One of the joys of reviewing books is getting to read exciting new stuff. But the downside is that not every book is a joy. Unfortunately, The First Five Days is firmly in the latter category for me.
I do not often post a bad review. More often than not, if I do not like something, I just wimp out and don’t post anything. But as I am reviewing this for Online Book Club, I needed to bite the bullet this time.
The concept: a new, surprising ruler of a military nation knows he is up against it. A number of his predecessors have died in suspicious circumstances, quite possibly the result of Dark Arts. And this novel explores the first five days of his rule and the accompanying intrigue through the eyes of many of the players. As a concept, this was quite interesting. Unfortunately, the execution did not even come close to realising the concept’s potential.
I was put off practically right from the start. Page after page after page of exposition, sometimes thinly disguised as dialogue. Things didn’t get much better as I read on. Dialogue was particularly clumsy and difficult to read.
Probably what threw me out of the story so badly a lot of the time was how poorly the text flowed. A great deal of the text was badly constructed; it simply did not flow in any decent manner. A real test is to try reading passages aloud. Poorly constructed text trips up the tongue as the literary trunks end up in a bloody big log jam. And if the text does not flow well, then it is not easy to read. And that is a Bad Thing. Unless you are deliberately writing in the turgid style of yesteryear. And there is a good reason why people rarely do write in that style. It is hard to read and puts readers off.
In my opinion, what this novel needed was heavy duty editing. In traditional publishing, the manuscripts of even the best authors are still put through the editing process. The big value is that those experienced eyes do not have an existing attachment to the work. And that helps them see the things that need fixing, that need reconsidering. And those experienced eyes can also help determine if the execution of the story is working or it is bogged down. A lot of us also tend to overwrite during drafting – another sin that The First Five Days is guilty of.
We can’t all afford an editor. The next best alternative is to find beta readers to read your manuscript and give you meaningful feedback. And I don’t just mean Mummy or a friend who is just going to say ‘good one, dude.’ Other writers can be a great resource. Or online critique communities like Critters. This novel definitely needed that at the least.
Developing your characters is another essential. You want your readers to feel something for them. For example, we wanted Frodo to succeed in his quest to Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. We also knew that Sauron was evil and wanted him to be taken down. Similarly elsewhere, Hannibal Lecter produced a sense of revulsion and evil in readers. But the most I felt for any of the multitude of characters in The First Five Days was probably irritation. Overall, they all largely sounded and acted much the same, not generating any real response from me.
As it currently stands, The First Five Days came across to me as an advanced draft, practically begging for an editorial pencil to go to work. As much as I dislike saying it, unless you are the type of reader who enjoys having to work hard in the reading experience, then frankly, don’t bother with this one.
1 Star from me