Book Chat: The Kingkiller Chronicles

“I have stolen princess back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written song that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.”

And thus begins a tale as old as time; a tale of revenge, magic, stupidity, and a young man fumbling to understand women. Our narrator is right, you’ve probably heard it.

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss is one of those stories that attracts a following, a cult if you will. It is a story that inspires artists, fan theorists, and fan fiction writers. It is the perfect story, so much so it makes me want to rip my hair out.

The tale begins with The Name of the Wind and is told as a story being recited by Kote, the innkeeper in Newarre, and recorded by the Chronicler, who collects true stories. Each novel comprises one day in the present time allowing us to see the troubling events of today as well as hear the story of the man who claims responsibility for it all. The war, the demons, the poverty, Kote says it is all the fault of the man he used to be, the legend who is said to be dead; Kvothe Kingkiller.

If you go looking for reviews of these books you are going to find one of two attitudes; it is a “classic” or “cliche” depending on who you ask. It is convoluted; it is clever. The narrator is unreliable giving the story depth, flavor, and mystery. The narrator is a typical humble brag twat who is too good at everything and is designed to make you hate-love him. Rothfuss is building to the plot twist of an age, or Rothfuss is capitalizing on an age old, well worn story model. The only things everyone seems to agree on for sure is the The Doors of Stone is never. Coming. Out.

Personally I love the novels, novella, and short story that make up the Chronicles. I think the story-telling framing devise that Rothfuss uses is perfect for creating just enough uncertainty among readers that we can enjoy the story for what it is while still never truly trusting that we are getting an accurate depiction of events. This slight mistrust add depth like you wouldn’t believe, I honestly hate it. Not because it’s bad but because it’s so good you almost don’t see it. I want to rant and rave about the shallowness of some aspects of the plot but if I think about it for more than a minute I start to see that maybe this isn’t all it appears to be. Fan theories add to this convoluted overthinking of every detail, and spending a bit of time discussing “clues” with others always opens my eyes to things I had over looked, or things I hadn’t quite connected before.

Basically these books are the definition of a humble-brag.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t perfect. There is clever and then there is trying to hard to be clever and I think Rothfuss crosses that line a few times. There are several places were I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and go “But of course.” and shout “Unreliable narrator” at me all you want if I’m not enjoying to story because of something, that’s more an excuse than a plot devise. I also adore the way Rothfuss writes. To a point. When I say there are whole sections of The Wise Mans Fear that are written in rhyme I fucking mean that there are whole sections of The Wise Mans Fear that are written. In. Rhyme. Rothfuss writes pure poetic word porn but he also has a hard time not using adverbs every single line. I’m with Stephen King on this one; “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Not only are they lazy when overused but they don’t sound great. They are like one sour note in an otherwise perfect harmony.

The second book in the series, The Wise Mans Fear, has one of the worst cases of Middle Book Syndrome I’ve seen in a while. It’s not that Rothfuss seems to be rambling or is even a little unsure of himself; it’s more that he has X, Y, and Z that need to be accomplished but they are in no way related so he has to play Connect The Dots with various plot points. The result is me having to take a minute part way through the book to go “And this is where he ran out of ideas and went ‘Fuck it!'”

While the two novels tell us the story of Kvothe and events surrounding the telling of the tale itself the other two additions to the series are focused on two mysterious and well loved side characters. I say “side characters” but what I mean is they are life itself. Plain and simple. They are beautiful fae children and Kvothe does not deserve their love. (This is me warning you about my bias)

The first is Auri, the enigmatic (gods I can’t ever use that word without thinking of Aysl) young woman Kvothe finds living underneath the University. In the novella The Slow Regard of Silent Things we follow Auri for a seven day period in her solitary life in the Underthing. This book made 3# in my Top Books of 2016 because of the beautiful word porn and unique, single character plot…if you can call it a plot. I didn’t mention in that post that Auri, our only character, exhibits signs of severe mental illness, namely Obsessive Compulsive Disorder brought on, in theory, by the same stresses of University that cause a few students each term to “crack”. Rothfuss himself says it is not a book for everyone, it is a book for the broken people. It makes a lot of things about Auri clear though so if you are even a little bit interested it’s worth knuckling through.

The second is Bast, Kotes fae student and the only person in any of the books that is good enough for Kvothe. Even if Kvothe doesn’t deserve it. His story is told in The Lightning Tree, a short story that appears in the Rouges anthology. His story is also pretty Day-in-the-Life, showing how a fae princling amuses himself in the middle of Newarre. It does give a good look at the type of person Bast is but not much more that you’d get from his actions in the second novel. It is, if I’m being honest, a story of no consequence but if you love Bast, and you should, it is well worth your time.

Then there is The Doors of Stone; the novel that is never coming out (I’ve gone on about this before). If you want to get into this series I wouldn’t blame you if you waited for the last book before diving in. That being said not having an ending and being able to get caught up in discussion and fan theories is half of the fun of these books.

If you love fantasy, if you love to hate your protagonist, if you love a book written in poetry and rhyme, and most of all, if you want to hear a good story The Kingkiller Chronicles is for you.

All told I give the whole lot 5/5 stars. Have you read Kingkiller? What did you think of it?

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Book Chat: Heartless

“How is a raven like a writing desk?”

At this start of 2016 I had 3 books that I was anticipating more than anything else; A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory, and Heartless by Marissa Meyer. Three Sisters, Three Queens was like have a tooth pulled, and ATAtN was nothing short of terrible, so when I finally held Heartless just before Christmas I begged the books gods to prove the old adage  “Third times the charm.”

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Spoiler alert; they did.

You have probably seen Heartless called an Alice in Wonderland retelling but it’s not; it’s a prequel to events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It’s an origin story for the Queen of Hearts, you know the OFF WITH HER HEAD one?

15808287I haven’t much to say about the story honestly; it’s YA but cleverly crafted, funny, the characters don’t make me want to claw my eyes out and one of them even manages to be genuinely deep. I won’t tell you who but it hits right in the feels at the end there. My biggest complaint about the story as a whole is this one section near the end that completely ruined the pacing for me. It was as if the story had been building up and up to a predictable but nonetheless exciting ending when all the sudden everything stopped for a few chapters so Meyer could, and I wish I were joking, tell you exactly what’s going to happen. It was all the things we had been building towards and I could feel the inevitability of some of the outcomes but it wasn’t boring predictability it was more dread at seeing where this is heading and hoping you’re wrong. I guess Meyer didn’t trust her ability to lay that groundwork though so she went with blatant foreshadowing a scene before the big climax when all of the things come to a head and it ruined the impact for me. Not just a little either, my excitement level plunged and I read the big climax without interest or emotion.

Even with all of that I loved the story, I loved how she wove each of the characters into the narrative in a way that did not feel forced and set the backdrop for events from the Alice books perfectly. Prequels written by other people are a difficult thing but this feels like a natural extension and I couldn’t be happier.

Now. The meat of this review.

I am a huge Alice fan. I have read both books 4 times, I can recite the poem Jabberwocky by heart and I have seen several of the movie adaptation enough to tell you exactly why they are wrong. I am an Alice snob. I take my Wonderland seriously. Going into this book I did not have high expectations for the world building. I haven’t enjoyed a Wonderland adaptation yet and I didn’t expect that to change. The Disney cartoon was nice, it captured the whimsy but fell into the trap of creating a Frankenstein’s monster out of bits of two separate novels; something the Tim Burton adaptation did with stunning disregard for any piece of the original story. I applaud it really.

Meyer is amazing at building complex yet story accurate fairy tale worlds and she built her Wonderland with attention to fine detail. She understands that the world down the rabbit hole and the world through the looking glass are separate. She understands that the fanciful nature of these worlds is normal for the residence so she doesn’t make a big deal out of any of them but makes sure we understand that there are rules to this reality as well. Because she understands these things she is able to create a Wonderland that makes sense while maintaining the accuracy of the source material AND the whimsical feel of the world. Mad Hatter's Party

Other adapters look at what Lewis said of Wonderland and try to paint us a picture of it; Meyer looked at Wonderland itself and painted her own picture. Now I understand many other adapters are not trying to recreate the original story they are trying to write their own, loosely based on the original. That’s well and good, they can do as they please but keep in mind I’m a snob. I won’t apologize for being happy to finally get the accuracy I have been dying for.

I highly recommend if you love fairy tales, or Alice and I think even other Alice snobs will adore it.

4 stars.

Book Chat: Ophelia by Lisa Klein

You know those books you read that leave you speechless? That completely alter your way of thinking, and leave a lasting imprint on your life? That was the kind of book Ophelia was for me, if only because, before reading it, I had assumed the ending to a novel had to have anything to do with the anything that had happened up until that point. I was wrong it seems.

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Ophelia by Lisa Klein is a retelling of Shakespeares Hamlet that reads like shoddy fan fiction. It is clear that Klein had, at least, an interesting twist on the classic tale which she tells through the point of view of Ophelia; but the scope of her story and character alterations far exceeded the bounds of the original play. So, like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, she began to hack away at her child until its bloody remains fit inside the glass slipper she so coveted. Throughout the book bits and pieces of what could have been a great story were seen weighed down by scenes all but plagiarized from the original play. Direct quotes or paraphrased quotes are sprinkled on every page in a way that couldn’t feel less organic if they tried. It was as if Klein was name dropping recognizable tidbits to remind us of the greatness she was spitting on.

The story flows like cold honey. Major plot points seem to be crow barred in because they’re “supposed” to be there and not because it made any sense at all. All of the characters, too, behaved in ways that made absolutely no sense whatsoever other than their actions were needed to progress to the next scene of the play. Horatio is the only character with an organic personality and motives that are understandable. Hamlet makes absolutely no sense the entire book; does he love Ophelia? Is he mad, or faking it? Does he have a personality at all? No one knows! I can live with unanswered questions but at least don’t leave them unanswered because the character is a different person, with different motives, and different desires every. Time. we see him.

Ophelia is our main character and the book is 1st person, yet she has as much personality as a sponge. She, too, just kind of does stuff because somehow Klein had to shoehorn her own story into the original play. The book begins with Ophelias early life, long before the events of the play and our main character is the typical “Insert modern ideas into an historical setting” type of girl. She is a rough and tumble tomboy, who has a thorough education in language, maths ,sciences, etc. even though her father is a poor courtier. I didn’t like her then but once the events of the play start full speed she loses even those cliche personality traits and I genuinely hate everything she does.

Every scene from the play is included in this book; the ones Ophelia isn’t present for have been helpfully recounted to her by someone sure to paraphrase all the recognizable speeches and go into neurotic details about action. Most of the time there is no need for this. We don’t really need to know everything since this is Ophelias story. Yet Ophelia does know everything that has happened; at one point she is the only person privy to all of the details of every plot point and even warns Horatio that the King is planning to turn Laertes and Hamlet against one another to end them both.

Okay but you’ve been asleep for days so how do you know this? Oh. I forgot. Horatio just told you EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN THOSE TWO DAYS, and you are fucking Sherlock. Except she’s not because even though she can pick up on the tiniest details of the plot, making wild leaps to work out exactly what is happening and then going “But I’m probably wrong.”, she can’t see how OBVIOUSLY in love with her Horatio is.

From the moment she first meets Hamlet and Horatio she is head over heels for the Prince and their romance is the main theme of the book yet the love between them is so forced that at no point do either of them seem to have any reason to want this relationship other than that’s what the plot says. We never see them have any organic interaction; we are told it happens somewhere off screen but we never see it. What we do see is how much Horatio loves Ophelia, which she remains blind to until the last page. That love comes across as genuine, it makes sense, hell they TALK! A lot. It’s cute but not cutesy. It feels right. At first I was hopeful that that would be something we explored throughout the book HA.HA. NOPE.

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m trying not to leave spoilers but please trust me when I say that the moment the events of the play end they cease to matter. Ophelia, who isn’t dead, just begins living this new life. And its great. From page 243 forward the story stops being a knockoff Hamlet and starts being the story of a young *spoilers* pregnant girl with no living family finding sanctuary in a convent. She is trying to come to grips with the scope of her loss and her situation; she pleads with God to absolve her of whatever sins she has committed to find herself in this place. She is running from her past and then she is running towards a future. It’s honestly an interesting and well written story. There is character growth and development; Ophelia doesn’t feel anything like the girl I’d been reading about up until this point. In fact, I feel as if the last 85 pages of this book are a completely different story with only a vague connection to the rest of it.

Had I read only that as a short story I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately it comes packaged with whatever the beginning parts were trying to be and so I’m just confused. The fact that the ending of a book could be so different from the rest I kept mistaking the main character for someone else is enough, on its own, to a condemn a book for me. That is sloppy. Don’t do that. Its clear that once Klein stopped forcing herself to rewrite the play her own creativity shone through and it was genuinely great. That’s not enough though. You can’t make a reader dig through 242 pages of shit to find gold. 2/5 stars.

Book Chat: Symptomatic by Danzy Senna

Have you ever read a book and thought; “I love what this wants to be but not so much what it is.”? That’s how I feel about Symptomatic by Danzy Senna; I love the themes in this book, and I connect with the main character on several levels but the story itself was nothing that spectacular.

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We follow a young reporter who has just left her unconventional home and family in California and moved to New York for a job. She is lonely, bad at relationships, and determined to prove herself to a family that thinks her dreams of an office job at a magazine are ludicrous. It’s very much the type of story I enjoy where we just sort of see a person existing in life. If you know anything about Danzy Senna you will know going into this book that our protagonist is half black and half white though you wouldn’t know it looking at her; this is how Senna herself appears and it makes sense that that is the experience of her protagonists. Write what you know, and all that. This means that race, racism, and the struggles of not appearing to be who you are all come up and play a significant part on the overall plot. And we do get an overall plot eventually, it sneaks up on us and before you know it everything is very Single White Female. I caught that about halfway in and I’ve only ever seen bits of that movie once so it is that obvious.

The book goes from walking simulator with a nameless protagonist to thriller at the blink of an eye and then it’s over. Nothing too special about it honestly, but because I connected with the main character I did love it.

Telling the story of a biracial person is why I adore Sennas work, I feel she writes books about my life, the little everyday struggles of being biracial without writing a book about race. My life isn’t about race, but race comes up quite a damn bit, if that makes sense. That is what some people don’t seem to like. With each book of hers I read I see “tragic mulatto” all over the reviews, and yes, that is a trope that is present in her books. Tropes aren’t inherently bad, they are just things that are used and seen often; they become negative when paired with the words “overused”, “cliche”, “been done before”. For the people who have described Sennas work in such a manner I think they need to reevaluate what the tragic mula15554949_1209121805793103_1612686617_ntto trope is; it is the story of a mixed person who doesn’t fit in, may be sad or depressed because of it, struggles to find their place, etc. It was used a lot in anti-interracial marriage propaganda as a “think of the children” ploy. Now I see it every time a multiracial protagonist feels disphoia, or loneliness, etc. I see the words “tragic mulatto” thrown out in ways that suggest and eye roll. It’s a bit insulting. These are stories written by people about their real experiences so calling those experiences cliche, to me, sounds like you’re just complaining that you can’t relate and so they must just be whining.

I won’t harp about this any longer though. After I finished reading I gave this book 4 stars because i had devoured it in a sitting and had not stopped being entertained but after letting it stew I’m thinking it’s more of a 3.5. Without the race issues the books isn’t all that interesting once you realize it’s Single White Female (I’ve heard more people compare it to Passing but I’ve never read that). The nameless protagonist is interesting, but in hindsight she’s just like the faceless protagonists in video games, bland because giving her a stronger personality would break the player/reader immersion. So while I love the writing, and the experience was fun it’s not something I’m going to rave about.

Books for Babies

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Yule is my favorite time of year. I love the traditions, I love the gift giving, I love that it is a National holiday celebrating the fact that they days are going to start getting longer! Seriously, I dislike winter. I love that Yule is literally a celebration that its leaving. That aside I am a gift giver, its my love language or whatever. Every year I go out of my way to give meaningful and spectacular gifts, trying to outdo myself each time.
Not this year.
This year I almost didn’t get any presents but as I saw the holidays drawing near and I hadn’t even thought of gift ideas I started to get anxious and I cracked. These are last minute gifts of course so I stuck to books for most people; especially my nephews who are just under 2 years and just over 1 week old. The older boy LOVES books and of course I want to foster that love so here are the 8 books I’ve found at my local used book stores for him.

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Hickory, Dickory, Dock illustrated by Sanja Rescek
This colorful board book features 21 favorite nursery rhymes along with fun, colorful illustrations.
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Always Copycub by Richard Edwards and Susan Winter
This is a about a bear cub named Copycub who likes to hide from his mom to see if she can find him; she always can. One day he hides so well he gets lost and is concerned that he will never be found. Luckily Mom will always come for him. Always.This is a paper book with longer sentences so more for toddler age.

The illustrations in this are beautiful, not too bright and colorful but I don’t think children need continuous schizophrenic color explosions to hold their attention.

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Owl Howl by Paul Friester and Philippe Goossens
This is the only new book I bought for the boys. It mad me laugh and I had to have it, its pretty stupid if I’m being blunt. It is about a baby owl who is screaming and screaming; everyone in the forest is trying to help but she won’t stop until eventually her mom comes and she stops. When asked why she was crying she replies “I forgot.”
The illustrations in this board book are absolutely adorable.

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Hopper Hunts for Spring by Marcus Pfister
Hopper hears that Spring is coming so he goes out to welcome him. He asks around but no one he meets is Spring. In the end he never finds him but he does find new friends.
You can probably see the art style I love for children’s books; they look cozy, plush, and a little out of focus.

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Flip, Flap, Fly by Phyllis Root and David Walker

This is a run little rhyme about baby animals taking their first steps (more like flying, sliding, swimming). Its got a fun pace and I’ve read it through aloud twice because its entertaining. Brighter colored, the whole thing looks to have been illustrated with oil pastels. Like the saturation is turned up a bit yet the edges are soft and plush.

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My First Legends: The Story of Bluebonnet by Tomie dePaola
Fun fact; there are more children’s books about animals than there are about nonwhite humans. It is not impossible to find nonwhite protagonists if you look hard but I shop used books mostly and the disparity is blatant. I only found nonwhite people in books about traditional societies. Its annoying at the very least. This is a Native American legend about how the flower bluebonnet came to be.
I love myths/fairytales and I want my nephews to hear many, from many cultures, so they don’t grow up to be assholes. 2179877

London Bridge is Falling Down! illustrated by Peter Spier
The full lyrics to the song London Bridge is Falling Down beautifully illustrated and feature historical details about the bridge at the back of the book. I read it aloud a few times because this is one of the most fun, yet annoying songs ever. I hope my sister loves repeating herself!


Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
I realized last night that I have NEVER read this book! I read it through and almost cried; it can be easy to forget how beautifully Dr. Seuss introduces serious, real life issues like racism, capitalism, environmentalism, and depression. This book is about how you CAN and you WILL accomplish everything you set out to do. Though you will fail sometimes, and you will be lonely sometimes, and you will pass through a waiting place, where people sit and wait forever, never going and doing. BUT you will make it through and you will succeed.
Of course it has the wonderful Seuss illustration style and rhyme. This edition was published in 1990, it is hardcover and I count it a good find at my local bookstore.

So far that is what I’ve gotten for the boys. What are you buying for the little readers in your life?

The City at the Center of Forever

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.

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Best Google search I’ve ever done

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.

thumbnail_imageBut 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

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Look at those sexy page numbers

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.