Tuesday, September 4, 2007

John Lawson; "Witch Ember"

Author John Lawson brings us “Witch Ember”; a gritty, dark fantasy set in a creatively crafted world where people are born with tiny shards or ‘embers’ which lend them magical powers. Esmeree, the primary character is born with a large piece of this ember, and unknowingly possesses tremendous powers; however she is also unfortunately an orphaned child of ‘the Mill’ where she grows up knowing only the horrors of prostitution, drugs and violence. Her role models are an assortment of unsavory adults, with only one or two creditable souls to help her survive. She is also surrounded by a collection of youths who are also part of this dismal, dirty world. Her greatest aspiration is to become a more refined, personal prostitute/concubine for the city’s richest; it is her sheltered view of the world and her ignorance of her own power and potential that makes her ambition so limited. You watch her grow, and with it, her world as well. It starts focused on the mill and its scurrying, grimy inhabitants and broadens slowly as the story goes along. You learn as Esmeree learns.

You will find that Esmeree is a plucky character, and she successfully carries the reader through this very thick novel as she overcomes each terrible experience, and slowly begins to discover who she is, where she must go, and the extent of her ‘ember’s power’. She is thoroughly likable, and despite how casually she perceives the trauma of her daily life, she has an honourable sort of soul, and she makes others around her better as well.

The author did a commendable job showing Esmeree's personal growth, and wrote a believable world imbued with the same political and faith-based upheavals as our own. The detail in this book is broad and you can get lost in it occasionally. It is a dark, coarse sort of book, I will not fail to mention that. The sexual content is explicit and without sugar-coating, and the violence is graphic and vivid. Those of you that are squeamish may not care for the content of Witch Ember.

As a reviewer, I do have some criticisms of this unusually tidy, well-put together novel. The author obviously enjoyed interspersing his many invented words into the book. He definitely took his time to create a world complete with its own dialects and slang. You can’t miss these words; they are all italicized and infused with a přöfůsĭŏn of šỳmboŀś to make them appear exotic. Frankly, as a reader, all it did was make it distracting. This was really unnecessary and it does nothing for the flow of the book when you constantly have to stop, flip through the index, find the word and its meaning, and then find where you left off. And doing it again and again (for it is a sizable index) really just made me want to put the book down and go read something less arduous, like War and Peace. It nearly ruined the book for me, and that is a lot considering that this is a really good book. I think the language was overdone, and unnecessary for a story that can carry itself perfectly well without it.

This is definitely the neat, seamless work of a technical writer. I usually tend to look for errors and such when reading, as do the other reviewers here at Odyssey, and despite the symbols and the distracting language, I could find little to pick apart when it came to the quality of the writing, the cleanliness of the manuscript, and the author’s ability to keep you riveted even through the slow bits and the index references.

I have to give Witch Ember five medallions. ONLY because I think it’s a notable work of self-published writing, BUT if I were feeling less generous, I’d take a half or whole medallion away just for the time I had to spend looking up words.

Paperback: 489 pages
Publisher: PublishAmerica (May 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1591290384
ISBN-13: 978-1591290384