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Monday, February 17, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Spark City by Robert J. Power (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski, David Stewart, Justine Bergman and Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Spark City over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)




AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert J. Power is a fantasy writer hailing from Wicklow, Ireland, and #1 Best Selling author of the Spark City Cycle and The Dellerin Tales.


His writing career started out of idle necessity when he began spending his nights writing by his father's bedside while working as his carer.



When he isn't writing, Robert enjoys the romance of music and performs as the lead singer, guitarist, and premier songwriter in Army of Ed. A lover of the outdoors and recreation, Robert is an avid football supporter and cheers on his local team Bray Wanderers. He currently resides in Wicklow with his wife, Jan, and his beloved rescues animals.


OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Hunt is Coming. Despite his warriors’ lineage, Erroh would rather waste his potential stumbling alone from one tavern to the next, drinking and gambling. Fate, however, has greater plans for him.

After decades of peace, a great war draws near, and though he doesn’t know it, he is standing in the way of the first wave. What is more, and very much to his dismay, he’s about to find out he’s not entirely alone either. But Erroh has a plan, a simple plan.


It’ll never work.


CLASSIFICATION: Sword&Sorcery with elements of a thriller.

FORMAT: Spark City was self-published by the author in March 2018 as the first book in the Spark City Cycle series. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and large paperback format. Cover design by Damonza.

The book counts 532 pages and is divided into 45 numbered chapters. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS 



DAVID


I wanted to read through Spark City, and I tried, but I did not make it very far. I quit at 20%. It isn't good. There is quality writing here, even poetic prose at times, but the main character is such a misogynistic idiot that seeing the story through his point of view made every page a chore. If there were hints that this might change, that growth might happen, I might have been willing to go on, but there was no indication that anything was going to shift towards the positive. His misogyny wasn't even egregious enough to be that pivot of change - but was damning enough to niggle at me the entire time that I read the book. The plot is also fairly meandering and lacks focus, which might be fine if I liked the main character.

I actually found myself enjoying that wandering in the beginning. Power seems to have fun playing with form and language, and I am all here for that when it is accompanied by the things that make for a quality reading experience. He puts in some hooks as well, a curiosity to see what potential the main character, Erroh, might possess. The entire Alpha over-plot also seems intriguing. Ultimately, these curiosities fail in the overwhelming dislike I had, and couldn't get past, for Erroh. Spark City did not work for me at all. 


JUSTINE

Spark City was a strange read for me, as there were aspects that I found alluring, and others I had a truly difficult time grappling. I found the writing itself to be vivid, immersive, and near flawless, however, several of the machanics Power uses prevented me from connecting with the content like I had hoped. For instance, the jarring point of view swaps right at the start of the book forced me to reread to understand who I should be focusing on. There's always a learning curve when starting a new series, and this confusion made it almost impossible for me to find a rhythm, which sadly lingered.

At times it felt like I was reading a slice-of-life, then others an action-adventure, both of which I enjoy, so no complaints there. Sparse worldbuilding leads to more focus on the characters, which unfortunately fell a bit flat for me. I'm always a fan of flawed, snarky characters, and Erroh seems to fit that bill quite well. Yet while originally refusing to embrace the lifestyle set before him, his erratic and naive behavior quickly prevented me from relating to him, which is unfortunate, because character-centric stories are easily my favorite types of reads.


I personally didn't enjoy Spark City as much as I thought I would, but I can definitely see the appeal for a different audience. Its curious structure, lack of an apparent concrete plot, and pacing issues interfered with my overall enjoyment, which could have easily been avoided if the character development was stronger. I’ve seen others really appreciate this book, so it’s worth giving it a try to see if it’s for you.

LUKASZ

Spark City makes a good initial impression. Elegant cover and intriguing title coupled with generally positive reviews made me eager to read it. I liked the opening chapters as they efficiently set the tone and introduced Erroh - a snarky and superficially likable protagonist. Soon, though, my enthusiasm started to wane. 


Plot & Structure

Spark City has a strange, unbalanced, structure. The first part, The Cull, is long (almost half of the book) and entertaining. The Cull is the process allowing females to secure a mate. Each male undergoes a series of questions and feats. The second part of the book is shorter. I would describe it as “on the road again”. Two characters get the time to know each other, learn to rely on each other, build trust and foundations for a passionate relationship. Soon enough, though, it turns into a vengeance story. Things culminate with an impossible battle, mayhem, and tragedy, plus a cliffhanger ending. Nothing feels balanced here. The plot? I’m sure there is one, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. 


Characters 

On the surface, Erroh is likable. He comes from an impressive line of warriors, but contrary to his parents he has no interest in fame or glory - he prefers to drink and play cards. He lacks any social grace which leads to misunderstandings, unnecessary tension, and humorous consequences. 


I have a soft spot for blunt, snarky and socially awkward protagonists but Erroh’s behavior irked me. It shifts from clumsy through pompous and arrogant to feral and delusional. He can’t read people, and all those hot girls confuse him. He thinks they loathe him while in reality, they all have a crush on him. 


Because he likes Lea most, he treats her worse than others. Simple. When he’s stressed by hard trials of The Cull (that should secure him a mate) he thinks of girls as of witches, bitches or whores. Ok, I get it. Erroh is young, emotional, and has no experience with women. But this doesn’t give him the right to reduce them in such a way. 


And now, the girls. Instead of describing the depth of their characterization, I’ll use the quote:



“I’m sure you like anything you can get,” hissed Roja dropping any pretence of cordiality. What marvellous event occurred on their day off to cause such hostility, wondered Erroh. Please ladies, do go on. “Well, at least I’m not a whore!” shouted Silvia. “You’re a little bit of a whore,” countered Roja.

They hiss, glare, cry and desire poor Erroh who’s too dumb to realize it. But then he goes on a road with his new mate and they have to learn to rely on each and share experiences they finally fall in true and pure love. Color me shocked. 


Villains? Don’t even ask. They’re all cartoonish, flat caricatures.


I find the characterization weak, inconsistent, and unconvincing. 



Point of view

Head-hopping isn’t a myth or an empty phrase repeated by grumpy book bloggers. It compromises my reading experience and pulls me out of the flow of the narrative. Unless it’s done well. Alas, in Spark City it’s done badly. Frequent POV switches felt jarring and irked me. I know that rules are for fools but breaking them well requires a lot of skill. It the narrative was attempting omniscient it failed miserably with limited head-hopping and POV-slips.



Setting

The setting is atmospheric and effective. There’s not much attention paid to world-building but we get enough to follow the story and understand the context. It works fine for me as I’m not into detailed world-building.



Voice/tone

Erroh’s voice is snarky and enjoyable. I have no issues with it. I can’t say the same about Lea - her voice shifts from mature to emotional and immature (her diary). 


The tone changes depending on whose POV and when we are following. Basically, during the Cull the tone is humorous and conveys well emotions/states such as urgency, confusion, or anger. In later parts of the book, the tone becomes darker and desperate but even in the darkest moments, t doesn’t lose a dark sense of humor.



Timing/pacing

Spark City has no rhythm. Not a bad thing per se. It never drags. It rarely slows down to offer a breather from the hectic pace and Erroh’s misfortunes and misadventures. As long as you don’t stop to think things through, it’s weirdly addictive in a way action and comedy B-movies are. But once you stop and ask yourself what’s the point of it all things get tricky. 



In closing


Spark City is a quick and entertaining read that efficiently masks its issues with breakneck pacing, humor, over-the-topness, and outbursts of violence. It won’t satisfy more sophisticated readers, because it offers nothing new–it’s built on tired tropes (chosen one, coming-of-age, from anger to love, love from the first sight, and more). 


I didn’t like it, but I recognize its sales and entertainment potential. With some refinements (like another pass of proofreading, and, ideally structural editing) it should appeal to readers looking for a fast, self-indulging but weirdly addictive romp. 





MIHIR

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Spark City has an enticing cover and a blurb which doesn’t give much away. I went in with high expectations as Booknest’s finalists are always interesting ones (for me at least).

The main story begins and is about Erroh, son of Magnus. An Alphaline who needs to test himself in the Cull and perhaps entice a female alphaline to select him and prove himself worthy of his lineage (even if it’s a dark & disturbing one). The story starts with the reader being dropped alongside Erroh who finds himself slowly facing many obstacles on his sojourn to the aforementioned titular city. The journey is a dark one as the reader finds out and when the Cull begins the reader is as clueless as Erroh.

This book was a bit of disjointed read for me, I’m usually not one to shy away from difficult books. But this one had too many confounding factors for my enjoyment. Firstly the main character of Erroh is a bit of a cipher. Usually, authors can get away with characters who are closed books but there has to be other promising things like plot or world-building or the character cast which will hold the reader’s attention. Here the author doesn’t deliver and we are faced with sullen, one tone Erroh and he’s not the most enticing protagonist.  Erroh often stumbles alongside females and then does a few other weird things. 

The world settings and the plot pace doesn’t help either. The world settings are very poorly explained and this is where I was a bit frustrated. The book is over 500 pages long and yet there was ample page count for the author to expound on the world and the magic system. But yet the author couldn’t or didn’t do the needful in my opinion. The book deals with the Cull for nearly half of the book and then goes on to other parts which deal with something else entirely. The rambling nature of the plot wasn’t helpful and further slowed the pace which was a bit glacial. 

Lastly, the characters, beginning with Erroh and the few others that we come across. Erroh isn’t explained entirely and his actions, as well as his behavior, are a bit weird. This is where the author could have written his POV in a better way, I feel this is where the book truly sunk in my opinion. The main character was more than a bit dull and especially uncharismatic. The secondary character cast isn’t any better, beginning with the other alphalines and the eventual villain. There’s not much depth provided to them and this was especially problematic given the page count.

All in all, I feel I’m being especially harsh on this title and I hope the author can forgive my bluntness. Over a period of years, the SPFBO completion has gone from strength to strength. Considering the level of competition this year, I found Spark City to be lacking that special bit which would make it stand out against the rest of the nine finalists.

CONCLUSION: Spark City, unfortunately, didn’t quite do much for me and for my colleagues as well. It’s a pity as it seemed that this would be a worthy finalist. However, to my dismay, that wasn’t the case. 




SPFBO Final Score




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