Review by S. M. Metzler Have you ever judged a book by its cover? Well, don't. It's not healthy.
When I received in the mail a paperback copy of indie-published Song of the Sending by Corrine O' Flynn, I just walked around for a while just looking at the front cover. It's beautiful; I've always loved blue-dominant art.
Interestingly enough, I eventually decided to sit down and read it. Surely, I thought, if the author had put so much time into such a pretty, eye-catching cover, she would have put even more time into the quality of the story. I knew it was a wish in vain, and I was to be disappointed. But hear me out, some of it was creative and unique. Before you take a side for or against my judgment, take some time to read my brief synopsis …
Jim Wales can communicate with animals. He thinks this is the only thing that makes him stand out from the rest of Sweetwater's carnival team, who put on magical shows in California, the modern world. But when a hawk-like bird appears, and he taps it with his mind, his whole life changes.
Eldred is the last scholar in all the worlds. He has stolen the Keystone from the Sisters in Bellanor, causing the Great Shift between all the worlds, including the Modern World, and now he has the power to … well, do anything really. Only one person stands in his way: a boy named Jim, making Eldred one of the last scholars. Thinking Jim's brother is the scholar, Eldred kills Dan and takes him and Jim's mother into Bellanor, the world where Jim's magic race came from. Jim and his friends, Sam and Charlie, along with his tiger Bak, travel to Bellanor; the bird, Oona, is the Sending from his father, who asks for him to come and avenge Eldred of all the deaths he has committed in killing off every last scholar. If he doesn't, the chain of the worlds will drift apart into empty space, and Eldred will be victorious.
I actually thought the world building was pretty cool. The fact that there is a Keystone keeping all the worlds (including the Modern World; our Earth) into sync is a unique idea. Supposedly, as Jim finds out later in the book, there are lots of other worlds in the chain, worlds that contain unicorns, dragons, elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. I was not surprised to see Tolkien's creatures mentioned. The fact that there's a "Great Shift," making it harder for the magical people of Bellanor (Jim and his crew) to get from the Modern World back to their world is interesting, and the book doesn't begin with all these info dumps until later on the story, when you need to hear about them.
Scholars This is one of the brilliant things about this book. Ages and ages ago, scholars walked the worlds, always coming in sets of twelve, each of them bearing the mark of Lashte, like Jim. They also possessed a certain magical, energetic ability, making them all linked to each other. When all the scholars come together, they form a Collective (why does that ring a bell?). When the ancient scholars found out about the power of a Collective, they built Castle Dorren and lived there, becoming known for their longevity and wisdom. And then they started to die out … but then Eldred Ward Cathern was born with the mark of Lashte – the last scholar – except when Jim came along.
Turns out, Eldred was the one who was killing all the living scholars. He did certain things to the body that connected him to other deaths. This was why Jim was told to go into hiding in the Modern World; he was the last scholar alive, and the next step in Eldred's scheme was to kill him. Many people in Bellanor believed that Eldred had found a way to assume the power of the collective: by taking the heart blood of the scholars before him.
Keystone The Keystone is just as awesome as the scholars. This is what makes travel between the worlds possible, and there are four stones in that key. Those four stones are used to fortify the connection between all the worlds, including Bellanor and the Modern World. Without the Keystone, all the worlds would drift away into nothingness.
The Great Shift happened hundreds of years ago, and it closed the worlds off from one another --- this was a shift in the energy that kept the worlds aligned. The ancient scholars created the Keystone to keep the crossings between the worlds connected. Jim's father had asked Jim to come because he had suspected Eldred had found the lost diamond key; along with all the other stones in the Keystone, he is powerful and everyone is in danger. And Jim, James Wales, is the only one who can stop Eldred and return the Keystone to the Grove.
As you can see, explaining the world building with the scholars, the mages, and the Keystone, pretty much sums up the story. I found this to be very creative and worth reading the book for. Kudus to Mrs. O'Flynn and her worldbuilding and storyline!
I think this was the worst part of the book. The first half was very slow, and it wasn't until I was caught in the story when the info dump came about the scholars, the Keystone, etc., but it was one of the most interesting info dumps I've read and it was evenly spread out. The style of the writing almost made me put the book down for good. A lot of sentences during action sequences were too short, as if meant for younger kids who can't handle normal-length sentences; I thought maybe this was some kind of technique to keep the action taut and suspenseful, but then that technique didn't work on me. The way the characters spoke was a personal annoyance. Sure, some of it takes place in the Modern World, but how often should your protagonist keep saying "dude"? I thought maybe I was expecting some better dialogue, it being a fantasy fiction after all. Also, a lot of the wording in general seemed awkward and out of place, often causing me to inwardly cringe. Aside from style, there were several typos with quotation marks, and I was somtimes confused as to whether a line was dialogue or not. But it was an indie-published novel, and that stuff happens; I'll let it off the hook.
The main problem with the characters was that they were very hard to invest in. In the very beginning, Jim's brother is killed and his mother is taken away. I didn't feel the slightest twinge of remorse, and couldn't sympathize with Jim, whose sole mission throughout the book is to find his mother. As for Jim, being the protagonist, I felt like he had a lack of personality. The only time I appreciated him was when he "accidentally" uses a pitchfork to gauge out the eye of one of Eldred's men, who is attacking him. He leaves him writhing in pain and is haunted for days afterward with the thought that he had just possibly killed someone and wishes he hadn't. So, the protagonist is a peace-lover, made squeamish by violence and thinks it's wrong. That's one good trait, at least. Sam, Jim's best friend, would be my favorite if I had to pick, even though he's pretty ridiculous; but he is the only one with a consciousness and ends up almost being killed for being thought of as Jim, the long-hunted last scholar. This causes a rift in the two boys' friendship. Eldred, the villain, was a very dry character and I hardly felt like I understood his motives; a lack of background can do that, I suppose.
There were quite a lot of sensual romance scenes, which always act as good Susannah-Repellant, but I managed to skim and continue on with the story. At first I wondered what the point was to even have Jim's girlfriend in the story, (besides maybe to have some teen romance in the book?) but then she turns out to be a mage, one of the Sisters of the Grove, and sees visions about the future and about what Eldred is doing, which helps Jim's decisions. Bak is Jim's tiger, and if you'll remember, Jim can communicate with animals; he can tap into their mind and talk to them, not unlike the telepathic ability between Eragon and Saphira. But Bak hardly does anything but remind us once in a while that Jim can speak to his tiger and this was really annoying. Tigers are majestic creatures, and yet Bak's vocabulary is like a toddler's; this was even pointed out in the book. Bak uses this vocabulary to talk to Jim a lot when I thought that, honestly, he didn't need to be saying anything and I wish he could just be a normal tiger and to be treated with respect for the awesome animal he is, not just some unnecessary sidekick who tags along.
Overall, I give this book 2 stars. 1 for the writing style and characters, and the second is a gracious add for the plot and worldbuilding. This book might have seen 4 stars were it not for its flaws. Now, I know this review may have seemed like an hopeless antagonization of the book rather than an appreciative reccomendation because I really was disappointed in the book in and of itself. But I always like to learn from flops, as I can come back to writing my own story, knowing how to avoid the mistakes I had just read in a certain book or watched in a certain movie. I decided to write a completely honest review, and so I did; writing an "objective" review of a book without personal opinions seemed almost dauntingly impossible. If you've been planning to read the book, don't feel as if you've been discouraged to pick it up; just see this as a friendly warning. But if you're looking for a new, unique story with interesting worldbuilding, this may be your lucky find.
Have you read this book? Would you read it? Please comment with your thoughts.