My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Note: A copy was graciously provided to me by the author.
I always feel bad when a decent story theme that appeals to me ends up not working out, and given that I love fantasy/urban fantasy as a collective genre in all age ranges, I was all for reading this particular book in the get-go. Yannis Karatsioris has an interesting premise in “The Book of the Forsaken” in terms of the ideas and layers behind it – I saw what he was trying to do in some aspects of the narrative here, but I think the execution of it left much to be desired. It didn’t engage me as much as I hoped it would. This is one of those instances where the idea behind the novel is sound, but the way it’s told completely threw me for a loop – and not in a good way. More on that after I give a brief synopsis of the tale.
The base idea behind the first book in “The Game” series is that there’s a master puppeteer (in the form of the narrator of the story) manipulating a group of rather flawed individuals – Daniel from Paris, Cassidy from Ireland, and Igor from Russia – into coming together and retrieving a special book. Now, I had no problem with the men being morally skewed. A devious thief and two murderers might sound alarming to read perspectives from, but as long as the narrative can present the framework of their experiences and make me invested in what’s happening to them, I’m willing to see where the plot goes. Nor did I have a problem with the dark tone of the story. Give me dark humor any day, I love a good twisted tale with stakes that keep me on the edge of my seat and guessing until the end.
However, I think many of the techniques used for this particular story (or lack thereof) didn’t really give me a full connection to the narrative as a whole, and ended up throwing me out of the tale several times.
First thing one should know – this is very much the narrator’s tale. You’re being told the story through the narrator’s observances and how he manipulates the characters (a la players) in the work. There are times when the narrator is a bit of a charmer and humorous with his wry commentary, but pulling off a narrative style with footnotes in a fictitious work is very difficult to do well – and it’s employed as a key device in this narrative. The idea is that you have to develop your narrator in order for your reader to care for the story that’s being told/observed in the narrator’s vision. You have to address the measure of the stakes that he/she’s facing in addition to the ones that are faced by the other parties in the narrative. Granted, it may not be as “deep” for the outside characters, but there has to be a level of depth for the narrator. I was never able to connect to the narrator nor the players in this work. The players were many, the intimacy was far and few between.
I think I saw the problem with Igor, Cassidy and Daniel from the get go, because when they’re introduced – their introductions are told rather than shown. They’re given in a series of listed profiles, and while that might be more appropriate for a graphic novel or something with a more visual stance, it’s not when you’re considering a full length novel. The character actions, backgrounds, personality traits and aims need to speak for themselves and be shown through the narrative itself, not told. Thus, I never had a chance to connect to either of them, even as the narrative went on and the stakes were increased at a certain point in the story. The odd transitions between the different players were also a distracting element for me, and I spent a good amount of time wondering why some of the characters acted the way they did.
The worldbuilding in this was a smorgasbord of different, interesting things, as were the abilities of the players themselves, but I don’t think they were ever developed into fully realized coherency because of the presentation. I think if the world had been further developed/established and more focus lent on the abilities the characters had, it could’ve made for a more immersible read. I was disappointed when I came to the ending which didn’t really have a conclusive note, thus not making the work a self-contained entry in this series. Sure, it does leave one wondering what will happen in future installments, but not in a way that makes you want to leap out to see.
The only other narrative that I can cite off the top of my head that had a similar structure to this novel – though it’s considerably for a different audience and had very different stakes/brand for humor – is the children’s/young adult novel “The Amulet of Samarkand” by Jonathan Stroud. Stroud used footnotes and had a very quirky narration in the form of Bartemeaus, a genie who presides over a young magician in training who deals with a very realized threat to his life after coming into possession of a magic amulet. And Bartemeaus was made a central character in the progression of that novel with attention given to his aims, desires, history and role in the world, even as he narrates his experiences. I think Karatsioris probably would’ve benefited more in “The Book of the Forsaken” to take a deeper POV with each of the characters he established, including the narrator, and even out the flow of the narrative.
I do give credit for the interesting ideas presented in this work, but again, the execution didn’t appeal to me.
Overall score: 1.5/5