Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of The Bones of the Earth, Initiation Rites, a fantasy adventure by Scott Bury, which I finished reading last week.
Characters: Javor, a tall, awkward boy on the edge of manhood, and Photius, an aging Grecian wanderer, are the main characters of The Bones of the Earth. They team up to hunt the monster that destroyed Javor’s village and killed his parents.
Scott does a nice job of showing us who Javor is — other characters too — through description, action and dialogue. He’s…
…very tall, with long yellow-gold hair. His long legs propel him swiftly across a meadow thick with yellow and purple flowers. He pays no attention to flies buzzing around him, to crickets and rabbits that leap out of his way.
In this scene, Javor and his smaller darker friend Hrech track a band of marauding soldiers who’ve kidnapped two girls from Javor’s village:
The dark one gets more anxious with every step. But all morning, the blonde boy has ignored him. The dark boy recognizes this trait in his friend: his ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, for hours at a time. In their village, he was called “the dreamer,” or worse. Even in normal circumstances, you had to call him by name two or three times to get his attention. But now, he is following the trail of horsemen, mounted raiders, and no matter how many times the dark boy calls “Javor,” no matter how futile the quest, he cannot be pulled away.
I also enjoyed Scott’s monster.
Strewn about the uneven floor were bones—human bones, and armour and weapons and coins that glimmered dully in the red light. All this Javor took in within a second, for crouching in front of the chasm was the proof of the story: man-shaped, but far, far larger. It was hideous, covered in a grey, leathery hide. Its impossibly wide, pig-like mouth was chewing something. Glowing red eyes shadowed by a stony brow glared at him with an alien expression for less than a heartbeat, and then it was reaching for Javor, right in front of him, filling his field of vision, roaring so loudly that Javor’s ears hurt. Its claw slashed at his head.
Other characters include the sexy Vorona, the village holy woman; Roslaw, the village headman; and assorted supporting characters. Scott describes each enough to help us get a good picture.
Plot: Young Javor grows up quick. He and his friend rescue two village girls kidnapped by a band of marauding soldiers. Then, with the aid of an aging Greek hero, Javor goes after the monster that killed his parents and wrecked his rather accident-prone village while he was fetching the girls back.
Setting: Here it is, from the book’s Foreword:
The real setting of this story is eastern Europe in the sixth century CE. The story begins on the southern slopes of the western Carpathian mountains, a region now at the borders of Ukraine, Romania and Hungary, and that may be the origin of the Slavic peoples.
Vivid place-descriptions are an element that makes fantasy adventure fun to read and write — witness Lord of the Rings, or anything by Robert E. Howard. Scott continues that tradition:
Past a small rise, the thin grass disappeared into a loosely-packed scrabble. A few bent, withered trees with hardly any leaves clung weakly to the hillside. Ahead, a brackish creek wandered sluggishly to the east. At the bank, Photius said “Take care now, son. Don’t touch the water,” and they hopped carefully from stone to stone across a natural ford. Javor could see craggy mountains ahead; surprisingly, they had no snow on their tops. The whole vista seemed dead and repellent. Javor gagged on the reek of rotting animal carcasses.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Javor appears to go from untested and somewhat insecure youth to competent warrior a bit too abruptly for me. At the same time, Photius, who is allegedly finishing up his own career as a warrior and hero, doesn’t show much of what he could be capable.
For instance, when Photius shows up at the village, perhaps the village bully could see him as a victim. But despite his age, Photius could quickly turn the tables on the bully, ala the one-armed Spencer Tracy defending himself against Ernest Borgnine in Bad Day at Black Rock.
Something is needed here to show Photius’ hero/warrior background, rather than Photius simply telling Javor.
A good way to achieve both these objectives — giving some credibility to Javor’s warrior skills and establishing Photius — would be to have Photius impart some of his skills to Javor during their time together tracking the monster. And maybe the move Photius shows Javor — one passed down to Photius from his own mentor — then saves Javor’s life during the battle with the monster.
I also wished the monster had a name, other than “the monster.” A name instantly indicates that it has a place, an origin, a history — even if we don’t know what any of that is — and gives the monster and the story more depth.
“Ah, Grimgak,” Photius said, spying the creature for the first time, “I knew your evil kind of old.”
What I thought was good: First of all, for an indie book, The Bones of the Earth had remarkably few typos, grammatical errors and the other flaws typically found in indies — mine included — through lack of editing. That alone made for a smooth read.
I liked the authenticity of the names, and the nods to the language of the time and place. Here’s Photius, arriving at the village:
“Good evening, gentle folk,” the stranger said with a heavy accent. “Can you tell me the name of this village?”
“Holody,” said Roslaw, the headman. They actually called the village Nastasiu. Holody meant simply “fort”—they did not trust outsiders. Best to give away as little as possible. The holody was a small log palisade around one of the hills beside the village.
Scott does a nice job narrating the story with vivid verbs and active voice. Verbs are the “muscle” of narrative, and active voice makes the body of the story lean and snappy. Here’s an example:
Krajan backhanded Roslaw savagely. The warrior’s heavy leather and steel gauntlet made a sickening crushing sound as it connected with the headman’s face, and Roslaw slumped into the dirt, bleeding from the nose and mouth.
Mladen, Elli’s father, sprang forward with a scythe, screaming “Everyone together! We outnumber them!” Faster than anyone could see, another raider drew a sword and slashed down. The scythe clattered to the hard ground, Mladen’s severed hand still gripping it. The Avars cheered and laughed; Mladen fell to his knees, gasping and staring in disbelief at the empty space at the end of his arm. Blood spurted over and over again onto the ground, splashing Elli and Grat until the Avar thrust his sword into Mladen’s neck, then kicked his body down.
Elli’s mother shrieked.
Scott keeps the narrative humming along nicely.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? This short, snappy tale has blood, gore, sex, battles, monsters, emotion — all the ingredients of a classic fantasy adventure. It’s more of an intro, ala The Hobbit, than a full-fledged epic, but fun nevertheless.
Good job, Scott!
By the way, since I bought The Bones of the Earth, Initiation Rites, Scott has added to the epic with The Bones of the Earth, The Dark Age.
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!