Book Review: The Written by Ben Galley

I picked this book up because I loved the cover (nothing new there, right? Great cover), my interest was piqued by the blurb, and because I read good things about it. I really wanted to like it, but… at best I came away with mixed feelings. Galley has made use of some truly beautiful prose, but it is unfortunately buried in a hailstorm of adjectives and repetition that tangled the flow rather than moving it along. He tells an interesting story about an unusual character, but… his choice of wording put a distance between me and the characters that was only exacerbated by poor grammar. I read about these people, I didn’t feel them, couldn’t become invested in them. They felt shallow. The dialogue was frustratingly weak, and oh, the head-hopping…

The magic seems interesting—and I love the idea of the tattoos investing a person with particular strengths. I like, too, that gaining those marks was not an easy process to endure. There are hints of another, older magic, and I wish that had been explored a little more, just so that I could see that a difference actually existed.

We’re served a platter of typical fantasy-fare creatures: vampires/vampyres, werewolves, dragons, elves, trolls, etc. The Sirens—who are nothing at all like traditional sirens—provide a bright spot with their (not uncommon to the genre) bonding with the dragons, which inexorably changes them. They begin developing scales as well as taking on the dragon’s color and personality, except in the case of the king dragon and the queen Siren, and no explanation was offered for that inconsistency. The storm giants? Awesome.

The drug addiction is an unusual subject for fantasy, and the character’s involvement with “nevermar” starts out strongly on both the personal and the social front. We can understand a little about his problem with it, and it promises an obstacle that is difficult to overcome. I enjoyed the idea of a hero with some very real problems, but… but… the drugs weren’t one of them and his crazy uncle wore his welcome right out. For someone of Farden’s age, education (hello, he’s Written), and experience, he was often extremely stupid and illogical. I want either Experienced or Stupid; the two do not mix well in the same character! About halfway through, more or less, we were suddenly introduced to foul language, which not only didn’t fit the scene(s) well, but served to take me right out of the story. Personal preference? To a certain extent, yes, but I thought the use felt first forced, then lazy.

The dream scenes—also interesting, but could pack a little more oomph. There are all kinds of hints about things to come, and then an outright realization, but the character does the realizing on his own and I was left scratching my head. Did I miss something? Maybe. Being bludgeoned by adjectives had me skimming.

The author also has a tendency to introduce chapters and sections with a mysterious “someone” that is only identified later in the scene rather than coming out and telling the reader who we’re dealing with right up front. This works occasionally, but after a while it is only annoying. Potentially *good* scenes were overwritten, and I got the distinct impression of a play-by-chat RPG. As a result, the actual plot suffered. I struggled to connect the dots, especially when the army ran off to Durynas on what seemed a whim.

Then the wonderful potential that kept sneaking out went all to pieces with the melodramatic—and also illogical–antagonist. I couldn’t help but think of all the villains faced by Scooby Doo and the gang, which is great if you’re writing a cartoon or a comedy, but hard to swallow in “gritty” fiction.

The bottom line? In spite of the twitch-inducing problems, I think this could be a really fantastic story if it were put into the hands of a ruthless editor. All of the “good buts” I’ve mentioned could so easily become strong points and turn this book into a “must read.”

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