The Book Of Zog by Alec Hutson Review

This is another book suggested to me by u/ASIC_SP and once again, they know their books.

I loved The Book Of Zog and I honestly struggle to imagine that anyone wouldn’t. It has it all, a likeable main character, an interesting side cast, imaginative world building, unfathomable cosmic horrors from the deepest voids of space.

The story is about an Eldritch Horror who has a sense of humanity. Comes across an earth-like planet with humans, and accidently starts a religion. I don’t want to say too much more than that, because there’s some surprises in there.

This isn’t a funny book, it’s lightly humorous I guess. It’s an interesting premise, where things happen, some fun, some serious. I wouldn’t take the book too seriously, I don’t think it takes itself seriously.

What I Liked

A good deal of the initial book, and some more descriptions within, are written in the style of H.P Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror. Personally, I love that stuff. So that was a big plus. There was even a couple words I had to check the exact meaning, though in context it was clear enough. In any case, lovely prose in these sections.

There’s some nifty world-building as well, done through the events that unfold. A couple of sections might delve into the tell side of “show don’t tell”, but it works in the few places it was done, and for good reason: like I said, some of the book is written in the older Lovecraftian style.

Length-wise, this is a short novel, I’m guessing about 60k words. I keep coming back to this… 60k words is plenty. There’s no middle slog, everything in the plot has a point, and it happens, and we move onto the next part of the plot and you never get tired and think now’s a good spot to put the book down.

I mentioned above that there’s a cast of interesting characters. They are. Hutson is falling back onto some tropes for them, but there’s no harm in that, as characters supporting Zog, they are perfect. And for a bit of a meta-feeling, considering who and what these characters are, they kind of should be tropes, so with that in mind, they work very well.

Zog himself, the single POV throughout the book, was great to read. His perspective is curious and childlike at the beginning of the story, and it’s fun to see things from an innocent perspective. We see the world and its inhabitants through his eyes, and it never comes off as needless or cheap, his sense of childlike curiosity feels very genuine. By the end of the story, he knows who and what he is, and what he wants to be, and it really feels like he grew. The supporting characters had practically no growth, maybe a little for one of them, but honestly, it doesn’t matter, this is easily Zog’s story through and through.

What I Didn’t Like

It’s hard to really think of anything.

To be completely honest… I can’t think of anything that detracted from the book. There’s some quibbles that people would point out, like little growth for supporting characters, trope-like characters etc… but it just doesn’t matter because everything surrounding the story is done so well. Zog, the Eldritch Horror, is done so well.

Final Thoughts

5 Stars

I rate this book higher than Orconomics. For me, this was a perfect story, executed well. Suitable for any age, I read a lot of this book to my 8 month old for bedtime (not that babies understand anything).

The Book of Zog is criminally underrated, it should be recommended at every request for fantasy. It doesn’t have anywhere enough reviews or ratings on Amazon and it should be selling a lot more.

Buy buy buy on Amazon.

Categorized as Reviews

Stout by Taylor Small Review

When I was looking for a new book to read, I just couldn’t find anything. All the books that I saw didn’t appeal to me, everything was a bit serious and grimdark all of a sudden.

But then I remembered reddit user ASIC_SP, who appears to read about a zillion books a week. So I messaged them and they suggested this book, telling me that they think I’d like it a lot (they had previously reviewed my own book).

Turns out, I really did.

What It’s About

It’s about a dwarf, who grew up hearing stories about his father’s heroic adventures, but who is now a part-time criminal and general low-life living in the dark of the undercity.

As these things go, he gets swept up into an adventure, and you can probably guess all that happens next. Characters get redeemed, he finds out who he really is etc.

But the real joy of this book was the delivery.

What I Liked

This is a funny book. And I mean funny like Airplane/Flying High. There’s almost a constant stream of humor in parts. Some of it is a little hit or miss, but you’re guaranteed to have fun reading it.

It comes across very much like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett’s humor. British, maybe? So it leans into the ridiculous quite heavily, so I suppose if you’re more of a dry whit then this book wouldn’t be for you.

It’s also a short book, and I love short books. There’s a surprising amount of world-building in this story, even if quite a lot of that world-building is around humor (angry, partially sentient potatoes for example). Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of proper world-building (‘proper’ for want of a better word), with a pantheon and explanation for how the material plane of the world is constructed.

Like all good books, this world-building all comes into play with meaning. Even the sentient potatoes. This is a little unlike, at least early, Pratchett, in that these jokes, while seemingly ridiculous and pointless, do circle back to the rest of the plot and come together. It was actually quite interesting to slowly see how all the funny bits served a larger purpose than just to be funny.

Not a lot of authors can do that consistently.

The plot itself was about what you want for a humorous book. Meaning, you don’t want it to try and do anything exciting or new, because you’re reading for the funnies, no need to get bogged down in a convoluted storyline. There were serious, touching moments scattered throughout, which when interspersed with much laughter, really made them stand out.

Speaking of which, there is a B-plot to this book as well, something I’ve never managed to do for myself successfully (at least yet). Like a good episode of Seinfeld, this B-plot wraps back into the main one to give a satisfying ending. (actually there’s a few B-plots that are all resolved).

The opening was fantastic. Really sucked me in right away.

So overall, it’s a very satisfying book, even without the humor.

What I Didn’t Like

Maybe I’m old? Maybe limited third person perspective is out the door? This book jumps around from head to head all the time. You’ll be in the thoughts of one character, then the thoughts of the next within the same paragraph.

After you’re initially oriented in Taylor’s style, it’s not confusing or anything. It’s just a personal preference of mine that the writer stays in one set of thoughts for a scene. Subjective opinion.

There’s some clunky sentences here and there, but not often. I did pick up on a number of spelling mistakes. Not outrageous mistakes, things like “oath” instead of “path” that a spellcheck wouldn’t pick up, but a careful writer should have. It doesn’t take away from the book, but I’m quite practiced at reading over mistakes (like my own riddled works).

For a story with a lot of humor, there is a bit of a scattergun approach. Lots of jokes didn’t stick, but that’s okay, because there were so many that did.

Final Thoughts

It’s rare to find a genuinely funny book that has a solid story buried within it.

Here’s a link to it on Amazon

Categorized as Reviews

A Bitter Drink by Azalea Forrest Review

I wanted to review this book because it was in the same batch as my own in this years SPFBO8. It even scored higher than mine in the initial review round, though both books were marked as semi-finalists. However, neither of them got through as the finalist in the batch.

But this book deserves a lot more attention than I think it’s received.

What It’s About

It’s about a plant-man. He’s a nobleman. The book starts off as a bit of a court-drama centered around his life. We learn a lot about him and the world.

Gradually some new characters are introduced and then the ‘event’ that sort of kicks off. All of our main character’s flaws come to bite him in the ass, and then it’s a quick read-through to see if he can become the person we hope he can be (and that deep down he wants to be).

There’s some action, some romance, some court intrigue, and a plot to take over the world.

What I Liked

I think starting with the good stuff is better, mostly because in this instance the bad stuff was pretty minor.

It’s a short novel, about as long as my novels, I didn’t bother counting but I suspect it’s at the 60k word mark. Which is great for me, because that’s bang-on the perfect length for my time availability. Oh I wish I had the time to read multi-tome epics, but I don’t. What I want is a story that gets to the point, stays on it, and delivers everything.

That’s exactly what A Bitter Drink does.

Now, a lot of people think fantasy needs to be long (they’re wrong) because you have to spend time world-building, and hand-holding the reader through the intricate justice system of the court and ugh. No, world-building doesn’t need to take up space.

This book very rarely does world-building on its own. When Forrest is doing world-building, it’s usually wrapped up in whatever else is happening. I.e., it’s done masterfully. There is a whole world in this book, featuring a pantheon, walking sentient trees from recent history, ongoing wars and feuds between races, a whole new race of plant-people, a court of lies and deceit, consistent magic system.

All of that is there, in a 60k word book. Any authors who want to write fantasy should read this book, just to see how much unique world can be crammed in something so small. There is a lot of imagination in this story.

Most of the story is written from the perspective of Rowan, our main character. Forrest does a very good job of putting us into the head of this cowardly, fun-loving, lazy, nobleman. It’s done so well because not only are we in the head of the plant-man, but we want him to succeed despite all of his flaws as a person. There are these little snippets where he shows the kind of self-awareness you assume someone like this wouldn’t have, but it’s there, and he just puts it to the side because addressing the problems would be too hard.

A very believable, seemingly unlikeable character.

Which begins me into…

What I Didn’t Like

The other supporting characters feel very much like templates. They are your staple archetypes in a way. It was a bit of a shame because at first, some of the characters are introduced with their own POV, and they seem unique. But they kind of devolve into generic interpretations of “fun-loving dwarf” for example.

But the main character, Rowan, comes alive so well in his POV sections, that you kind of don’t care that the other characters a little flat. It is his story, and everyone else around is supporting his story.

Unfortunately, there are two parts of the writing style I didn’t enjoy.

Firstly, there are some actions scenes, I think two or three chapters were mostly action (one in the middle, two toward the end); but… the action didn’t read well to me. I felt like it was a bit “blow by blow”, too much ongoing description of how the fight is happening. It got boring, quickly.

Especially the action in the middle as it was focused on a single character’s POV, so there wasn’t even the relief of multiple perspectives during the same battle that we get toward the end.

Secondly, there were some mid-scene POV changes. At first, I thought it was a mistake and I must have misread something, but as it occurred again and again, I realised it’s just how Forrest writes. For me personally, I don’t enjoy it, I sometimes find it confusing, and… not neat? IDK, Dune jumps through character’s heads all the time, so there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not something I enjoy.

There are a few other instances where the perspective doesn’t outright change, but the current POV character appears to know how another character feels about something. Considering POV changes do occur mid-scene in the book, I can see why this happened; but for me, it increases the distance between me and the POV character (or current POV character anyway).

But, these perspective issues didn’t take away much enjoyment from reading the story.

The final small thing I didn’t like was a few clunky sentences. I’ve read clunk in Stephen King as well, so no fault there. I mention it only because it happened a couple of times.

Final Thoughts

How many stories about bi-sexual, magical plant-men have you read? That’s what I thought.

Buy on Amazon

Categorized as Reviews