Mythic, Legendary, Romantic, Satirical

Fun fact: Literature has power tiers. Not in the sense that we can meaningfully figure out whether Achilles would beat Lancelot in a fight, because the power tiers are very broad and those two both occupy the same tier, and within-tier comparisons are basically meaningless as there’s too little consistency between and often even within stories as to what characters can and cannot accomplish. Authors and audiences simply do not have the exhaustive knowledge of scientific reality to be able to accurately describe whether a character is ten or one hundred times stronger, faster, etc. etc. than a regular human being, and thus two demonstrations of strength by the same character in the same story that are meant to be similarly taxing will indicate vast differences in actual strength. To authors and audiences, casually punching a regular squishy human hard enough that they explode into giblets and then later lifting a dump truck overhead only with great effort seem like perfectly reasonable limits, but have you actually done the math on whether or not that makes any sense at all? I haven’t.

But there are four broadly distinct literary power tiers, because they operate on levels of power scaling that human minds can intuit. Those tiers are, as you likely guessed from the post title, mythic, legendary, romantic, and satirical. Loosely, the stories of gods, heroes, exceptional people, and people who kind of suck.

The defining trait of mythic storytelling is that it explains how something in the world came to be, and its protagonists are therefore naturally of world-shaping power. Even when they behave like petty warlords (like Olympians) or even like lazy stoners (many trickster spirit stories are like this), they do things like shape all the world’s snakes or raise mountains from the earth or whatever. Like, spiders used to be swole but one day the spider god Anansi played a trick that backfired and got stretched in all directions and now spiders have skinny legs. This story is downright slice-of-life, but it also made all spiders everywhere have skinny legs, which makes it mythic. Tales of Olympians tend to be pretty much the same as tales of Greek heroes, except that Olympic stories usually end up with a new island being formed, or an old one being submerged, or mountains being punched flat, or whatever.

The defining trait of a legendary story is that the protagonists have capabilities that are clearly superhuman. These are super hero stories. Achilles is flat-out invincible, Lancelot defeats dozens of other knights in combat, Cuchulain defeated an army single-handed, that kind of thing. The heroes of a legendary story are very blatantly superhuman, but not to the point where they reshape the landscape. Legendary heroes are often part of founding myths for cities, but they do not spawn forests or oceans or whatever.

There’s some edge cases, like, Heracles once redirected a river to flood out some crazy huge stables he was supposed to clean and doing it the regular way was for chumps. It’s questionable what tier Heracles exists on, but it’s notable that he was considered overpowered even compared to other Greek heroes. Lots of versions of Jason and the Argonauts like to make the Argonauts a who’s who of Greek heroes, but then have to contrive some reason why Heracles doesn’t solve everything by being way more powerful than everyone else. The best part is that the contrivance is that they forgot him on an island while he was taking a nap and just didn’t go back for him.

In a romantic story, the protagonist is super cool but not superhuman. You could see someone like that actually existing. These stories start getting more common in the Enlightenment era, when we start noticing some definitive upward limits on human ability. Absent some good records and the scientific method, it’s reasonable to believe that, seeing as how some people are considerably stronger than others, it is therefore possible for very rare individuals to be considerably stronger than that and can therefore throw pickup trucks around.

Most of the stories written by famous dead people in the Victorian era are romantic. A Tale of Two Cities is about a hard-drinking cynic trading places with a noble idealist who looks pretty similar to him so that said idealist can escape the French Revolution, which is something anyone could do but which most people wouldn’t. His only superpower is that he happens to look kind of like another guy. Sherlock Holmes is just a really good detective, though the sheer breadth of his knowledge is potentially superhuman in the sense of “how does one person find the time to learn all this stuff,” that’s another “have you done the math” question, and Holmes’ powers in any one field are accomplished but not unprecedented. Les Miserables is about Jean Valjean, who is mega-strong and (after some brief prologue establishes his motivation) very moral, but not superhumanly so. Well, maybe superhumanly so, because I haven’t done the math on how hard it is to climb the walls of Paris bare-handed in the 1830s, but not so superhumanly so that it’s immediately obvious. In any case, Valjean’s incredible strength isn’t even his defining attribute and gets used to solve problems, like, three times in the entire table-busting novel. The modern genre of romance is descended from stories in the romantic tradition like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, which suffer tremendously from having not even one magic cloak that allows its wearer to transform into a bird.

Finally, the satirical story is about people who would easily avoid or solve their problems if they weren’t kind of dumb. You can actually make satires that aren’t like this at all, and there are stories like this that aren’t satires. I wish I could remember who introduced me to this classification scheme so I could direct your scorn towards them for having such a dumb name for the last category, and I am slightly worried that I’m just misremembering it. Anyway, in this context we’re talking about things like A Comedy of Errors, where the plot is driven partly by an extremely specific string of coincidences but also by the incapability of the protagonists to sit down and have a clarifying conversation with each other.

I think it’s interesting that science has killed the myth but reinvigorated the legend. Early on in the enlightenment, legendary storytelling began to die out in favor of the romantic style, but as we moved on to the industrial era, and especially into the 20th century, things got steadily more legendary again. Fantasy storytelling took off, unironically telling the same legendary stories of heroes and monsters even in an era where it was perfectly well understood that such things were definitely ahistorical, and science fiction stories used lasers and spaceships to bestow upon its protagonists the super powers that were once the domain of divine gifts (whether metaphorical gifts from descent or literal gifts in the form of magic items). Science fiction myths aren’t unheard of, there are stories about alien cultures whose technology is so advanced they may as well be gods going around creating planets and such, but they’re comparatively rare (in relative terms – the rate at which we create fiction has so exploded that our least common stories are more frequent in absolute terms than the most popular stories of previous ages).

On the other hand, as our terraforming tech advances, previously mythic feats are getting pushed into the realm of lower and lower tiers. A story about terraforming Mars is probably a legendary story about heroes with access to fantastic technology, but whose abilities are by no means godlike compared to our own, and the construction of an artificial island in the South China Sea could be a perfectly grounded bit of military fiction firmly in the romantic tier. The way things are going, someday we’ll have stories about a pair of lazy stoners who make new planets for fun, you know, like unemployed slackers are prone to, and get in over their heads when they accidentally recycle what looked like an unimportant moon but was actually a vital observation post in a century-spanning scientific experiment by a galaxy-wide super-intelligence. Hijinks ensue when the super-intelligence mistakes our bumbling protagonists for saboteurs!

Scourge of the Betrayer: What Is Probably The Plot Has Begun

The first three pages of this chapter (not that it’s formally split up by the book, but you know what I mean) are about Captain Braylar banging the barmaid he saved from the boorish soldiers earlier, while the scribe viewpoint character is sleeping in the other bed in the same room. This puts me in a difficult position: We’re getting to the point where I should probably put a moratorium on criticizing this book for its over-enthusiasm with how cool Captain Braylar is, but if I do that there is nothing left to comment on.

It is worth noting that the way in which Captain Braylar is built up isn’t as juvenile as you’d expect from a book that just can’t stop talking about how cool this character is. Like, at some point the barmaid gets nervous about potentially waking the viewpoint scribe up and asks to stop, and Captain Braylar stops and gets agitated with her and throws her out. This is not how the scene would go in a typical Mary Sue wankfest (no pun intended), which would not have tolerated anything stopping its protagonist from conquering a woman, and indeed would have gone on for ages about how satisfied she is. But while the squeeing over Braylar’s awesomeness is much more competent – it attributes the woman’s shyness to circumstance, thus keeping Braylar’s sexual prowess unblemished, it has Braylar respect her wish and thus firmly establishes that he’s not a sexual predator, but it also has him react with agitation so as to firmly establish his dominance – the fact that the narrative is doing nothing else but go on and on and on about this guy makes it just as Sue-y as a more straightforward gushing. Jeff Salyards – our author – is clearly demonstrating that he could write a good story, but that he just doesn’t want to.

Then, on page 36, the plot finally arrives:

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Scourge of the Betrayer: A Book About Nothing

At least one of the books in the Humble Bundle of books I recently snagged is not a short story anthology. At least three of them, actually, because they’re a trilogy. Or the first three books of an “arc,” at least. Whether they’re also the last three books of that arc, I don’t know. What I do know is that Scourge of the Betrayer is the first of them, and I’m going to be giving that book a poke. Here is our opening paragraph:

My new patron clambered down the wagon, dark hair slicked back like wet otter fur, eyes roaming the stable yard in a measured sweep. He fixed on me briefly before continuing his survey, and it occurred to me, just as it had a hundred times since accepting the commission, that this would be unlike any other job I’d done.

I had to copy/paste that into a word processor in order to get the first two lines to be visible. Smart Publishing should consider getting a better formatting guy. Like, minor formatting errors are one thing. Still kind of unprofessional, but things slip through, no one’s perfect, so long as everything else is firing on all cylinders, I don’t even notice. This is the very first paragraph of the very first page.

The next two pages are a storm of proper nouns unmoored from any meaning. New characters are introduced on a nearly per-paragraph basis, making keeping up with who’s who basically impossible, and a handful of place names are introduced as well. I know there’s some kind of caravan, a military captain is in charge of it, a stable boy and a nomad who seems vaguely Mongol are part of it, and that our viewpoint character is a scribe. Some number of soldiers are involved, but I’ve lost track of which ones are repeat characters and which ones are newly introduced.

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The Final Frontier: A Jar of Goodwill

I think the entire Humble Bundle I just got might just be short story anthologies, which is certainly fine by me for purposes of blog fodder. Today’s story comes from the Final Frontier, which is a collection of stories that would be Star Trek episodes if Smart Publishing had the Star Trek IP.

Not that all stories necessarily follow the Star Trek format of being a ship exploring on behalf of some more-or-less utopian space communists. The first story opens with this line, for example:

You keep a low profile when you’re in oxygen debt. Too much walking about just exacerbates the situation anyway.

This is definitely a planet that the Enterprise would visit somewhere outside of Federation space. The whole theme of the first few pages is that space is super inhospitable, which has the obvious-in-hindsight consequence that being poor really sucks in space. Whereas on Earth, limited access to water is almost always a clear sign of corporate abuse and limited access to air is unthinkable, in space, that stuff has to be imported, which means someone is shipping it out here, and that guy needs a paycheck. This is the kind of place where you’d like to have some government intervention so that everyone gets to breathe courtesy of taxpayer dollars, but absent that, your debt grows with literally every breath you take.

Our protagonist is “Alex” and the story is written first person, so I have no idea whether they’re male or female. The setup is that Alex is running up a big air debt, and the harbormaster of the station they stay on is having difficulty justifying letting Alex continue to run up that debt. The alternative is usually to go into hibernation and only be thawed out for guaranteed work until they’d built up enough spare funds to buy their contract back. It’s left unclear what the effects of long-term hibernation would be. Do you still age? Can you go crazy from it? Either way, Alex isn’t looking forward to it. The harbormaster does have an alternative, though.

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Blood Sisters: Shipwrecks Above

Blood Sisters is an anthology of vampire stories written by women, and it’s worth noting that they consider “written by women” to be a cover-worthy selling point. I’m always skeptical of anthologies that advertise themselves with “written by [demographic],” because even if you are trying to give more writing opportunities to [demographic], you have presumably selected authors who are actually good at their job and who can be advertised on their own strength. I got this one as part of a Humble Bundle and I’m gonna dive into it here principally because it’s a short story anthology so I can pick one, write a blog post about it, and then move on to another book if I feel like it.

Something about the first story in the book, A Princess of Spain, was so immediately boring to me that I decided to skip to the second story in the anthology, Shipwrecks Above. I’d tell you why, but I have no idea. For all I know it’s a perfectly good story, but that first paragraph somehow just repelled my eyes beyond what would be reasonable for text to accomplish.

Shipwrecks Above, though, opens with this:

This one, she rides the tides. She has been hardly more than a shade drifting between undulating stalks of kelp, and she has worn flickering diadems of jellyfish, anemones, and brittle stars. The mackerel and tautog swap their careless yarns of her.

Fish are spreading rumors about some drowned undead? I have no idea what this has to do with vampires, but I’m down to find out.

A few paragraphs into the backstory of this drowned woman, we set the tone for the story:

Her father and lover, her self-appointed Lord in all matters of this world and in any to come hereafter, ferried her high into the Carpathian wilderness, up to some crumbling ancestral fortress, its towers and curtain walls falling steadily into decrepitude. It was no less a wreck than the whalers and doggers, the schooners and trawlers, she has since sung to their graves on jagged reefs of stone and coral. And it was there, in the rat-haunted corridors of István’s moldering castle, that she did refuse this dæmonic paramour. All his titles, battlefield conquests, and wealth were proved unequal to the will of a frightened girl. When he had raped her and beaten her, he had her bound and, for a while, cast into a deep pit where she believed that the Archangel Michael, bringer of merciful Death, might find her and bear her away from this perdition unto the gilded clouds of Heaven.

What buy-in the opening paragraph managed is rapidly wilting. The only thing the story particularly has to say about incestuous rape and torture so far is that it sucks, so we certainly appear to be in full edgelord mode here, something that I’d suspected might happen in a vampire anthology. This is the kind of story where a story about human evil is confused for a story contrived to be maximally evil.

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Magic Superpower Personality Tests

Awaken Online tried to do a thing where the full dive MMO gave you a hidden personality test and gave you magic super powers based on it. This went very poorly, on account of the “personality types” had tons of overlap, to the point where some of them were practically synonymous. The general idea of “your personality gives you superpowers” is not a bad one, but rather than coming up with a list of elements and then working backwards to try and cram personality types into them, you’d be better off making use of existing personality categorizations that at least mostly work and assigning magic powers to them.

For example: Myers-Briggs gets a lot of criticism for being unscientific, and it is. All its numbers and letter codes gives people the impression that it’s the result of some sociological study or something, but it’s really just the result of two kinda smart people sitting in armchairs and trying to come up with a way of categorizing people’s personalities, then declaring victory after coming up with four binary switches that felt mostly right. But people strongly identify with their Myers-Briggs personality types and that’s good enough for fiction.

Now, one of the major failings of Myers-Briggs that you’ll have to address is that it treats its four personality axes as binary switches, but quite a few people are close enough to the middle that they can flip letters based entirely on how their day has been going. So you’ll want a set of four opposed pairs of magical power, but you’ll also want to leave room for most people not being strongly attenuated along all four axes. Maybe not being strongly attenuated means you don’t get any magic or maybe you get a reduced form of both.

‘Course, that puts it on you to come up with four opposed pairs of magical voodoo. DiSC personality types are already in a set of four, a 2×2 grid of people-oriented vs. task-oriented and leader vs. follower types, which means you can assign them the classical four elements and call it a day. DiSC’s inspirational personality type is a people-oriented leader whereas their conscientious personality type is a task-oriented follower, so let’s call inspirational fire and conscientious water because they’re opposites like that (or maybe we’d want to make inspirational air and conscientious earth, depending on how we want to assign the other two, whatever). DiSC personality types also usually come with a primary and secondary, and you could either ignore the secondary or let everyone be multiclass.

Option three: The five emotions from Pixar’s Inside Out are based on real psychological research, although they discarded Surprise on account of it being too similar to Fear. You could use the Pixar five or the original research paper’s six. Either way, everyone has all of the emotions to one degree or another, so this would definitely be less of a “only firebenders know firebending” setup and more of a “everyone knows firebending but some people are especially good at it” setup.

You might be able to wring something out of astrology. A major problem here is that astrological personality types are usually phrased as “[thing] but also [opposite of that thing]” and therefore mean nothing at all, or at minimum declare that a sign is predisposed to a certain behavior without presenting any particular alternatives. Like, people criticize the Myers-Briggs for being a horoscope, but it actually does tell you that you’re extroverted and therefore not introverted (or vice-versa), and in fact its major failing is being too certain in that pronouncement, and failing to account for people who are not really strongly predisposed to either trait.

Taking Sagittarius as an example because it happens to be my birth sign (assuming we use the Babylonian system and not the modern one, ’cause it turns out stars move around sometimes), allegedly Sagittarius is supposed to be full of wanderlust and stuff. This describes me not at all, in that I am so attached to staying in my room that I have to make an exertion of will not to get DoorDash to deliver 100% of my meals and never eat out or even go grocery shopping ever again (which, in addition to not being great for mental health, is also something I can’t afford). But it’s not like I have literally never gone traveling or that I reacted like a neurotic cartoon character when I did, so if you wanted to stretch and deform the definition of Sagittarian wanderlust until it fit me, you could, because there’s no explicitly stated opposed trait that it stands in opposition to. Myers-Briggs declares “you are an introvert, and therefore not an extrovert,” horoscopes declare “you are a Sagittarius, and therefore you like to explore.” Okay, sure, but in what context? As opposed to what? Who out there recoils in horror and says “ugh, exploration, I hate exploration”?

But if you’re willing to write up twelve different magic powers and write your characters to match the alleged personality traits, it can still work for fiction. Just ’cause star signs have no connection to personality types in real life doesn’t mean they can’t in whatever fantasy world someone wants to write a book in. There’s definitely a lot of mythic foundations to build on when using star signs. Just saying “the magic of Pisces” feels like it means something just ’cause Pisces is super old.

Or you could throw darts at an exhaustive list of emotions and assign elements to whatever they land on until you get bored or run out of elements to assign. Awaken Online did that, and it’s a top 5,000 book, so hey, clearly it’s not a deal breaker for its target audience.

Writing Action: Reversals, Limited Resources, and Compounding Problems

People want to know how to write action scenes, and advice on this tends to range from “adopt a specific writing style” to “give up, people only read books for dialogue/inner monologues/flowery prose descriptions of sunny hills.” Now, no one is ever going to be satisfied with a book that’s trying to be the novelization of a hypothetical Jackie Chan film. You can’t carry a book on action-comedy with an excuse plot the way you can a movie, because not being a visual medium does have some problems.

But it’s still totally possible to write good action scenes, and the secret to that is not in how long your sentences are. It’s in reversals, limited resources, and compounding problems.

Reversals of fortune just means that whoever is currently winning starts losing. The person currently losing pulls out some special tactic, unveils a new weapon from their arsenal, receives reinforcements, whatever, and now suddenly they are winning. Then their opponent does the same thing. Constant reversals keep it up in the air who’s going to win. It’s worth noting that “winning” is relative here. A hero badly outmatched by a powerful villain might be trying to escape, in which case reversals in the hero’s favor can be about the hero creating distance and hiding rather than doing any kind of damage. You can also have reversals where the person currently losing tries something, it looks like it’s going to work, and then it doesn’t, leaving the situation back where we started. The villain unveils a new death ray, powers it up, points it at the hero, and then it blows up in their face. The reversal in the hero’s favor is just that the reversal in the villain’s favor turned out to be a dud, but it still works.

Limited resources means setting up how many resources your hero and villain have to burn through, and then using the remaining resources to track how close they are to defeat. These can be literal resources, like bullets in a gun or gas in a tank, and they can also be abstract resources, like layers of defense on a castle. You can have a battle that goes from the outer walls, to the streets of the city, and then into the keep at the center, and your audience will get that the defenders are getting closer to defeat as they run out of places to retreat to. Limited resources need to be significant enough that running out of them serves as a reversal, or better yet ends the action in favor of one or the other entirely, and they should not generally be something that you can just get more of. Although it’s possible to have a battle that bounces back and forth between the city streets and the city wall, you don’t usually want that to happen, and instead let defenses topple one by one. Measure the attacking army’s strength separately, with something like the number of active commanders. This way, attacker and defender are not swinging back and forth in a stalemate that could go on forever, but instead both are slowly depleting their resources and whoever hits zero first is the loser. You can also have both sides of a fight have separate pools of the same resource. The most straightforward one is bodily health. Unless you’re writing LitRPG, you don’t want to quantify this with literal hit points, but you can have both sides taking serious injuries that meaningfully impede their ability to fight, and your audience will get that eventually one side or another will be totally incapacitated.

Finally, compounding problems. You don’t want an action scene to revolve too heavily around a problem coming up and then immediately being solved, as this gives no time for tension to build. Instead, bring up a problem, have the protagonist(s) attempt to solve it, and while they’re trying, increase the pressure and the stakes. While one protagonist tries to hack door controls, the other has to fight off waves of bad guys, and the bad guys do things like call upon elite reinforcements, start coming up through the walls, and start putting snipers into place to shoot the hacker, with each problem compounding the last: The elites are still there when the vents pop open and start a second flank to the fight, and both of that is ongoing when a sniper starts lining up a shot. The pressure keeps rising until the door pops open and our heroes can make their escape. Instead of problems coming up and being solved one by one, creating the impression that our heroes could do this all day, compounding problems can create the impression that the next bit of straw could always be the one that breaks the camel’s back.

Guardian One: Hello World

This is something I started writing on a whim, so it feels like a pretty good thing to stick into a Sunday filler slot. I’m probably posting it to someplace like Royal Road at some point, but for now I’m holding off in case I decide to tweak details about setting or character in the future, which means there may be differences between this version and the final version. Not just line-by-line editing for clarity and pace (for example, this entire first chapter might get cut if this story makes it to a final release to Amazon, but not for Royal Road), but significant overhauls in character personality and the time and location of the setting. The year given has shifted by several decades in several directions from 2039 to 2099 since I started writing, and may continue to do so. Basic setting assumptions about the source and nature of the crime problem and the geographic location of the setting have been altered, and may be altered again.

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Ophiuchus 2: Undercover

When you sorted the namus.gov list by date, April 24th took up eight pages. It was nearly as much as the rest of the database put together. And this was after there’d been nearly a month to sort through all the stray children found in the rubble and shepherded into refugee camps. And to identify bodies.

“Matthew Habashy?” he asked.

“Yes, who is this?” came the voice on the other end of the Tracfone. Before picking one up from Wal-Mart today, Ophiuchus hadn’t even known that cell phones came as cheap as $25.

“I’m calling about the FBSA,” Ophiuchus said.

“I think there’s been a mix-up, this isn’t my work number,” Matthew said.

“I know,” Ophiuchus said. At fbsa.gov, the only numbers listed were general contact numbers, not specific agents. At whitepages.com, you could reliably find the address and phone number of anyone over 30 years old with a name and a city of residence. Now he’d confirmed he worked for the FBSA, Ophiuchus knew he had the right Matthew Habashy.

“Who is this?” Matthew asked.

“I’m looking for missing persons abducted out of Galaxy City by the Hellions,” Ophiuchus said.

“Why didn’t you go through the FBSA?” Matthew asked.

“I’m not a hero,” Ophiuchus said.

Matthew was silent a while. “You still haven’t told me who you are.”

“My name is Ophiuchus,” he said, “and I have an interest in the people the Hellions have been abducting.”

“What kind of an interest?” Matthew asked, “are you with Arachnos?”

“No,” Ophiuchus said, “I’m working independently. I can’t give you any more details than that.”

“I don’t work with, ah, independents,” Matthew said, “you’ll have to get in touch-”

“Do you think Dana will still be there when the FBSA gets around to assigning you a super?” Ophiuchus asked.

Matthew was silent again. Finally he asked “how do you know all this?”

Facebook. “That’s not important,” Ophiuchus said, “what matters is what I don’t know. I don’t know why the Hellions are kidnapping people, and I don’t know where they’re taking them. Until I do, I can’t get any of them back. Do you want Dana back?”

“I do,” Matthew said, “what do you need from me?”

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The Immortality Cure Is Mediocre But Also CJ Olsen Isn’t Being Showered In Success For It So Maybe He Will Actually Improve

Part 1: Sauron’s Princess Saves A Cat
Part 2: Immortal Incest Sauron
Part 3: Dinner With Sauron
Part 4: Escape From Megacity One
Part 5: I Guess We Care About Gregor Now
Part 6: Chase After Chase
Part 7: Desert Snakes
Part 8: History Lesson
Part 9: Love Letter 2: Love Harder
Part 10: Cyborg Rebel Commander
Part 11: Immortality Cured

The Immortality Cure is meant to be the first book in a trilogy of duologies, six books total, each duology taking place in a different era of the same world, with only one common character between them, a secret eternal alchemist. So, CJ Olsen really wants to be Brandon Sandersen (who, if you are not aware, supposedly has a single common character present in all of his books, who is some kind of planeswalker that goes under several different aliases).

And you should not read this planned sprawling epic, because its first book is bad and I see little reason to believe the second book will not also be bad. The book has a prefixation with its female lead’s breasts that I put a moratorium on commenting on early on because of how incessant it was, and while that prefixation waxed and waned, it never went away and several of its most egregious examples show up towards the end of the book, so it’s not a habit the book eventually grows out of, either. The main characters experience no meaningful change except the realization that they want to boink each other, which, devoid of any need to overcome character flaws in order to make that relationship work, isn’t at all compelling. There are some motions in the general direction of a character arc, like female lead Charlotte going from scared of heights at the beginning to flying an airship at the end, but despite the narrative’s insistence, Charlotte shows no sign of becoming generally more assertive and self-confident. Getting over her fear of heights isn’t symbolic of character growth, it’s substituted for character growth.

The book has some interesting ideas. Its alchemy system isn’t extremely deep, but there are some cool monsters and its one major rule is actually used in the story in a way that could have been interesting had CJ Olsen not forgotten that main villain Harthum disclosed the most important consequence of that system in his very first onpage appearance clear back in act one, thus rendering the entire investigation into alchemy moot, since our protagonist knew the critical information from the start and the rest was window dressing. Airships are fun, so it’s a shame that we leave ours behind almost as soon as the adventure begins.

But the fact that I can’t even mention the good parts without also mentioning how they don’t really get a chance to shine makes it pretty clear that this book isn’t a mixed bag. There are bits of it that could have been part of another, better book, but the book they’re in is pretty dull, and doesn’t know what to do with these interesting elements, which means they don’t get a chance to improve the narrative much at all.