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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Mr. Shivers" by Robert Jackson Bennett (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman and Mihir Wanchoo)

Read a guest blog post by Robert Bennett Jackson on how a story works here
Order Mr. Shivers from Amazon here

Introduction: This is a joint co-review by Cindy Hannikman and Mihir Wanchoo, so we will have two takes of this book in the Analysis section.

Robert Bennett Jackson is a resident of Texas and currently resides in its capital. His attempt to write books began with an early fascination with Stephen King books shared by him and his brother. This book is the culmination of those efforts. Mr. Shivers is Robert Bennett Jackson's debut.

PLOT SUMMARY: Marcus Connelly, known simply as Connelly, has recently suffered a massive personal loss. Some mysterious man has murdered his daughter. Connelly knows very little about this man but does know that this man is scarred and has left a trail of destruction in his path. In a personal effort to avenge his daughter's death, Connelly has set out in a time when many Americans are shifting and moving around the country in an effort to make a new life. Connelly's new life will not start until revenge has been sought.

Along his path to seeking out this mysterious man, Connelly meets up with a small group of travelers. He quickly learns that these other travelers have also at some point in their lives been touched and effected by the scarred man. In an effort to achieve the ending they all hope to see, this group of travelers band together with a common goal: to find the scarred man.

However as Connelly and his friends continue to search out this illusive man, it is becoming clearer to them that this guy might not be human. Connelly must now decide how to destroy something that might be more then he expected.

FORMAT/INFO: Mr. Shivers is 327 pages divided over twenty seven numbered chapters. Narration is in the third person via the singular protagonist Marcus Connelly. This is a stand alone novel. January 15, 2010 marks the Hardcover publication of Mr. Shivers via Orbit books. This is the author’s debut.

(Cindy's Take) Mr Shivers isn't the type of book that I would activly go in search of. However the time period of the Great Depression and the basic plot set up grabbed my attention. Upon starting the book, there was such a great set up that I found myself pulled into the story line. Sadly this book didn't live up to the great start that it had and feel as a major disappointment for myself.

After the first few chapters there was a perfect set up for the Great Depression era. The description of the camp living and basic attitude of the nation was perfect. One of the areas that disappointed me the most was that it felt this atmosphere didn't really stick throughout the book. It felt like it was used as a set up and then quickly pushed aside. Not that atmosphere is a major deciding factor of what makes a book good or not but I quickly found that around the half way mark of the book, this book had a feeling of taking place just as easily in the modern day world as it did in the Great Depression. With such a great start up with the setting up the book it was a let down to have it fall flat.

The other major disappointment for myself were the characters. Connelly has such a background and there were so many different ways that every character Connelly came in contact with, mainly his traveling companions, could have been taken. Unforantly the characters were rather flat and after the initial background they were a bit uninteresting. This could have been due to the fact that the converstations between characters were stilted and came across as very akward.

With the combination of the flat characters and the setting just falling short, the whole book was sadly disappointing. To be fair, Robert Jackson Bennett has a tremendous amount of talent. There are very few books I can think of that captivated me in the beginning of the book like this book did. It just didn't follow through to the ending of the book. Hopefully Robert Jackson Bennett can take his talent and grow with it. It'll be interesting to watch as he grows as an author.

(Mihir's Take) Mr. Shivers is a bit of an odd ball book. It beings as a simple quest and murder story set in the depression era of America (readers will be reminded of the HBO TV series Carnivale as it's set in the same era but Mr. Shivers is a bit more convoluted in mythical setting and background). However within the first few chapters readers get the drift that there is something more to the story then what is set up for them.

Marcus Connelly is the main protagonist of this tale as he lumbers onwards west in search of a scarred man who took away his daughter from him. On his way he meets a trio who like him are also searching for the same scarred man as each of them had a similar tragedy as well.

Connelly and his fellows Pike, Hammond and Rosemund then try their best to navigate their way in and around the small towns and Railway yards for information about Mr. Shivers(one of the many names used to describe the scarred man) on the way they learn about the magnitude of his powers and influence as well as meet new allies and enemies. In the end there is a climatic conflagration as expected and the events that end the end are a tad predictable and fulfilling as well.

The writing is done nicely as the reader immediately gets drawn into this miserable world and the characters which inhabit it. The author pulls no punches in laying bare the structure and moral pretenses as we come across the main group of characters who for their various reasons band and journey in search of Mr. Shivers.

The plot which begins of on a quest slowly then turns into a semi-magical nature as Connelly discovers more about his quarry and the tales surrounding him. The ending which is written by the author comes off very predictably from the pointers he has given in the tale before.

There are also a couple of nods to some classic Horror films along the way which is pleasant to read and the mythology of the world mentioned reminded me a bit of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. The biggest problem in this tale is that the background mythology surrounding this tale and Mr. Shivers is never quite thoroughly explained, there are few scenes in which a few clues and pointers are given, however it is left at that.

Another thing which might sour the reading experience is that the tale is very predictable, during the first 1/3rd of the tale, the reader will be eagerly led by the story but then during the middle and the later third of the book the reader can probably guess where the story is going and their guess might be correct as well. These shortcomings did sour the story which from its blurb sounds very fascinating.

The tale of Mr. Shivers is not something truly original the storyline and its ending is something of a bit of mishmash of Horror, fantasy quest and part allegorical tale. The prose is the one highlight of the book as I kept on reading throughout without any halts and the characters are somewhat the redeeming feature of this book. This book isn’t something which will set tongues wagging; it will find its fans and its detractors as well. I hope the author can improve upon the faults in this book in his next effort as this book could have been truly great instead of falling in the “Good-book-but-fails-to-meet-full-potential” category where it currently stands.


Johannius Star said...

I'll put this on my to-read list.

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