Book Review: Song of the Beast
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Every week of 2016 I am going to read and review a book. This means that while you may not always get an in depth dissection whatever my gut reaction to a book was will be presented here without time softening my opinions.
Song of the Beast wants to be a great many things, many of them contradictory. It is written in the first person and the language is distinctly old fashioned. I was reminded strongly of the pulp fantasy authors from the 70s as I was working my way through this book, there is use of archaic language that I just wouldn't expect to see in a modern publication. I am all for people having their influences clearly displayed and honestly Carol Berg's choice to use that style left me a little bit charmed. Another really strong decision in the book was to allow assumptions in the world building, not every element was explicitly laid out in the way that many contemporary writers feel the need to, it treats its readers with respect and that is an increasingly rare thing. The last decision that I really loved in the book was the way that dragons were described, Berg struck a great balance between having them appear as living, thinking creatures and apocalyptic forces of nature. A great deal of the story is hinged on the dragons and a weak or watery impression of them would have squandered much of its potential. Talking purely in terms of the strength of the writing, this is a great book.
Unfortunately good writing is not enough to carry a book with fundamental flaws. Character driven books can overrule the need for solid plot but none of the characters, as well developed as they were, had the depth that would have been required. The choice to write in the first person inherently limits your perspective. If you want events described that are not happening to your main character then you either need some means for that information to be delivered to them or you need multiple point of view characters. The second option was used in this book, but it was used poorly. Two of the point of view characters had only a single scene. While I could make an argument in favour of two lead characters with equal time, Lara is introduced too late in the story and exists primarily as a love interest, no matter how desperately the author throws warrior culture stereotypes at her. The romance is both a vital part of the story and very forced. When a scene appears in a story where the protagonists have to fake romantic interest in one another despite loudly denying romantic interest for one another to escape certain death then there is a decent chance that you have stumbled into fan-fiction. The romance is treated as inevitable from the moment that Lara and Aidan meet, possibly because they are literally the only two humans in the story and dragging the “will they or won't they” out until the very last scene was more irritating than revolutionary.
Song of the Beast is a simple story, told well, but it has massive pacing problems. Every time events start building momentum it is diffused, either by a switch of character, who then needs a half chapter of introduction, or by one of the many almost random events that the characters encounter. Normally I would say that removing all of the chaff would leave behind a decent novella but in this case it would leave the story too hollow to stand alone. The book played on my nostalgia and had an interesting voice but it was a struggle to enjoy its good qualities when it kept grinding to a halt every few chapters.
In short, this book annoyed the hell out of me because I could see the potential in the author's work but she felt obliged to do things that spoiled her story's flow and produced a weak, unconvincing romance.