#SPFBO Review (3): Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My first and second finalist reviews can be found here and here.

The third book I’ve read for Stage 2 of the SPFBO Competition was Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens.  This is a very unique book in many ways, oil lit fantasy, based around the 18th Century, there is mention of swords and old fashioned style ships (I was picturing clippers) and also the use of gunpowder and guns.  The world here is also full of magic that uses an unseen (to some) form of energy known as the Faze.

As the book sets off we witness a tense scene with a young family as their two baby boys are examined to determine their readiness for something called ‘the binding.  Now, I’m not totally sure that I fully understand the Binding so I won’t over elaborate.  It seems that everyone is bound as a child, this involves a rather nasty process of injecting a formula into the child to prevent them from madness as they grow older.  This also serves as some sort of control system dictating the future roles that people undertake.  Unfortunately, some children react badly to the procedure and this leads to death.  So, you can imagine that most parents are not too keen.  Guyen and Yemelyan are about to undergo this process when their father intercedes (quite forcibly).

We then jump forward (17/18 years).  The family are aboard a ship, escaping their home in Krell which is under attack.  Long story short they effectively find themselves living in the land of their enemies.  Allocated with harsh working assignments and living on the charity of friends the family manage to scrape a living until further tragedy strikes and this event is the catalyst and driving force for much of the story, although there is also some political intrigue and scheming playing a secondary role.

So, we’re told the story by Guyen. Fundamentally this is a quest of sorts.  Guyen is trying to find a cure for his brother who lies in a coma following an accident.  His life is changed when it is discovered that he is a purebound and he’s moved to the capital, to an elite type of school called The Gates to undergo training. Initially hating the idea Guyen quickly realises that he stands more chance of helping his brother by learning more about his abilities.  On the face of it this is the main focus of the story although there is another storyline that eventually surfaces and both eventually come together in a dramatic finale.

Okay, I had issues with this book that leave me in two minds but I’m going to start on a positive note.

This is well written, there is plenty of description and clearly the author has a vivid imagination and a clear idea of the world he’s created.  To be honest, I can’t fault the writing itself.  It’s easy to get on with and after a few, let’s call them teething problems, you could see that the author had really got into his stride.

In terms of the characters, primarily this focuses on Guyen.  There are obviously a number of others during the course of the story but the only real standout character was Mist – who was actually my favourite.  I found Guyen a little too brooding or sulky at first.  Don’t get me wrong, his life hadn’t been a bowl of cherries up to this point but even acknowledging this didn’t make it any easier to really like him. Mist on the other hand was a breath of fresh air.  Very upbeat and something of a mystery.  However, in spite of finding Guyen a little difficult at first I must confess that he does grow as the story progresses. He realises that not everyone hates immigrants, he allows people in and he actually starts to trust and care for others.  I enjoyed that aspect to his story arc and from a certain point in the book I found myself rooting for him but it took a long while.

Now, the issues that I had.  I mentioned above that the writing is easy to read – and genuinely I like the way the author writes, but there’s just too much detail and its distracting – like it prevents you from focusing on what’s really happening.  And this is from someone who loves attention to detail.  I practically wallow around in it – but, at the same time, I want it to be relevant and to help me understand what’s really taking place.  Now, some of the detail pertained to setting, and that’s fundamental to help you gain your footing and form a picture in your mind but I can honestly say that I think the first third of this could reasonably be condensed to a few chapters.  I know that probably sounds harsh and so I apologise to the author because I really don’t want to be offensive, but I think we could have started with Guyen already in the Gates and much of what took place before could have been provided in flashbacks or other devices.  As it is, I couldn’t help feeling that the first 20% (maybe 30%) slowed the pace dramatically and was a little detrimental to the overall enjoyment I had.

I have mixed feelings for this one.  There’s some really good content and clearly this author can write but the pacing issues and lack of attachment to the main character made this one a little bit of a struggle for me although in fairness I think the author managed to pull me back round and I would add that I particularly enjoyed the trial scene (but I won’t giveaway anything here about that).

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 6.5 out of 10

20 Responses to “#SPFBO Review (3): Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens”

  1. Tammy

    I’m reading a book now with too much description and its a little tedious. Sometimes its hard to find the plot if the details are over the top.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, it’s a shame because this author has some great ideas but I really had to think about where things were going because everything seemed to get muddied together with description and over the top detail.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

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  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Attention to detail can be a mixed blessing: when handled well, it creates an immersive picture that brings the readers to live and breathe in that imagined world, but when it’s not well-balanced it does prevent them from the desired immersion and ultimately defeats the purpose of the story. It’s a pity that this was the case because the story sounds very intriguing…

    • @lynnsbooks

      It certainly wasn’t a bad book, just needs a bit more tweaking.
      Lynn 😀

  4. sjhigbee

    Scene setting can pose real problems – especially in SFF. Because the backdrop is always inevitably imagined, more time and attention needs to spent building that up. And it varies a great deal from author to author as to how much they think is enough… It sounds like this one needed a pass from an experienced editor – it’s one of those calls most authors can’t make alone. They’re too close. But I think you’ve been very fair-minded, because while I (like any other author) agonise as to whether I’ve done enough/too much – as a reader I have very little tolerance for scads and scads of description that has little to do with the story.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I do appreciate its a fine line to tread and I understand the love of the world that the author demonstrates – it’s just sometimes frustrating when you feel like you’re reading so many pages but not really adding much to the story.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        And that’s always the litmus test – does this description move the story along, as well as enhance the reading experience? I’m hoping to write a book about writing worldbuilding later this year:))

      • @lynnsbooks

        That sound like a fantastic idea.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Thank you!! I must get my Castellan trilogy written first, though:))

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yep, one thing at a time 😀

  5. waytoofantasy

    Totally understand what you mean about the details. Sometimes I feel like author can get lost in it. Even those that have been highly praised. Like, sometimes I’d be reading an Anne Rice book and think ‘okay but do I really need to know what every leaf on this tree looks like????’

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, it’s difficult isn’t it. Obviously the author loves the world and is keen to share it all, but at the same time, like you said, you sometimes find yourself thinking ‘is this relevant’.
      Lynn 😀

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