn’t committed, and I mean really committed because the book was recommended by a friend, to finishing this book, then I would not have finished it. There are no hooks to lead me along. I can imagine that the author’s intent was to create a mystery that the reader is dying to see unraveled, but that is not the case here. There is no reason to care about the characters or the story at all because it is completely absent of context. There is no work devoted to establishing the setting of the story. I shouldn’t say “no” work so much as not enough work.

There is an effort to develop the individual communities mostly Antioch, thus the name of the book, but also the “sailor community” and, very late in the book, some of the surrounding communities. That’s all well and good, but Antioch is not a small town in modern America. We cannot make standard assumptions about the world and just fill in the blanks as we go. Some effort is made to establish a setting towards the very end of the book, but I find it inadequate and confusing. I still don’t know what the setting is. Is this a post-apocalyptic future? Is this an alternate history? Is this even Earth or another planet entirely? No, that’s not a cool mystery, that’s a reason to stop reading.

I found myself very frustrated with the lack of context for the story. I couldn’t tell at times if it was a medieval setting, a modern setting, post-apocalyptic near future, or the 1600’s. Was the whole world wiped out by zombies? Devastated by nuclear war? Worldwide famine or pandemic? I have no clue. Hints late in the narrative from an apathetic and unfocused narrator do not suffice. You don’t have to spell it all out for me up front in a prologue, but give me something to work with, and give it to me early. This lack of setting caused a lot of confusion well up through the halfway point of the novel which is just unacceptable.

The reader needs to be engaged from the first chapter and pulled deeper into the story with each successive chapter or they will stop reading. They will never get to the great reveals in the latter half if you give them no reason to stick around. I don’t think it’s as important to be clever with your mysteries as it is to get the reader through to the end of the book.

A note on the formatting of the book: any book needs to be formatted consistently for readability, but even moreso on a Kindle book. Do not have crazy experiments with italics, dashes, indenting, etc. throughout the book. I think some of the glaring issues with my copy came from a lack of care in proper Kindle formatting; it should be line breaks for paragraphs rather than indenting, and definitely not both, but there also stylistic formatting issues.

Choose one method for character thoughts and stick with it. If italics represent a character’s thoughts then that’s fine; stick with it. If you stick to one character’s POV in a scene then you automatically know who is thinking and that the italics are their thoughts. Keep that in mind you ever want to use something else in italics because it may be misinterpreted as a character’s thoughts. Also, please use line breaks for thoughts and dialogue, it really improves readability. Don’t mix dialogue into a descriptive paragraph. Especially don’t mix thoughts into a descriptive paragraph because you can miss the italics.

Some “he said” and “she said” would also be useful if redundant. I’d rather see redundancy and know who is speaking than sit in confusion over the speaker. As noted above, the characters don’t have distinct personalities until late in the book, so it is often difficult to deduce who the speaker is from context alone.

In that same vein, a character’s voice should stay consistent throughout. I saw many characters develop a voice late in the book which did not match their initial portrayals. For example, Biggs suddenly develops a heavy accent after his marriage to Andalyn. It might also help to be more careful and distinctive in character naming since I kept confusing people like Ditch and Drake and any other sailor with a “D” name together. If their personalities don’t stand out, at least change the letters of their names; the whole crew is an endless line of Donald Duck clones.

I could say more, but I have made some comments along the way as reading already. I really didn’t want to say anything at all at the end of the book. I just wanted to put it down and walk away from it, but I felt I owed a formal review after the snippets I was forced to give along the way due to the Goodreads character limits. I don’t write this review to blast the book and it’s author or even to warn my friends away from, but to instead provide some constructive criticism to a new author.

As a struggling writer myself I see flaws in this book I have made and learned from in my own writing, and I hope my input is received in the spirit with which it is intended. It is a good effort with potential, but it is not yet there. I think with some work on the part of the author it could be there. It may be too late to revise this book, though I would strongly recommend going that route, but may it at last benefit future books in the series.” – Michael Rizzuto on Goodreads.com


I could make a list of faults that I found with this novel –

The following is a book review of Antioch by William Harlan. Below the review is a criticism of the book, which I hope can help all first-time authors develop their talents. You can learn more about the series and read other reviews at http://www.williameharlan.com, as well as see his magnificent illustrations. You may also listen to the audiobook version on the same site. Click here to like his series on Facebook.
Two worlds separated by an uncrossable ocean meet each other in the midst of a zombie apocalypse: this is the premise behind William Harlan’s novel Antioch, which is Part One of his series The Circle.

One world consists of a primitive medieval society, built around the authority of the church (a group of knights gifted with healing powers), and a distant northern king. The second is the more advanced world, either Victorian or twentieth-century, and is the home that a group of gun-totting, slang-speaking sailors have left behind, in the wake of the Fall. Both societies have lost loved ones to the plague that is turning ordinary folk into deadly undead killers: bauran, also known as “devils.” Their meeting results in the breaking apart of the authority structures that bind Antioch, the largest city in a medieval wasteland.Michael and John are two knights of the church who begin questioning their vows in the wake of the apocalypse. They are capable of summoning riin, a mysterious power that can heal wounds and make them the strongest warriors in their land. Riin bears some resemblance to the Force of the Jedi knights in Star Wars, but Harlan gives it a twist…The Captain, Biggs, Andalynn, Ditch, and Drake are among the sailors who survived the deadly crossing of the ocean, only to arrive in the ghost town of Meroe, which has been devastated by zombies. They carry the big guns and strike up a friendship with the locals of Antioch. Except for Drake, they are much older than they appear—while in their sixties, they appear to be in their thirties. A mysterious figure named Ezekiel once saved them from the zombies, using riin to restore their youth and leaving behind only a single message:

Armageddon is arrived.

Break your silence.

Open the library.

The survival of both worlds hangs in the balance. The violence in the novel may be gruesome (what else to expect from a zombie apocalypse?), but the foul language is kept to a minimum. The concept of this book will appeal to any lover of zombie apocalypse movies or fiction, and to post-apocalyptic aficionados in general.

Congratulations to William Harlan for finishing his first self-published novel! Having written a novel myself, I am aware of the challenges that a first novel can bring, and the path of discovery the author inevitably journeys on in its process.

Harlan openly posts reviews that both criticize his novel on his novels, and those that praise it. This is a humble gesture that I respect. I could make a list of faults that I found with this novel, but instead of striking his novel over the head with a hammer, I will examine the work for what it is—a work written by a developing author. Hopefully, his future novels will overcome the setbacks of the first. All authors must evolve, and no one is more aware of this than myself, an unpublished novelist. For making the bold move of self-publishing his work, I can only praise William Harlan.

To a certain extent, my criticisms are biased towards the printed word–you might find that hearing the audiobook read by the author is smoother than reading the novel.

Now I invite all first-time novelists to look over my shoulder as I briefly examine his novel, to hopefully learn something for yourselves.

My first criticism would be the development of his characters. At the beginning, Michael has little characterization, though we see he is an accomplished warrior with vows he holds dear. About a third of the way through, Harlan starts exploring the relationships of his characters, which is good. They appear more fleshed out as the book continues. One scene, a flashback, presents Drake’s point of view quite well. However, the book does open weakly with characterization, and I would stress that what readers remember most about a book after setting it down are not action scenes, exquisite descriptions, or even world building, but characters.

The result of Harlan’s exploration of character is that more than half the book, it seems, is taken up with the characters’ boisterous camaraderie as they laugh at each other and crack jokes in a medieval restaurant. The historical inaccuracy of such a location aside (perhaps Harlan meant an inn?), the end result may be that character relationships are deeper, but it is at the expense of the story. While the opening of the novel promises a story of kick-ass zombie slaying and an attempt to find a cure for the disease, most of the novel is composed of talking-head scenes where nothing much happens.

The book is best when dialogue, setting, and characterization are balanced evenly in a scene, though many scenes are dialogue heavy and disembodied in the setting. Especially for fantasy authors, setting is important.

Furthermore, the medieval society seemed to lack many of the defining constraints that defined it, such as the aristocracy and the vassalage system, among other things. Perhaps Antioch is closer to a Renaissance city state? Also, the Continent has a vastly different history from our own world, but the customs are essentially the same as in the Unite States today, which I found to be unlikely. The book would have benefited from more setting details, and more world building.

Another rookie mistake is the author left me, as a reader, wondering why things were happening. Most scenes, especially at the beginning, but also in the middle and end, left me disoriented. This is because things about the world are simply not explained, or if they are, they should be explained sooner. While it is true that an author should not dump massive piles of exposition in the middle of a scene, Harlan seems to take that rule too literally. It is okay to explain backstory and world-building details a little bit, otherwise the context is lost on the reader. Doing it cleverly, sneaking it in through scene tension, is the best way to do this. It happens that first time authors may have a whole world plotted out in their head—I certainly struggle with that myself—but if it does not appear on the page, it does not transfer to the reader’s head. And if that does not happen, the writer has not done his telepathic job.

By page 19, I did not know anything about the characters or context, other than that Michael kicks zombie butt. But if that is so, why should I care? We need to bond to Michael right off the top, in the first paragraph, or even the very first sentence. The first sentence should announce a question to be answered, or a hint at a problem, and if possible the stakes of that for character. And we need context to follow that introduction.

In terms of style, Harlan has potential to be a good prose writer—many of his sentences are pithy, short, effective. However, it would be best if he stayed away from writing the Southern accents into the sailors’ dialogue, which distracted from what they were actually saying to each other. He can probably hint at the accent through word choice and sentence structure instead of cutting off vowels with apostrophes. (Also, it would be fun for the medieval people to speak more formally, to contrast better with the sailors.) There were also some common grammatical mistakes and awkward sentences, perhaps made awkward due to an attempt to antiquate the language. Worse was the repeated letters in dramatic, emotional dialogue (“Noooo!”) which reduced moments of deep emotion into bathos—emotion that fails because it tries too hard. The result of the accents and clumsy, unprofessional-looking prose is that I could not take the novel seriously. This would be fine if Harlan was writing a comedy, but given the post-apocalyptic scenario, I would doubt this was his intent. Mind you, this problem disappears slightly in the audiobook, since there is no physical page to frown at.

Finally, I would say his plot needs tweaking and more structure. The ending does not end with an obvious success or failure, but more or less in the middle of things. While it is in the middle, in a way, of the series, after reading nearly 200 pages of buildup, I was expecting a showdown that had some kind of closure to it—not a total defeat of evil, but a definite change of circumstances for the protagonists. Writing Excuses, a fantasy/science fiction writing podcast, talks about a seven-point story structure system that I find helpful and clarifying.

I write these criticisms to aid Harlan in his writing career, and I hope he will take them to heart, and learn the art of the writer. These criticisms may also aid any other first-time authors out there, whether you are published or not. Read some well-written fiction to learn from the greats, develop your personal style, and consult Stephan King’s On Writing and Strunk &White’s The Elements of Style. You might also want to consult How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, if that is your genre, and Writer’s Digest Write Great Fiction Series,especially Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. The only danger is one of my own ongoing struggles: you might read more about writing fiction than you actually write, so keep practicing and practicing!

Note: While it is a slight departure for The Vinciolo Journal to review a self-published author’s work, I hope the review above justifies my choice. I generally do not accept self-published works, but will handle queries, should they arise, on a case-by-case basis.” – Matthew Rettino – http://matthewrettino.wordpress.com/

2 of 5 stars – A good idea that falls down in the execution.

“Antioch is a book with a good idea that falls down in the execution. The plot is interesting and has a lot of potential, but the structure of the novel is poor and I found the pacing very jarring – moments of action followed by pages and pages of content that didn’t do much to advance the story or characters.

I found it really hard to stay focused on the characters and their journeys; my mind was constantly wandering as the text didn’t keep me enthralled.

I think there is real promise here in terms of the ideas, but I would have liked a much tighter edit, trimming a lot of the fat off to get to the heart of the story.

I received this book as a review copy from the author.” – Nicki Markus on Goodreads.com and http://www.nickijmarkus.com/2013/08/book-review-antioch-by-william-harlan.html

4 Responses to “F’n-A! Reviews”

  1. I have read half of the comments written here and i just found them so uninteresting that i just couldnt finish them. In my humble uneducated opionion i think this book is great. In this day and age i feel that writers have to change their ideas far too often while it makes sense that he should have to stick to one format of writing and stay true to it the snub nosed approach that IT MUST BE WRITTEN PERFECTLY OR I CANNOT ENJOY THE STORY is an era that is simply coming to an end. With so many publishing their own books or selling it as an e book it takes it out of the hands of publishers who will nickel and dime a books sentance structure and spacing and other crap my generation doesnt really care for. I found his book interesting at first i thought the action scene introduction was a good start into a world of chaos and death. I took what he said and had no problem laying out a well crafted scene with real flesh and bone people. I didnt care about what era they lived in i took it for what it is. Snipits of peoples lives put together like a puzzle in a world where no one knows what it going on. How can billy explain the world without giving away the plot. On one side religeous fanatics on the other a world ran by a teenagers with toys. What balls this man has for mixing mideval swordplay with zombies with guns and steam punk. You cant have guns with swords unless the guns are fighting with the swords and are less effective. I like the way he writes and i like reading his book. I find it to be nothing like starwars only some old dude that sucks at comparisons could ever comprehend something like that. Its like starwars with zombies almost completely turned me off from reading this crazy mixed up wonder whats going to happen next thrill ride into bizzare meetings of two worlds that have nothing alike aside from wanting this problem to come to an end. Im on crapter 14 by the way. I think his book would make an awesome animated story that way retards could see the backgrounds and scenes and just focus on the story. If i had any criticism to give it would be to work on your singing billy haha i hope this book recieves more attention from the younger generation of people dieing for a great story with something new. Maybe thats why librarys are closing and chapters is the only bookstore within 100 miles of where i live and i swear they are just there to help starbucks bring in hipsters. We are dieing for good exciting fantasy stories. God knows not everyone is into twilight and harry potter. I hope billy keeps writing even if he goes into debt because of bad reviews from failed writers who wrote crap stories and blamed failures of how their paragraphs were formated and not their lack of imaginati. I loved being in billys world and it would truly be sad if that world ended before i was finished reading the series

    • raunwynn says:

      Thanks for the support, Shelby.
      Regardless of why, these people didn’t like my work and I respect that.
      They also took the time to read it and review it which I greatly appreciate.

  2. A.D. says:

    All these reviewers can eat a steaming bag of dicks. They suck and should be destroyed. This book is awesome.

    That being said, I would like to review the review written by Matthew Rettino. Matthew, I know you will read this because people like you desperately Google themselves every night. You probably have a limp miniscule corn nut of a Canadian half chub right now because someone mentioned you on the interwebs. Before you get all excited, take a screen shot of your name showing up in an internet search and toss a seedless canuck wuss load all over your laptop, let me save you some crust clean up.

    I read about 5 words of your pointlessly long criticism, got bored, then looked at your blog, got bored, then looked at the The “Official Certified FB page for The Vinciolo Journal” (your blog),realized that you have a whopping 38 likes, and that you’re no one and your opinion counts for nothing. Well.. you’re Canadian, so with the exchange rate, that’s technically less than nothing.

    You say that you hope your review “can help all first-time authors develop their talents.” The best way 1st time authors could develop their talents is by ignoring any and all advice that comes from smarmy pretentious twats like you. I wouldn’t trust you to sit the right way around on a toilet seat , let alone offer valid advice or criticism of writing.

    I say this not because of the abhorrent, lilting, self important tone you take (” I generally do not accept self-published works” REALLY?! Please …you need an asskicking.)I say this because I skimmed through some of your writing. You suck. A writer like William Harlan accepting career advice from you would be like an Olympic high jumper taking jumping lessons from a paraplegic…with asthma….and type 2 diabetes…which he got because he was fucking fat ….who happened to be a real jerk.

  3. raunwynn says:

    I don’t even know what to say about that.

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