Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Karen Myers

Just Reviewed “The Ways of Winter” at SBR

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Folks, tonight I wrote a review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always) for Karen Myers’ THE WAYS OF WINTER, book two in her Hounds of Annwn series.  And because of the very nature of this review — where I called the book both “interesting” and “problematic,” something I don’t think I’ve ever done before — I needed to come right over here and give you all an after-action report even though I’m way under the weather (still) and obviously haven’t blogged all week until now.

I want to reiterate that I find Karen Myers’ work quite interesting.  She has a nice way of plotting that for the most part works for me.  I like her characterization.  I thought the inventiveness of getting a rock-wight into the plot — much less the rock-wight’s child in the bargain — was stellar.  And I truly believe she has a ton of potential.

However, when I see a book that’s not up to standard editorially — one that’s very far away from professional standard, to be blunt, in quite a number of respects — I have to say that.

It doesn’t give me any pleasure whatsoever to do so, mind you.  I know that Karen Myers is a relatively new writer with a handful of books out (book four in her Hounds of Annwn series is due in a few months, I believe) and a number of short stories.  She’s self-published, has a nice Web site, is doing many great things as an independent author and knows how to market herself impressively — all good.

It’s much easier for me to criticize someone like Debbie Macomber (with a hundred books out, or nearly) or Mercedes Lackey (with over forty books out) or even someone like Celine Kiernan, who like Myers was a new author with a few books out but was published by Orbit — so all of Ms. Kiernan’s unevenness in her plotline should’ve been fixed by one of Orbit’s professional editors long before it ever made it to the market.

Granted, I don’t particularly enjoy doing that, either, but at least I don’t feel terrible afterward as I did in the case of Ash Krafton recently and now Karen Myers as well.

As a reviewer, I have to say when I don’t like something, or my book reviews don’t mean a whole lot.  (If every book got an A-plus from me, why would you want to read my reviews?  You’d know that no matter what I said, it’s all the same sort of nonsense, right?)  I also have to say something because it’s the only way a writer might change something down the line.

No, it’s not likely.  But it’s at least possible.

As a professional editor, I can’t refuse to say when I think a book has not been well-edited.  I’ve had to do this before with a self-published author (Cedar Sanderson and her fun YA urban fantasy, VULCAN’S KITTENS), and I’ll probably have to do it again for all I know.

But it’s harder for me, as a writer myself, to write a review that’s as mixed as the one I wrote tonight.  I tried hard to point out all of Ms. Myers’ strengths — of which there are many — while also pointing out as many of the weaknesses I saw without giving too much away by way of unintentional spoilers.

Since you’re here, reading my own blog and this “after-action report,” I’m going to be a little more explicit about my problem with the way Ms. Myers ends THE WAYS OF WINTER.  (If you do not want your reading spoiled, look away now.  This is your one and only warning.)

My main problem was that Ms. Myers set up a thoroughly hissable villain, Madog, to get his comeuppance.  She showed over and over again just how nasty this Fae was, why his loss would only improve matters, and what a terrible excuse for a sentient being he was . . . but then, rather than showing Madog getting what he deserves, Madog’s death occurs off-screen!

So you’ve set yourself up a nasty villain, who every reader is going to want to see die horribly.  But then, you don’t really show him dying and only allude to it?

I realize Ms. Myers’ main character, George, was in no shape to narrate this.  But she had another character, Seething Magma, who’d had several POV scenes of her own.  Why not use Seething Magma’s POV to show this death so the reader will be able to fully enjoy Madog’s passing?

Then, this happens a little bit too early on to suit me also.  George is grievously wounded by Madog, and his rehabilitation is important to see, I agree.  But there’s really nothing else there other than some quiet wrapping-up stuff — good character moments for George and his new foster-son and his new wife, Angharad, to be sure, and I welcomed them.

But there’s nothing truly essential there.  We don’t find out anything else about where Creiddylad is (one of the villains from book one, the sister of George’s great-grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd).  We don’t see Seething Magma and her child reunite, really, either — again, it’s alluded to, but not really shown, that reunion, though we do at least see them together and presumably happy.

So the real emotional heart of the ending is Madog getting his comeuppance, which we don’t see.  Then we get George’s rehab, which is fine, but there’s nothing to contrast it against — it’s all, “Well, we’re nearly at Xmas, and George is the best Xmas present his wife Angharad could ever receive,” but nearly all of that is in subtext, too.

If I didn’t like Ms. Myers’ writing so much, I probably would’ve thrown the very nice soft-cover review copy she so graciously sent me months ago across the room.

Unlike Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH, which was well-edited and competently executed (I didn’t like the romance, which I said), and Cedar Sanderson’s VULCAN’S KITTENS, which needed some editing work but the main plot points were very well executed and the emotional payoff scenes were all there, THE WAYS OF WINTER had a number of things I just can’t get behind.

And that’s a shame, because I do like Ms. Myers’ writing and want her career to succeed.

So that’s it — that’s why I gave Karen Myers’ THE WAYS OF WINTER a thoroughly mixed review with a “C” grade to boot.  I hope you can understand why . . . but even if you can’t, it’s late, I still have the nasty sinus infection to deal with, and somehow I have to try to get some rest.


As far as upcoming blogs go, I still hope to write that baseball wrap-up blog I’d discussed (no longer timely, but perhaps interesting anyway?) and maybe write a blog about the Milwaukee Bucks in the bargain.

One final update: If I can ever get my late husband Michael’s two stories to format properly, I hope to have them up at Amazon within the next several weeks.  This has been delayed partially due to being under the weather, partly because I’m very, very bad at formatting, and partly because what little energy I’ve had has gone toward the final, last-round edit of my book, ELFY, along with the edits I’m doing for a number of others.

I haven’t forgotten, and will not.  I know Michael still has fans.  I want them to enjoy his work.  And I want Michael’s work to find new fans — so these stories will come back out, once I finally have clean files to upload.


Written by Barb Caffrey

November 10, 2013 at 5:50 am

Just Reviewed Karen Myers’ “To Carry the Horn” at SBR

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Folks, I’ve been sick for quite some time, as most of you know.  This is the main reason I got way behind on my reviewing.

At any rate, I read Karen Myers’ fantasy TO CARRY THE HORN, the first novel in her Hounds of Annwn series, several times during the past month or so.  It’s an intriguing mix of Welsh mythology, the Otherworld of the Fae, and fox hunting.  (Well, hunting with the Hounds of Hell doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be hunting foxes.  But the thought mostly still applies.)

Our hero, George Talbot Traherne, owns a small computer company and is the whipper-in of the Rowanton Hunt in present-day Virginia.  When one day he follows a white stag, he ends up in the Fae Otherworld, just in time to help out his previously unbeknownst Elven grandfather, Gwyn ap Nudd.  Gwyn’s Master of the Hunt has just been murdered, which is very, very bad as the Wild Hunt must come off in two weeks no matter what.

For those unfamiliar with fantasy, the Wild Hunt usually features demons along with captive souls hunting other souls in peril.  Wisely, Ms. Myers doesn’t take that course; instead, her hounds of Hell are mostly half-dog, half-demon (with a few purebred hellhounds mixed in, natch), while those tending and aiding the hounds are doing so because they want to, not because they have to.

In George’s case, he quickly comes to love the hounds and immerses himself in this new world.  And if hunting isn’t enough to draw you into Ms. Myers’ world, there’s also some good political infighting going on between the rather long-lived Elves, just a hint of magic, shapeshifting, and perhaps even a God taking an interest in His people — that being the Celtic God, Cernunnos.

Now, I couldn’t really discuss the magic at my review because I felt that would give far too much of the plot away.  But I did point out that Gwyn has enemies — the fact that Gwyn’s huntsman gets murdered not three pages into the plot should give the reader a clue — and that the Otherworld itself is a rather interesting, quasi-medieval place.  (I say “quasi” because female Elves have more choices than the nunnery or marriage, which is about all high-ranking women had to choose from during the medieval era.)

There’s some fine characterization here, a nice, solid plotline, and an excellent setup for future adventures, all good.  But there were some minor stylistic things that threw me — for example, quoted thoughts are usually italicized for ease of reading, yet Ms. Myers did not do this.  (The older conventions didn’t use italics in this way, granted.  But for at least the past fifty to sixty years, quoted thought is usually italicized.)  And Ms. Myers uses the word “alright” rather than making it two words, which can be really jarring as George is a well-educated urban professional.  (Seeing “alright” in inner monologue was what really threw me; in dialogue, it sounds the same way so it doesn’t tend to bug me as much.  In general, if you’re using “alright,” your character should be a kid or possibly someone who has very little education or polish about him — and even there, I’d try to use it only in dialogue.)

Anyway, I’m glad I was finally able to get up the review for Ms. Myers’ TO CARRY THE HORN.  Because if you like fantasy and have been looking for something that’s original, inventive, and will keep you reading until the very last page, this book is for you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 7, 2013 at 12:27 am