The hardest part about reviewing books, for me, is placing them on a sliding scale of “Worst” to”Best”. It can be paralyzing. I have avoided reviewing books simply because I didn’t know where it fell on a 1-5 scale. I think the problem stems from the fact that since I judge every book as an individual there are weird inconsistencies in my ranking over all; for example why are both Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Three Musketeers marked five stars? That’s not right. Comparing the two Island might be lucky with a 3 to Musketeers 5. But that’s like comparing a kitten to a goose.
Sure, you may have a preference and be able to compare them on some scale but that doesn’t take into account that each is unique, designed for different purposes. Cats can’t fly, and geese aren’t grace and majesty personified; they both lose points! But that’s silly because cats shouldn’t fly, that wouldn’t serve them any good. First off because they would still just sleep all day, but also because they are perfect for what their role in the food chain is. Okay, this metaphor is becoming its own thing and its time to stop. Point is; books are designed to different ends, with different audiences in mind and different goals for the impact of the story. You can’t judge it by another books goals. Island of the Blue Dolphins does exactly what Scott O’Dell set out to do with that book, just as The Three Musketeers does just what its meant to and they both do these things well.
So now that that extended explanation is out of the way I can tell you why I subjected you to it in the first place; indie books. Self published book. Books written by my friends. These are really really REALLY hard to place on the scale because most of the time they are quite good, great even but how do I know that since I’m judging this book with only itself as a meter that I’m not biased in some way? Am I judging them fairly? Am I overlooking flaws I wouldn’t overlook in a mainstream book?
I don’t know.
But I will keep those questions in mind as I tell you about The City at the Center of Forever by James T. Witten. You remember him, I reviewed his book The Maijikal Chronicles earlier this fall. This new book is also a National Novel Writing Month book from several years ago and I am so happy to have read it this month because its great motivation.
The book opens up with us meeting our main character, Aolden Blackwood, at his gig as a taproom magician. He sets shit on fire, makes people disappear, and catches the eye of a young girl who couldn’t be happier to be there. I’m sorry for what I’m about to say but there is really no other way; one thing led to another *gags* and Aolden finds himself in a gang of merry misfits, led by a girl who is described as “enigmatic” so many times I want to physically harm the author, on a quest for. . . something? Maybe? No one is quite sure at first.
The story is fast paced, with not much down time. That can be a point against it for some people but I enjoyed it. There were scenes that were just hilarious because the whole time I was thinking “Is this really happening right now? Of course this is happening right now.” There are a few near death experiences, some strange interrogations, some hopeless yet frantic rides to freedom. It’s a fantasy novel, you know the deal. It is also quite funny, and the plot is gripping enough that I felt real anxiety to continue reading every time I put it down.
It isn’t perfect though, not by a long shot. As much as I loved our “enigmatic” token female character, Aysil, I couldn’t stop myself from realizing she was just another YA “most specialist girl in the world!” She has zero flaws, her differences only serve to make her more extra special, and she has some unexplained mystic abilities that I still have no understanding of. Witten goes a step farther to make sure she is just the most specialist snowflake that ever did flutter by describing our “enigmatic” lead female as having a strange “Aysilness” about her.
On top of that I am not satisfied with the explanation for the reason for the entire quest. You can speculate on it for sure, I certainly have and filled in the gaps to my own satisfaction, but the book isn’t going to tell you. It’s not gonna tell you a lot of things
actually. Not all of this is a bad thing, I hate authors that feel the need to tell us every little thing. I think a bit of ambiguity and mystery at the end leaves the reader so much freedom to create what they would like to imagine as the ending, or as character motivation, or as explanation for something that happened. That is the reason why no two people can read the same book. That opens room for discussion and speculation and, at least for me in this particular case, fan fiction.Witten introduces us to his band of merry misfits in a way that leaves much to the imagination. We get a good idea of who these people are and why they are here but not much about where they came from or where they’re going next. I like this. It’s a snapshot in their lives. I wouldn’t want him to change it.
This review is becoming a novel in and of itself. Sorry. Now is the hard part; how many stars? Compared to The Three Musketeers it’s a solid 1.5. If you pit it against, say, The Lunar Chronicles its on par. 4-5 stars. I chose to weigh it against Wittens other book, which in the comparison was bumped down to a 2.75 so that The City at the Center of Forever can have a solid 4 stars: it does what I think Witten intended for it to do, and was enjoyable while doing it.
You can help support this wonderful indie author by grabbing a copy of the book HERE! I recommend it. If for no other reason that to support self published works and small authors.