Thursday, December 12, 2013

Astra: Synchronicity, by Lisa Eskra

This week I've decided to review yet another book that I picked up for free at some point with my Kindle and as of writing is still free on Amazon. Unfortunately I had a lot of issues with this book and while I found out that it was part of a series by an author, sadly I did not feel interested enough in this book to pursue the series in the future. Overall the book felt really rough around the edges and could have stood to be polished a lot more. For a first book from an author it's pretty promising and I hope that her writing continues to develop and get better in the future, but for the first book of a series it turned me off entirely.

When I started reading Astra: Synchronicity, I thought that maybe I had jumped into book two in a three part series because there's a lot of background information that's sort of glossed over and I felt like I was just supposed to know all of this already from another book. This novel felt like a lot of part-twos to a trilogy because it had a muddled beginning and no clear end. Yes, some issues got resolved within the novel, but there were numerous, much larger issues which remained to be solved by the characters, and the promise of new and interesting problems as well. I felt like when the book wasn't working on the main plot for the future novels it was just sort of muddling around trying to waste time so it could be a full book.

Throughout all of the novel I still didn't really feel any connection with the characters. If pressed I could identify for most of the main characters a clear cut motivation that drives their progress through the novel, but I felt like they were more just actors playing a role rather than people earnestly driven by their goals. Again, this is probably mostly because it's the author's first book and so she is still working on developing her characters into fully-fleshed beings, but I didn't feel any emotional investment in them as characters and wasn't particularly concerned if they succeeded or not. Obviously it's very hard to make people care about your characters and take an emotional investment in them, but for whatever reason I just couldn't bring myself to care and wasn't particularly interested in what will happen to them.

On the subject of characterization, I was particularly frustrated with our male and female leads, Magnius and Amii. I didn't find anything particularly objectionable to them as characters but I was really frustrated with their "Will we or won't we romance." Now, my readers are no doubt aware I'm no big fan of romance and I'm sure writing a situation where both parties are involved are unsure of what they want out of the relationship can be a challenge and it takes a lot of work to be done well, but unfortunately the tension between Magnius and Amii seemed to be more because the characters suffered from extreme swings in their core personality. I just found myself wishing they'd make up their mind so we could get back to this galaxy-shaking plot that was taking place as well.

The biggest thing I noticed with this book is that the author is really trying to create her own giant, galaxy-spanning epic story with all of these really neat ideas, but I'm afraid that it's kind of an ambitious undertaking for a first-time author and as a result it struggles. In the first fifth or so of the novel we're introduced to a lot of different plot threads and they only get tied together after the twenty-percent mark. (I read it on my kindle, okay?) And with all these different plot threads you get the sense that this is going to be a massive plot that's going to take our characters all sorts of places before it's finished with them. By the time I reached the halfway point I was absolutely certain that this book would introduce a major conflict and fail to resolve it so other books would have a driving plot.

Obviously, I'm not opposed to huge epics. I'm a fan of Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Girl Genius, and Fullmetal Alchemist, series that all have this really big over-arching plot that gets resolved over the course of a series. Or, in the case of Song of Ice and Fire, might get resolved. Eventually. We'll see. However, doing a large, sprawling epic well takes a lot of work and dedication and maybe, just maybe, shouldn't be the first thing that you attempt as an author. True, I haven't written a work of fiction in my life, but having some experience certainly can't hurt before writing your magnus opus. And I very clearly got the impression the author knew what story she wanted to tell, what aspects she wanted to implement, and how she wanted all of it to end, she just didn't have the experience to pull it off as well as the work deserved. For most authors, even my favorites, their first book will not be their best book and it will take them time to develop their writing style. Trying to do the beginning of a huge epic for your first novel is certainly ambitious but I think it's a classic case of your reach exceeding your grasp.

Overall I thought the book was competently written for a first novel, even if it felt a little disorganized. By the end Eskra had tied all of the various plot threads into one big plot...rope I guess, and there was a very clear direction as to where she was headed. Since the first book is free it can't really hurt to check it out, but I just didn't feel enough of a connection to want to continue with it further.

- Kalpar

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