I rarely review books that deserve fewer than four stars because (as an author) I know low star ratings can hurt and are often misunderstood.
However, I need to talk about this book.
I came across this book at work as a new release from a debut author. My work (a Christian bookstore) sells a lot of historical and contemporary romances with very few fantasy adventures (at least, in the adult section). So, when this book came out, I got excited.
A certain family is duty-bound to protect the royal family from a fallen god. They have the help of a magical sword, but…only the daughter survives the attack. Her advantage: the god thinks that he killed her. So, she dresses as a boy to hide her identity and get close to the prince as his protector. Her disadvantage: she starts to fall for the prince.
Imagine Mulan with a Shardblade (transforming blade, helps disguise her, and even lets her know when the prince is in trouble). Cool, right?
Great Story, Terrible Writing
My biggest issue with “Sword of Kallairion” is the writing, and my biggest issue with the writing is that there are no contractions.
Okay, I get it, the setting is medieval and one of the main characters is a prince…but the rest are soldiers.
Also, there are right ways to write without using contractions, and there are wrong ways. One wrong way is to write completely normally, then go through and expand every “I am,” “they have,” “she would,” “did not”…etc. Can you see how this becomes very clunky and annoying to read? It sounds like a story told by Data.
I should probably include this next section in its own post, but…here it is anyway.
How to Write Without Using Contractions
The simple answer is to write like a writer. Expand your vocabulary and play with syntax. Usually, writers avoid contractions to portray older, historical, and/or formal characters. Guess what? Writing without contractions the right way does this too, but feels more natural.
I had to learn how to write without contractions when writing Theo’s dialogue and perspective in my Haunted Romance trilogy. Especially since half of book 2 is from his perspective, and he (like his sister, father, Oswald, and Abadda) speaks without contractions. How do I know that I did a decent job? Because my readers hardly noticed.
The last thing a writer wants to do is distract the reader from the story. When contractions are removed carelessly, the words themselves become a distraction.
Let me give you an example:
Instead of saying “She did not like the prince,” say “She disliked the prince.”
Ta-da. See how hard that was? See how much cleaner it is?
How about, “I do not know”? A Medieval prince might instead say, “I know not,” or “Who knows?” Or you can get creative with “That knowledge evades me.”
Another good example is Kel Kade’s “King’s Dark Tidings.” Rezkin uses no contractions (except when he acts as a peasant), but Mr. Kade does it well enough that I had to be introduced to a character that did use contractions before I noticed. For less attentive readers, Mr. Kade actually points it out (much later).
P.S. How long did it take you to notice that this review has no contractions?
Back to the Sword of Kallairion
When I eventually learned to skim past the clunky phrases, the story was enjoyable. The awkward cross-dressing and falling in love with a companion has all the vibes of “Twelfth Night” (one of my favorite Shakespearean plays), and if my penname has anything to say, (D’Arc–like Joan of Arc) I love woman warriors.
The book has just enough fantasy elements to be called a fantasy, but the learning curve is low, making it easily accessible to those who usually shy away from fantasy.
Aaand the writing…
I really wish that the improper removal of contractions was the only issue with this book’s writing. Unfortunately, the perspective switched inconsistently between 3rd person limited and omniscient.
Also, the plot could have used some work. The sword influencing her thoughts made for multiple moments where she “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time. It was too convenient, and forced the plot forward unnaturally.
Spoiler alert…except not really, because anyone can figure it out…
The “surprise” twist of the friend-turned-foe was obvious. Really. If you tell me that the fallen god can become anyone, then everyone becomes suspicious, making it all the more obvious when someone acts abnormally.
Yes, this book was published by a publisher who largely works with religious authors and clean romances, but this book is not a “sweet” romance. It belongs in the adult section with its heavy romance. Would a twelve year-old understand the intimacy of some of the positions they get in? Maybe not, since they remain clothed (actually, the man looses his shirt, which is improper for Medieval standards). Regardless, even as an adult, I felt uncomfortable as the main character said “Let go of me,” “Stop,” and “Get off me,” multiple times, but the love interest kissed her anyway. Huge turn off, for me.
Sure, the “Me Too” movement is a modern concept and Medieval princes probably cared less, but then someone falsely accuses the main character (dressed as a boy) of similar harassment. Really? Whatever social norms you put on your fictional society, be consistent.
Also, this book is supposed to be for modern readers (and stocked in a Christian bookstore with sweet romances). If you want me to root for a guy, he needs to show some respect.
An Unfortunate Rating
I give “Sword of Kallairion” ***3 Stars*** (and not a 0.1 higher) for its great story, but terrible writing. Alysia Knight, I say this with every ounce of encouragement I can (because the last thing I want to do is discourage an imaginative storyteller), please, try again.
For a Real Spoiler
The pacing at the end really threw me off.
Thirty pages to the end, things start to get going. With an unexplained pull by the sword, the main character goes off on her own, figures out where the big bad dude has been hiding, gets injured, loses her sword…rising tension, rising tension, the main character is alone, injured, and without resources–sounds like time to fight the big bad, right? Time to scramble and make it all work anyway? No?
Instead, a completely new group of characters heal her and let her rest for a few days… What?
Twenty pages to the end is not the time to introduce a bunch of new characters, then talk and cry about her feelings! There was plenty of time for that earlier! Instead, the big climactic fight has a slow (and rather dull) build up with way too many emotions. The fight takes maybe five pages, but they call it “a long story.”
[palm to face]
Can I volunteer to Beta read Mrs. Knight’s next book to help catch these issues before she hits publish?
P.P.S. I used one contraction after pointing out that the above review used no contractions. Can you find it? 😛