The Queen’s Alchemist Part 7: The Test

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Part 7: The Test

Kouzel groaned. Pain ripped through his body and his bloodied fingers gripped the granite. Why was it so rough? Did they make it like this on purpose?

No. He couldn’t get distracted now. He stopped to catch his breath, his hands tight on the rock, his legs bent awkwardly to find crevices in the wall. Ice-cold night wind whipped at his body, threatening to throw him from the plinth.

No one said the Test would be easy, but Dragons above, no one warned him it would be this hard.

Kouzel didn’t know how far up he was. He didn’t dare look down, for fear or dizziness might send him tumbling to his death. What he did know was that he’d been climbing up the Staff of the Gods for hours. All night, he’d gripped the rough rock, pulling himself upwards towards the sky. It was ironic how it was named the Staff, since magic in Atharron was considered evil.

The journey to the Staff of the Gods had been tiring enough. Atharron was far from the Staff, as the enormous natural structure would send a shadow over the royal castle. Now Kouzel dared look around him, sweat almost blinding his gaze, and the kingdom’s glow glittered, awaiting his return. Though why would they wait for him? He was cursed with magic, the ultimate crime in the eyes of Atharron. The only reason Queen Cassandra had granted him this test was because he had concealed his cursed gift so well.

Kouzel groaned. Pain shot through his hands all the way to his shoulders. He couldn’t waste energy by stopping and admiring the view. He had to press on. Had to reach the peak of this accursed Staff.

Kouzel gritted his teeth as he found new footholds in the rock. He reached upwards, ignoring the hot blood that ran down his wrists. Clouds floated around him. The wind was strong, but at least the rain had stopped. He shuddered to think how slippery the rock would be in the rain.

He climbed farther. Kouzel felt as if his arms were about to pop from their sockets. Stabbing pains ripped at his muscles and crimson ran from his palms to his elbows. The wind howled above, like a Dragon roaring in welcome. The Staff wouldn’t defeat him. He could do this.

His heart almost jumped from his body when his hand slipped, leaving him dangling by one hand. He scrabbled at the wall, found a safe ledge and heaved rasping, terrified breaths. His heart pounded in terror, his bleeding hands throbbing with pain and he clutched at the rock, sobbing aloud. He was going to die… he was…

No! Kouzel gave a growl, and he wiped his bloodied hands on his tunic, first the right, then the left. With the last of his strength, Kouzel reached for the next of the rock above. Tiredness threatened him. Taking long, raspy breaths, he struggled upwards. The cold wind soothed his hot skin, even while it threatened to freeze the sweat that ran down his face.

Just a little longer.

Agony tore through his cramping muscles. His legs felt like they had turned to lead. Desperate fingers reached upwards…
Nothing, only air. No more rock. He’d reached the top!

Kouzel fought against the weakness relief brought as he scrambled upwards, gripping the mercifully flat rock of the top. He’d reached the peak. He’d done it.

He lay flat on top of the world, his chest heaving, his bloodied hands stinging and every muscle in his body aching. Finally, his eyes opened, and the white wisps of cloud floated above him, congratulating his victory. A smile stretched across Kouzel’s face. He sensed a warm, orange glow. Struggling to sit up, he shielded his eyes from the bright horizon where the morning sun had risen to greet him.

The wind had dropped, losing much of its earlier power. Kouzel got to his feet, a new strength filling his body as he gazed to the east, where the morning sun melted away the clouds and brought a new day, heralding the magic-cursed man’s victory. From here, the land stretched before him, more beautiful than anything he’d ever seen in his life. There it was, the east, where his fellow magic-cursed brothers said sat a land where magic would be not only accepted, but worshipped.

Theldiniya.

Green hills were bright under the morning sun’s smile, greeting Kouzel with open arms. He looked down at his hands, almost unrecognisable under the blood and fragments of rock, but he felt the powerful magic at his fingertips. No longer would he be forced to hide his gift from Atharron’s magic-hating law. He and his alchemist brothers would venture with their armies to Theldiniya, start new lives, be accepted…

And as if to roar in approval, the enormous silhouette of a powerful Dragon rose into the sky, larger than the hills and even the sun itself. Kouzel watched in mixed horror and thrill as the beast circled the sky, darted through the clouds on powerful, scaled wings, and disappeared into a flash of bright light.

It was a sign, he knew it. He would abseil down this Staff of the Gods and take his tale of victory straight to his brothers. A new age would dawn for Alchemists – no, ‘Alchemist’ had a negativity to it, like some kind of witch doctor. Kouzel smiled as he let the wind caress his hot face. He and his brothers were to be Mages. Kings. Gods.

Thus, would begin their road to immortality.

Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book Two) A Stain on the Soul” by Elizabeth Davies

After thoroughly enjoying the refreshingly well-written Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces by Elizabeth Davies, I eagerly jumped into the next one. I really admire Davies’ writing skill; every sentence sings, making it a smooth and brilliantly fun journey.

*This article contains minor spoilers

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“Resigned to another lifetime of being a witch’s familiar, Caitlyn has found a degree of peace in her role as the Duke of Normandy’s protector and spy.

But that peace is shattered when she returns to her native land only to come face-to-face with her past, and fall in love with a man who she desperately hopes will become her future.”

Caitlyn has been bound to Arlette for years and feels like a mother to Arlette’s son, William, who covets the English crown. I was excited when I realised that this character is actually the real William the Conqueror! Elizabeth Davies has cleverly woven real events with the magical, providing explanations that work for real-life events.

I continue to admire and sympathise with Caitlyn as she is forced to stay with her mistress and help her get her son on the throne by committing vile acts she doesn’t want to do. At first, I was taken aback by the fact that so many years had gone by; Caitlyn never got revenge for the attack on her kingdom and was never known to be of royal blood over those decades. This wasn’t a typical story of getting’s one justice and living happily ever after; Caitlyn did what she does best and just got on with things, keeping her chin up, through a life she never could have foreseen.

I liked this book a lot. Davies’ skillful writing makes the story twist and turn in ways you don’t expect. I admit I wasn’t completely sold on her falling in love so easily; it seemed she locked eyes with a handsome stranger, tumbled with him a few times, and then they were suddenly madly in love with each other, all for it to be for nothing when William made his excuses for her to leave. I am also not a fan of detailed sex scenes (though this is personal preference). It’s for these reasons I give the book four stars.

Even though I wasn’t sure about some parts of the story midway, the book did not falter. Caitlyn was sensible with her relationship, accepting that it couldn’t ever turn into anything more serious because of the magic hold on her. When you finally think that she is free of the witch controlling her life and her being, the story comes to a thrilling finish with a twist I didn’t see coming. I’m very thirsty for the next story, so keep your eyes peeled for a review of the final installment of this awesome trilogy!

4stars

Get A Stain on the Soul on Amazon US
Get A Stain on the Soul on Amazon UK

The Queen’s Alchemist Part 6: The Traitor

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Part 6: The Traitor

Rain pelted the dark streets as a hooded figure darted through an alleyway. He dodged a large pile of waste, ignoring the weak yapping of the stray dog that was always sniffing around there, and stopped beside a dark door. He rapped on it four times, each consecutive knock faster than the last, and a flap in the door opened almost immediately.

“Avenite,” was the whispered password, and the flap snapped shut. The door opened, and the cloaked man slipped inside.

The room was dark save for the small, flickering fire in the corner. At first glance, it would seem as if the room was empty. The Alchemist lifted his hood from his head, sighing as rain flecked from the cloak and dripped to the floor.

Using the light of the fire, a young man sat in the corner of the room, scribbling onto a piece of parchment. His eyes were oddly glazed and two hovering, identical stones glowed in front of him, casting pale green light onto his gaunt face.

Seeing again, Cornelius?” the man beside him asked, his long, red beard almost touching the parchment as he leaned over to see.

“Don’t… touch!” Cornelius snapped, his quill scratching so fast on the parchment it was almost a blur.

“Any news from the castle?” asked a dark-skinned man, sitting on a leather armchair in the corner. As the Alchemist’s vision grew used to the darkness, he made out Krim’s silhouette.

“Uldrid has delivered the rumours to Queen Cassandra,” the Alchemist replied, pulling the wet cloak from his shoulders. “She believes that her sister is plotting to overthrow her throne. With that and the threat of the Giants in the north, I think they’ll barely notice we’re gone.”

Krim chuckled. “Queen Cassandra will definitely notice you’re gone,” he remarked.

The Alchemist smirked. “The silly girl doesn’t even realise I’m hypnotising her most of the time.” He imitated her in an exaggerated, high-pitched voice. “‘I frightened my guards. I frightened myself.’ She really believes that she can be Queen of this wretched kingdom.”

“Let her keep it,” Krim yawned and cracked his knuckles. “The scouts have confirmed a safe passage to the east. We’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Good,” the Alchemist picked at the rug with his long fingers. “And one step closer to…”

“Immortality,” Krem finished the sentence for him, a hungry look in his eyes.

“The answer is to the eastern lands of Theldiniya. I just know it. Once we’re there, we will see the Dragons, take their power, and become kings ourselves.”

The Alchemist grinned. “Once Kouzel gets back, we’ll take our spies and march.”

The Queen’s Alchemist Part 5: The Forgotten

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Part 5: The Forgotten

From the makeshift shelter, it was difficult to tell if the howling in the mountains was a hungry pack of wolves or just the wind. A dead horse lay half-buried in the snow, its legs twisted at odd angles and its frozen eyes black and lifeless.

Three shivering soldiers sat hunched beneath a hill of snow, which they’d gathered up with calloused, cold fingers. From the Giants’ side, it looked like just another mound of snow on the white landscape. They hoped.

James growled in pain, and tried to conceal it by biting down hard on his leather glove. The soldiers either side of him threw him anxious looks. Despite the howling snowstorm, any human sound could carry and reach the ears of their enemies. Burning pain throbbed in James’ left leg; it had succumbed to frostbite after ice had broken beneath his step, and he was loath to take off his boot and assess the full damage. He imagined raw, blackened skin, perhaps toes missing; it was difficult to tell, for anything below his ankle was completely numb, rendered useless for walking.

“They’re not coming back for us,” the youngest soldier muttered, his teeth chattering so badly he had to push his jaw into his folded arms to stop them.

“They think we’re dead,” James agreed, glad for a chance to speak and ignore the burning agony in his leg. “What’s your name, son?”

“Garred, sir.”

The soldier at James’ right side gave an impatient snort. “Great time for introductions,” he muttered. He was clean shaven and shivered under his helmet.

“A man’s last moments should be comfortable, and with friends,” James shot back, wishing they could at least build a fire.
The ground rumbled, sending flurries of snow tumbling around them from the shelter. The soldiers glanced at each other in alarm, but James sighed, almost glad that it would soon be over.

“Your name, boy!” James hissed through clenched teeth at another young soldier.

“Harry,” the bald-faced boy whispered.

A second rumble.

“Well, Harry, Garred,” James IV reached for his bow, trying to steady his trembling, freezing fingers. The younger men watched as the Giant Slayer pulled an arrow from his back. Another rumble shook the ground beneath them – closer, louder. “Are you ready to fight for Atharron one last time?”

Garred gave a quiet sniffle. “We’re going to die.”

“Aye,” James was unable to stop a wild smile stretching from ear to ear, “fighting for our kingdom. There is no finer way to go, gentlemen.”

A roar rumbled above them, and the soldiers trembled. The shadow turned the white snow a dark grey, and the stench of body hair and skin almost made them choke.

“For Atharron!” James IV roared, and aimed his bow upwards. The surrounding soldiers gave brave war cries and bounded from the shelter, wielding frozen swords. The arrow whistled through the air but the angry bellow of the Giant made James’ heart sink. His arrow had missed its target. His vision was becoming blurred, and he was vaguely aware of Garred and Harry bravely fighting in their last moments. James struggled to his feet, and almost collapsed under his useless foot. No! I will not die sitting on my arse.

Arrows at his back and a lion’s roar in his heart, James glanced back through the mountains, where the tiniest of glows on the horizon showed Atharron, his Lady’s kingdom. “For Queen Cassandra!” he bellowed. He barely heard his own war cry above the overwhelming crashing of battle with what was left of the Giants.

The Queen’s Alchemist Part 4

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Part 4: The Queen’s Alchemist

Queen Cassandra watched from her balcony, forcing her trembling hands to steady. It was her first public execution, and the sight of Theo’s thin, convulsing body shudder into death made her feel sick to her stomach. Did it usually take this long for the poor souls’ last breath to escape their bodies? The crowd cheered as the first of rain sploshed onto the streets below.

After several moments where Theodore Bartholomew Ashencroft’s body shuddered to its final silence, his head limp, the crowd dispersed, already bored, their mundane lives continuing after only a moment of entertainment.

Queen Cassandra exhaled, and realised how tightly she’d been clenching her fists. A guard either side of her got to their feet, and she followed, her emerald robes flowing behind her like seaweed in an ocean. The winter air was damp, and the heaviest of the rain came as they reached the pearl balcony doors.

Queen Cassandra maintained her refined, queenly posture as she made for the royal quarters. Guards bowed, their armour clinking steel as she passed, and her slippers tapped on the carpeted corridor. When her guard closed the door behind her, the strong demeanour disappeared. Queen Cassandra buried her face into her silk gloves and wept.

“My lady?”

Queen Cassandra almost jumped out of her skin at the soft voice from the corner of the room. She quickly straightened and dabbed at her eyes, although she knew, with a sinking heart, that the speaker had already seen her weakness.

A young man stepped from the shadows, and her heart slowly calmed back to its usual rhythm.

“I’m sorry if I frightened you,” the Queen’s Alchemist whispered. She responded with a sad smile, and reached for him with trembling hands. There was no one in Atharron she’d rather see right now.

“Are you all right?” The young man lit a floating candle with a wave of his hand, and Queen Cassandra’s large, stained eyes watched, half in fear, half in admiration. “I am now,” she whispered back, as she grasped his fingers in hers.

“There is no need to be scared, my lady. What is it you fear?”

“Nothing, I’m…” Cassandra rubbed her arms, which suddenly stippled with goosebumps. “I just witnessed my first execution.”
“Ah,” the Alchemist gave a sympathetic sigh. “Yes, it can be rather… disturbing the first time.”

He gently pulled his hand from hers. The warmth of the candle flickered close to Cassandra’s face, filling her with a sudden peace. “I know the teachings say that magic is evil, but…” she watched as the Alchemist smiled, lighting more candles around the room with a wave of his fingertips. “I can’t imagine my life without you.”

“We have been best friends for all your life, my Queen. I cannot imagine any kind of life without you, either.”

Cassandra sat with a sigh onto the four-poster bed. Without her guards, her advisors and that beastly Uldrid, the pretence was gone. It was as if an enormous weight of the whole of Atharron had been lifted from her shoulders.

“I am weak,” she uttered eventually, unable to stop her voice from trembling. All the responsibility, all the pressure of ruling was finally flooding from her. Her voice shook as she spoke in a half-whisper. “I’m not fit to rule Atharron. Perhaps my father was wrong. He should have made Anaya queen.”

“My dear Cassandra,” the Alchemist took the queen’s chin in his slender hand and turned her tear-streaked face to look at him. “Your father, the good King before you, made a fine choice choosing your pure heart and marrying your sister to King Roderic. You are a beauty unlike any other, an inspiration to us all, and a fine leader of this great kingdom.”

Queen Cassandra felt her Alchemist’s warm breath on her face, and her eyes half-closed, under his spell. But he drew away, his cool fingers withdrawing, and the crimson cloak he always wore floating behind him, slowly, as if underwater.

“Something happened earlier.” Queen Cassandra sniffed.
The Alchemist didn’t turn round, and the pattering rain on the window drowned out any sound he might have made in response.

“I felt angry. Angrier than I’ve ever been. I broke a vase.” Cassandra shuddered at the memory of her high-pitched, angered shriek when she’d lost her temper at Uldrid. “That has never happened before. I don’t have a temper, yet I frightened my guards. I frightened myself.”

“Pressures can overcome us all, my Lady. Even a Queen,” the Alchemist reassured her. His head was still turned, however, and she didn’t see him smile.

 

 

The Queen’s Alchemist Part 3: The Executioner

Part 3: The Executioner

The young man who stood trembling on the trapdoor was barely old enough to have grown the first hair on his chin. A small crowd were gathered, murmuring quietly, as clouds above were heavily pregnant with rain; rather fitting for that morning’s execution.

“Theodore Bartholemew Ashencroft, you have been found guilty of abandoning your post at Irving’s Foothold, leading to the death of seventy-three Atharron soldiers.”

Theo gave a hoarse sob as the dirty rope was tied loosely round his neck.

“This includes the great Knight James IV of Northwind, the good Queen Cassandra’s Giant Slayer and a tragic loss to Atharron. You are hereby sentenced to death for treason and abandoning your brothers without permission.”

A series of tutting and whispers rushed through the crowd of onlookers. The Executioner’s steel mask was barely an inch from Theo’s pale cheek. The rope smelt of sweat and dust.

Theo looked towards the heavens, his tear-streaked face taking in for the last time the grey storm clouds that threatened thunder. As the last of the accusations rolled off the announcer’s tongue, and the Executioner’s large fist snapped the handle to release the trapdoor, Theo could have sworn the enormous silhouette of a Dragon flashed in the stormy sky.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces” by Elizabeth Davies

Although I adore new worlds borne from the imagination of fantasy writers – they push the boundaries of their fictional universe, creating a new history, races, and cultures that we can explore and discover – I also have a soft spot for historical fiction. Exploring the story of characters that live in the real world gives them a sense of wonder and magic. If I read a story that is set in our world a few hundred years ago, we know that our ancestors lived in a similar world, facing the challenges and obstacles the character does.

I recently came across a historical fantasy called Three Bloody Pieces. It is the first of the Caitlyn trilogy, written by Welsh paranormal author Elizabeth Davies. Always eager for something new to read, I delved straight into this novel after enjoying the free sample.

Three_3bloodypieces_e_Cover“A dead king, a queen who is more than she seems, and a witch who uses the dark arts to entrap her. Queen, widow, beggar – Lady Caitlyn is all three, and now she can add murderer to the list. When death and treachery propels her south to Normandy, to seek sanctuary with the exiled Prince Alfred, visions of a woman with ancient eyes travel with her. Herleva is a woman filled with ambition and greed. A woman who intends to be more than a commoner. A woman who gets what she wants by whatever means possible, even if she has to practice the dark arts to achieve her goals. A woman who is a witch. Caitlyn finds herself caught up in a magic which changes her very being. A magic which produces a king to change the lives of every man, woman, and child in England.”

Davies’ writing style was authentic and vivid. I followed the story at her comfortable pace, finding it easy to imagine the scenes around me. Sometimes you come across books that focus so much on the description that they lose you on the way. This didn’t happen with Three Bloody Pieces. There was enough description to conjure images of the characters and surroundings without overwhelming us with unneeded “fluff.”

We are thrown into the action from the very first page. Lady Caitlyn has lost everything: her kingdom, her husband, and the victory she’d expected in their battle. Her husband is lying dead at her feet, the approach of enemy soldiers heavy on her shoulders. With barely enough time to bury King Rhain before they have to flee, Caitlyn must set her grief aside and focus on survival. A queen by birth and also by marriage, she is in danger from her husband’s enemies and forced to leave her unfortunate people behind to fend for themselves.

This novel kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d be able to guess what was coming, the story went in an entirely new direction. This gave it an incredible lack of predictability which, to me, is very important.

I also really liked Caitlyn’s character. She was brave and could get on with things even when a weaker person would have crumbled. I suppose that by entering an arranged marriage at a young age, she had accepted what fate had in store for her and had even grown to care for her husband; this situation must have prepared her for a life of adapting to her situation even if it were terrible. Caitlyn was certainly pushed to her limit several times, but she never despaired.

The first part of the novel was like a gritty fantasy adventure. Caitlyn was getting strange visions of a terrifying, unknown woman who cut up dead bodies and performed strange rituals with them. Caitlyn and her temporary protectors fled from her homeland in Wales and to a nearby lord who might be able to help her.

I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of a build-up between two very important scenes, but that might be personal preference. The overall mood of the book changed halfway through with a strange twist. If you’ll look at the other reviews on Amazon, you’ll see I’m not alone in thinking this twist was a little weird. I actually almost stopped reading, but I was invested in Caitlyn’s life and was curious as to what would happen next.

As well as being brave and adapting to her unfortunate new lifestyle, Caitlyn remained an empathetic, caring person. She also had a great amount of sass that had me laughing aloud sometimes. This added realism to her character – she wasn’t just a noble queen with a brave attitude, but quite down-to-earth, relatable, and funny with her sarcasm and comebacks, especially the ones she thought to herself as she held her tongue. We’ve all done that before! I can’t list most of my favourite quotes without giving away spoilers, but one of the funniest was “She looked as though the last contact she’d had with water was at her own Christening.”

Even though the aforementioned twist was hard to swallow, the book redeemed itself. I watched Caitlyn and the challenges she had to face, some keeping me at the edge of my seat. Three Bloody Pieces was so charming and well-written that I couldn’t help but buy the others of the trilogy right away. I won’t be forgetting this story in a hurry and I’m eager to read the next.

I want to give Three Bloody Pieces four and a half stars, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Therefore, I’ll be giving it four stars on this blog and five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

4stars

Get Three Bloody Pieces on Amazon US
Get Three Bloody Pieces on Amazon UK

The Queen’s Alchemist Part 2: The Messenger

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Part 2: The Messenger

Uldrid’s bow was so low that the tip of his long nose was close to touching his silk-clad knees. “My Queen of Atharron,” he purred. “The Dragons must smile upon you, for you are more beautiful than the brightest of stars.”

The tiniest pinch of snow flittered from his moustache and floated to the carpet, where it melted in the warmth of the coal fire.

Queen Cassandra was the epitome of perfection. Her cerulean gown rippled from the throne like a waterfall, and her cascading auburn hair was like fire, illuminating her pale face. Rose lips pursed at Uldrid’s flattery; his appearance barely brought good news.

“Speak,” she said coldly.

Uldrid straightened, and his sunken eyes met hers. He was conscious of the guardsmen, in their grey and white winter armour, clutching spears as their eyes fixed on each stiff move the man made. Uldrid cleared his throat and gave a weak smile.
“I’m afraid King Roderic remains good on his threat, my lady,” Uldrid stammered.

Queen Cassandra’s knuckles tightened beneath her silver sleeve cuffs. “It’s a threat now, is it?” Her voice sent a chill through the warm room.

“The Giants’ War isn’t his greatest concern. He maintains that Atharron has better harvests, better fortunes, and their Queen…”

Don’t…” Queen Cassandra’s fist slammed against the vase beside her throne; it tumbled to the floor and smashed. “…speak to me of their Queen!”

“A thousand apologies, my Lady,” Uldrid gave another sweeping bow. “But forgive me for saying what I must. Queen Anaya is still angry that your father – Gods, forgive me, the late King of Atharron – married her off to King Roderic, leaving his throne to you.”

“The immediate threat is the Giants in the north,” Queen Cassandra said, her voice trembling ever so slightly. “We cannot afford civil war with my sister’s kingdom.”

“Your wisdom sees no ends, Your Worship.” Uldrid simpered. “As War Counsellor, I shall see personally that King Roderic’s threats remain only that – threats.” He gave a third, flamboyant bow and hastened from the room.

Queen Cassandra shifted uncomfortably on her throne. To think that her own sister would betray her! She had no doubt that King Roderic had no say in this; he was Queen Anaya’s trophy, the Fourth Kingdom’s bloodline. Anaya had always been a jealous, selfish swine. Queen Cassandra smiled smugly to herself. Father always favoured me.

An Indie Writer Gave Me Their Book and it Sucks. What Do I Do?

If you know any indie writers, there is a possibility that you have been stuck in this awkward position: they self-publish their sparkling new novel, and excitedly send it to all their friends and family members for feedback, reviews, and free word-of-mouth news spreading.

The cover might be good, it might not; some new writers wing their own design to save a couple of hundred bucks, and some pay for a cover. You open it and read the first page.

First lines are important, of course; it’s their job to suck you in and urge you forward into the story. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the writer is genuinely talented, giving you a pleasant reading experience that transforms you from friend to fan.

However, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the book might, well… suck. Several pages in and you’re already tired of the clumsy prose, unlikable characters, eye-rolling cliches, and whatever else that puts you off entirely.

Out come the excuses, and you pop it on a shelf where it gathers dust for the next few months. You get on with your life, and hope and pray that your writer friend has forgotten all about it.

Let me tell you this right now: they almost always haven’t.

They won’t ever mention it, because who wants to be badgered with “have you finished it yet?” But the crushing realization comes after several months of nothing, zero, zilch, possibly hurting even more when we come over and see said book on the shelf, serving no more purpose than being some light decoration.

But what’s the alternative? You can’t just say to your friend “hey, I read some of your novel and… it’s just terrible. You aren’t a good writer.” It’s better to avoid such uncomfortable conversations and just let the book sit quietly in some forgotten corner of the bookshelf.

You might have some idea of the time, energy, and money that is spent on producing a book. You might feel bad for them or you might even be able to convince yourself that there’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s just not to your taste.

I used to be that writer. At 22 years old and with a sparkling publishing contract from a new company, I thought I’d written something really special and I wanted the whole world to see it. I paid for postage and packaging of several paperbacks, sending it to friends, family members, and other writers. I waited for feedback. Probably ten percent of those who I sent it to ever spoke to me about it again.

Excuses

If you find yourself on the other end of this situation, do yourself (and us) a favour by avoiding these excuses, all of which I’ve heard before. We aren’t stupid, and we know what they really mean.

  • “I’m a slow reader.” Give me a break. There’s slow, taking a month to read a novel, and then there’s “I never intend to read it and I’m going to blame my reading speed.”
  • “I’m too busy to read.” Well then, why did you accept the book? If you dislike reading, that’s one thing, but if you claim to love books, you’ll make time. We all make time for the things we enjoy.
  • My personal favourite I’ve heard is “I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end!” Apparently they loved it so much that two years later, they still feel the same way. Uh-huh.

So what can you do in the painful situation of having received a free book, but not being able to read it? Here are some things you can do that will help the writer but not destroy your friendship.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like

It’s not easy to just say “I didn’t like it” and it’s even harder for the writer to hear it. To make this constructive, identify WHAT you didn’t like.

I’m not telling you to become an editor or offer advice. Absolutely not. But if you see a crummy film and turn it off or walk out of the cinema, you can probably explain why: bad acting, horrible directing, clumsy dialogue, a silly story.

The same goes with the book. Here are some ideas.

  • “I couldn’t identify with the characters.” Characters are the pillars of a story and if you don’t care about them when reading a book, you won’t care what happens to them. Is their main character unrealistic, too perfect, too selfish, or just plain unlikable? Let the writer know.
  • “There is too much description.” It’s easy for writers to get caught up in paragraph-long descriptions of everything. Whereas writers from a few decades past such as Stephen King could get away with this, times change. This kind of feedback can be really useful for writers. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get beyond detailed descriptions and back to the action, be sure to tell them.
  • “It’s difficult to follow.” Some stories just don’t make sense! If the story itself is confusing, don’t keep quiet about it. Point out things that you don’t understand; it’s likely other readers feel the same.
  • “There are too many typos.” One thing that happens a lot with indie writing is the amount of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors and other errors. Don’t feel obligated to point out every single one – that is what proofreaders are for – but feel free to tell them that’s why you couldn’t carry on. Typos interrupt the flow of writing and

2. Be Honest but Constructive

Easier said than done – absolutely. Avoid vague things like “it wasn’t my cup of tea” (though this is MUCH more preferable to the aforementioned excuses) and give reasons why.

3. Say What You Did Like (But Only if it’s True)

If possible, start with something you did like about the book. It’s a lot easier to hear negative feedback when it’s accompanied by the positive. Were there some good ideas hiding among the mistakes? A certain character you genuinely loved? Let the writer know. Give them the ol’ compliment sandwich.

4. Give the Book Back

You might think that giving back an unread paperback is the ultimate insult, but I personally don’t think so.

Getting a book back when they haven’t read it provides a bit of closure to me – now I won’t be waiting and waiting for the feedback that will never come.

The financial aspect is also relevant here; if I get back the book, I can offer it to someone else.

5. Assure Them Nothing Has Changed in Your Relationship

Artists can be quite, well… fragile when it comes to their work. The writer might take your feedback on board and use it to become better, and some writers might fall apart. Worst case scenario, the writer might even get angry.

I was extremely embarrassed after getting some negative feedback. I remembered sending my book to dozens of people and realized that they were probably all laughing at me, shaking their heads and thinking “poor, naive Poppy. Don’t tell her she’s untalented and her book belongs in the trash.”

Have you ever watched X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (America’s Got Talent if you’re across the pond)? When people go on thinking they can sing only to be shot down and heartbroken by the judges?

That’s what it feels like when you don’t bother letting someone know their book needs work. Thankfully, our version doesn’t include humiliation on national TV, for which I’m grateful.

Please, please, please be honest! Otherwise we cannot grow.

Tell them that you love them all the same and you’re excited to see them improve. Assure them that they will get better – great writers become great only after plenty of practice, after all.

A Note to Writers

If you’re on the other side of this situation – the eager writer waiting on feedback – then here is some advice for you, too.

  • Don’t get emotional. Getting upset or even angry is a big mistake when dealing with feedback.
  • Be grateful. People are taking time out of their day to provide honest, free feedback. It isn’t easy for them, especially if you’re both close, so be sure to say “thank you” (even if you’re picking up the broken shards of your heart as you do so.)
  • Take their feedback on board. A Taylor Swift-esque shake it off, haters gonna hate attitude works in some cases, but if this person has given you honest, specific feedback, be sure to listen to it. It’ll make you a better writer.
  • Look for patterns. If you’re lucky enough that several people have talked to you about your book, look for patterns in their feedback. If three people have told you that the main character is too wooden, it might be time for some rewriting. If four have said there are too many typos, hire a proofreader. Feedback is extremely valuable.

Writers adore people who give real feedback! A potentially awkward situation can be a big opportunity for struggling indie writers. Don’t be a “someday” reader who lets their friend’s book sit, untouched, on the shelf forever.