Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CSFF Tour - Curse of the Spider King Day 3

Batson and Hopper weave an entertaining web of adventure and suspense.

This is the final day of the CSFF Tour, featuring the new book from fantasy authors Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, Curse of the Spider King. On day one I gave a short synopsis of the story, and day two featured the authors and their mission (though I neglected Wayne's love of nachos...).

This book is the first in the Berinfell Prophecies series, written for a middle school audience, but with enough packed into it to make an enjoyable read for adults as well. Spider King as Batson tells on the Amazon page for the book, is not in either his voice or Hopper's, but their voice together. It is quite a feat for two strong writers to meld together so well.

The book starts off in an intriguing manner, immediately setting up the mystery. After this peek into the Elven world of Allyra, teenagers on Earth are introduced to a special book that has magical properties. When the text is touched, they are transported to the actual history of the Elves and the fall of Berinfell, their ancient capital. Most of the book is taken up with introducing the seven teens who are actually refugees from this other world, unbeknownst to them, with a climatic confrontation at the end as they try to gather together.

The action keeps the story propelling forward, and there are few times when the book slows at all. The various children are unique and have different backgrounds that feels real and not forced. They all stand out individually in their character and actions, which is a difficult task with so many "lead" characters. My only complaint with characterization is some of the names are too similar (Jimmy, Johnny, Tommy, etc.). There are also different Elven "protectors" who masquerade as teachers or librarians, and they all seem to run together at the end, but the individual interaction of teens and their protectors seems genuine.

The bad guys are sufficiently creepy, and the spiders provide an excellent fodder for setting a mood. This book shouldn't induce arachnophobia, but if a reader already suffers from that, this may not be the best book for them in the first place! The kids seem to be in real danger, and not every good guy makes it out alive, it seems.

Other than the similar names, my only other problems were some occasional head-hopping, where the authors would suddenly switch to another character's point of view for a time, and abruptly switch back as well. This caused some confusion as far as "who's the voice here." Also, one of the teens, has to flee danger suddenly, and her circumstances are not very believable as far as how she flees and dealing with her parents.

Overall, the book is a very enjoyable read for the intended reading audience, intermediate readers and up, as well as the parents or adults who like a good fantasy. There are grand themes of courage, endurance, self-sacrifice, and what it means to be a family, so there is a treasure of values in it as well. I'm looking forward to reading it to my 9 and 8 year olds as the next book on deck. Batson and Hopper deliver an entertaining, well-crafted world with engaging characters that will keep readers waiting for the next book, Venom and Song, coming May 2010! To paraphrase my middle son, "They are SO imaginative!"

If you want to see some other opinions, see Becky Miller's blog for links to all the updated posts.


  1. Wayne or Christopher -

    Hey, if you guys see this, I have two questions.
    1. How did your little Amazon promotion go?
    2. Can you tell me more about the writing software you're raving about? Thanks guys! Great book, and I'm glad to do my little part.

  2. I think Wayne has reviewed the software on his blog, but I can't remember its name.

    You might be able to find it by searching his "Writing Tips" blog posts. The categories are WAY WAY down at the bottom on the right hand side.

  3. Scrivener. That's the writing software the guys used. I've been meaning to check it out myself. I need it.

    So - great posts all three days! I really enjoyed hearing your perspective. Although, I must disagree on one point you made. I am a total arachniphobe and I did just fine with all the creepy spiders in CotSK. A minor point, but I wouldn't want any fellow spider-fearing fantasy fans to miss out on this book.

    BTW - I read to my daughter still too, and she's 11. It's a great thing to share - a love of reading. And she's also a voracious reader on her own. So - I guess it's working. :)

  4. Good post, Jason. I think using the omniscient point of view was the only way to go with this story because there were so many main characters. And it's established early. Besides, only writers really notice things like POV. ;-)


  5. Oh, as to your first question. Wayne blogged the results. I think the Amazon rating dipped to 660 or so. Impressive, I think.


  6. Now Becky, I have to disagree. They only used the omniscient POV at scattered points, and they would use section breaks at other times to denote a new viewpoint. If it were consistent throughout, I'd buy it (though I wouldn't like it). And I know writers are the only ones to put a name to it, but I think it would confuse a regular reader. "Wait a sec, who is saying/thinking this now?"

    Very good book, but that's my quibble. :D

  7. Hey, Jason, Scrivener is the software and it's unbelievable. It's intuitive but not like Microsoft does intuitive. IE: it doesn't get in your way. What it does do is takes those ideas you have--man, I wish my writing software would let me.....

    And it does just that. Cheap too.

    The Amazon promotion went crazy well. In 24 hours Spider King went from being ranked 70,000th down to 540th. Since then it has stayer between 3,000th and 14,000th. We couldn't be more pleased.

    And about POV. We use what we call "Critical Omniscient POV." This is a relatively new style where the writer doesn't stick dogmatically to a POV at the expense of the book, but rather utilizes the "God like" power of Omniscient only when the story calls for it. Hope that helps.