Sunday, 20 January 2013

Review: Bloodlust - A Gladiator's Tale by C.P.D. Harris

About the Author:

I've enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. My computer files and old spiral notebooks are a stately graveyard of novels and RPG designs. I have done a fair bit of technical and creative writing for computer games. The money was quite good, but I hated wasting my talent on games that were destined to fail or full of market-driven compromise. After the market crashed, those jobs became more difficult for me to get, living in a small out-of-the way Canadian town. While unemployed, I filled my spare time trying to resurrect some of those old game ideas and novels. Bloodlust was the one that actually clicked.

Bloodlust: A Gladiator's Tale
Domains of the Chosen #1
by C.P.D. Harris 
Self-published, 2012
642 pages

This book is a long read, its structure is highly unsual as it is based around the arena activities of a team of gladiators, the narrator is extremely selective in which things it describes the life out of and which things it cannot really be bothered with. In truth, this is a daring book.

This book breaks apart from the conventional way of setting up a novel. Some will like it and some others won't, I suspect. As should be plainly evident by my rating I am part of the former group. But how does one go about reviewing a book like this?

This book has none of the things I usually really like about books, and yet it has so many things that I like - that I never knew I liked before I read this book. That might sound somewhat cheesy - and I am truly sorry about that because I am actually saying this in earnest.

I found the book to be in a state of general well-writtenness, which is usually always the first thing I notice. C.P.D. Harris has an easy, comfortably familiar (without being boring, mind you) writing style that helps bring the book alive. Another thing that he has is a sense of using long-winded (this term is often used in a negative context, but this is not how I intend it) descriptions that nearly threatens to kill the scene - which they never truly do because there is always something else to it:

In the first chapter the main character, Gavin, is trying to pick out his weapons before his first fight. The narrator goes on at great length about every single weapon in the store, their pros and cons (which could be pretty boring if you are not particularly interested in weapons) but also about Gavin's relationships with them, which is the really interesting part. You don't really realise it between all the technical details about weaponry, but by the time he exits the store you already know who he is; his personality, his disposition, his veiws on different matters. You have grasped his essence so that by the time of his first fight he is already your friend and you involuntarily cheer for him. This is sneaky - and awesome.

The narrator is omnicient, though following Gavin mostly, and dominating. Some people might argue that it is too description-heavy. There are points where you get the feeling that you are actually reading a history book about an ancient past that some wizened professor desperately wants you to grasp in full measure. I think this is part of the charm of the book, one of the things that make it stand out in the vastness of the high fantasy genre. This makes it feel more real somehow.

It does not do this without a cost though. One of the reasons for this heavy description is probably that the book revolves around the fights; there is simply not enough time between battles to show all these things through mere storytelling. In that sense it interferes with how the story impacts the reader; you don't exactly feel like you are in the story - you feel like you are hearing a historical account. But the fights are different; the fights are fast-paced and gripping. These are the points at which you really get the feel of the characters. The fights bring balance to the story.

Yes, I love the fight scenes! Harris really manages to keep them interesting and varied. The changing constellation of gladiators fighting together ensures that you don't get bored of the same moves being pulled all the time and the different enemies also help to offer differing challenges that has to be tackled in new ways. Some of the fights require pure strength and ferocity while others require intelligence and deliberance. It never gets boring.

The structure of the story invites to be read in small chunks at a time, which is quite nice if you don't have so much time to read or if you read several things at a time. The story is simple and easy to follow even if some time pass between reading chapters. It might be long for an ebook, but this quality really justifies that, I think.

Even though the book is very description-heavy I ate it all raw. The universe is very interesting if not particularly original. Magic is key here. Magic is seen as something dangerous that needs to be kept under strict control, meaning that those born with the gift (like the Gladiators) are kept under heavy superveillance at all times. Being one of the Gifted is in some ways more of a curse than a gift. This is a constant source of worry to Gavin, he experiences quite a bit of inner turmoil that adds an extra flavour to the story.

Gavin fights for freedom, but he is troubled and full of doubt. In the arena he does not shine as bright as some of his team mates, but all the time you have the feeling that he is brimming with unrealised potential. As the story progresses he becomes less certain what he is fighting for. By the end of the book he has reached a point where it just frustrates you that the next book has not come out yet because you desperately want to see him shrug off his troubles and become who you know he can be.

Much more could be said about this book, but then what would be the joy of reading it for yourself the first time? I recommend this book to all who enjoy a good fight, a bit of interesting universe and lots of diversity in races of foes and friends alike. I will definitely be looking forward to the next book in the series.

    A Note from the Author

    The structure of the first two Bloodlust books has each chapter based around every single match in Gavin's career as a Gladiator, even the more routine fights, from beginning to end. Every chapter contains a fight, moves the story forward in some way, and has a bit of world exposition. As frameworks for a story go, it is unusual, lending the books an almost episodic quality. Often quite a bit happens between chapters that is only hinted at, requiring the reader to fill in the blanks. The structure really helped me put the first book together, giving me a strong guideline to follow, but now acts as more of a limitation. Keeping the plot together within the confines of the arena and keeping those fight scenes fresh can be a challenge. After Bloodlust: Will to Power, I will likely follow a more traditional narrative framework.

    I really enjoy writing the novels. Self-publishing has given me the opportunity to follow my own path and avoid the market-driven compromises that I feel taint many creative industries. I love it. 

    See also the author's blog post in response to my review: A Nice Review, a Thought about Structure and a Teaser

    1 comment:

    1. Sounds interesting!
      I'm getting more and more into self-published titles, and have been finding some real gems off the beaten track...
      this looks like one I'd enjoy :)