Elemental: Destiny's Embers
In my last review I drew a distinction between fun bad and facepalm bad. Fun bad books may have terrible plots or characters but there’s a baseline level of competency that keeps the book readable. Sentences may be simple, but they are still constructed in a way that generally makes sense and the writing itself fades to the background, leaving you focused on what the actual story is trying to tell you. Elemental is not one of those books.
It’s actually kind of a shame that the writing is so bad. The story itself, while about as generic as it gets, only has a couple of hysterically bad parts. However, when faced with run-on sentences filled with redundancies like this:
Row after row of houses, and huts; street after small street, a maze through which Henrik and his men lead them, always in the direction of the gold that Calis had seen gleaming in the distance, gold now revealed as the paint, the ornamentation, the decoration gilding every building in Galor’s palace complex.
And sentence fragments like this:
He was dressed for dinner as well. A long velvet cloak. A white laced shirt. Boots of shiny black leather. His hair had been styled as well; it sat high and magnificent on his head.
It’s pretty difficult going. Those aren’t even the worst examples in the book, I picked those out by opening two different random pages. Run-on sentences and sentence fragments are far from being the only issues with the writing. The author loves him some god-damned punctuation, especially em dashes.
A moment’s embrace, a few words of good-bye, and then she— and Mirdoth— were gone, and it was just the two of them— Tandis and himself— remaining in the Hall.
That’s right, a sentence with three commas and four em dashes. Again, this isn’t even the worst representative of the problem, just something I found flipping through pages. I’d say that the average page has at least three em dashes, which is absolutely inexcusable. I’ve been mad at a lot of books in my time, but this is the first time I’ve punched a book because of its punctuation.
But even that doesn’t cover all the issues with the writing. Have you ever played a tabletop role playing game that rewards players for describing their actions by giving them a bonus to succeeding on actions that they describe, like Exalted? Have you ever played one of those with a min-maxer with little imagination but who wasn’t willing to let the bonus go, so they try to describe everything by making a laundry list of actions joined by an infernal parade of “and”s? Then you have a pretty good idea of what reading every action sequence in this book is like.
He yanked the sword out of the first one’s throat and swung it at a second, the nearest one to him, gouging it in the shoulder, and the thing screamed, and slashed at Calis’s blade ineffectually, and Calis slashed again, and caught the creature in the face, and blood gushed, and it screamed a second time, and stumbled, but that was all Calis saw.
Count ‘em and weep, folks.
Now generally when you introduce an important character to the audience for the first time, you want to give a strong impression of that character, be it through personality or physical traits. This is what we get when pretty, pretty Princess Angenica is first introduced.
She was wearing a long cloak. Underneath it, he saw, was a dress.
The dress is actually my favorite character in the book. A few short pages later she is accosted by bad guys and they have a conversation about the dress. Her thoughts reveal to us the backstory and political importance of the dress. After she is rescued from the bad guys by the clever orphan boy she has a crush on and a handsome knight, she flings herself into her father’s arms while sobbing and he stops to notice the dress before noticing the knife wound on her neck. That’s how badass the dress is. Later in the story other dresses get introduced. The author even makes the mistake of trying to make them more attractive than the dress.
Yes, she had been wearing dresses those last few months at the Keep, but this was different. This was a gown. This was silk or something.
Silk or something can never stand up to the awesomeness of the dress and shame on the author for trying to steal its spotlight.
But I digress. This is the story of Elemental, a world that used to be filled with magic until some dudes from outside the world showed up and ruined everything for everyone. There used to be one single continent but now it is split into two that is joined together by a single rickety bridge that is made of magical wood. No, really. Now one continent is filled with nice white people, and the other continent is filled with monsters that were made from humans and the evil, horrible, olive-skinned people who sided with the mutants instead of the white folks, so they are called blood traitors. No, really. The whole book comes down to one Titan wanting to protect the white people from everyone else, and one Titan thinking that they should get the fuck out and let all the varieties of human and monster cohabitate.
There’s even a point where one character, the lord of a white person keep built on the non-white people continent, has thoughts on how he would like to resolve the matter.
Build a fence, he thought. Build a fence, and keep them all inside it. And in the absence of a fence…
The ocean would do.
Yes, he wants to build a border fence to keep the dark people and mutants out, and if that doesn’t work, he wants to burn the magical bridge. These are the good guys. To be fair, we do end up meeting a village of very dark skinned people who aren’t evil, just simple and trapped in their valley. One of them offers to have sex with the orphan in the most awkward way possible, a moment that is mercifully interrupted by a giant monster attack.
So anyway, the story follows a couple of different people around. There’s the Clever Orphan and the Magical Princess who are off to find some sort of magical artifact that is a circlet that is also an orb. Along the way they pick up The Bad Guy’s Henchman Who Is Not Half As Clever As He Thinks He Is, a golem, and a Thief With A Heart Of Gold who has been cursed to be unnoticeable to everyone except the orphan because the orphan is, obviously, special.
There’s also the Handsome Knight Who Is Secretly A Titan and the Token Member Of The Minority With Special Powers whom he has raised since his mother, I swear I am not making this up, Queen Magesta, was killed. He was also trained by a rock-throwing guy named Uthirmancer, so he’s been surrounded by silly names all his life. There’s also the Lord of the Keep and his Magician who is Secretly Not A Good Guy, but also not allied with the people from the bad continent.
They generally just run around doing exactly what you would expect, passing the idiot ball back and forth as the plot dictates. Both the Clever Orphan with Special Powers and the Magical Princess end up with alternate love interests so they can both act like idiots and be jealous of each other. The Token Minority ends up meeting with the ancient and paranoid King Galor and becomes the heir to the country after swearing a blood oath to be loyal to him always. The Secret Titan Handsome Knight meets his brother on the field of battle and they have the talk about joining the races or protecting the white people and much stabbing goes on. The Clever Orphan uses his special powers to retrieve the McGuffin orb/circlet and the book ends with him and the Magical Princess flying away from the battle on dragon-back with nothing resolved.
I don’t know if that means that the game picks up at that point, because I have not played it. I’m praying that’s what it means, because if there was ever a book that didn’t need a sequel, this is it.
Now I was inclined to go kind of easy on this book for a while. The name on the cover is Bradley Wardell, who is not a writer. He’s a programmer who runs his own game company/publisher. I was prepared to direct the brunt of my ire at Del-Rey for publishing someone’s vanity project without editing it. Then I got to the Acknowledgments section at the back to find out that the book had a second writer who was also the editor, and that he actually is a writer by trade. And that Del-Rey had assigned a project manager. So there’s plenty of people to blame for 529 pages of random punctuation and sentences without verbs.
To make the obligatory Monty Python reference, this is not a book for reading. This is a book for laying down and avoiding. However, people are going to buy it because it has a code for DLC on the back flap. Innocent gamers are going to purchase this to get an additional campaign for the game and be assaulted by someone’s 8th grade creative writing assignment. That’s the real tragedy here. Someone think of the gamers.
His face twisted into an ugly sneer. And then, without warning, he slapped her. A backhanded blow much harder than the one she’d given him. It spun her around and sent her hurtling to the ground.
She landed hard and felt the sleeve of her gown tear.
She stood up and ripped it the rest of the way off.
“You want a fight?” she said, and took a step toward Jacob.
Someone think of the dress.