Would you rewrite? 2 reviews of 1 book

Hi, all, it’s Sher today with two differing book reviews for Countryside: Book of the Wise by J. T. Cope IV. One review is from a teen I loaned my book and another from me.  This is a case where I didn’t like a book as much as I wanted to, so I figured the teen review would be better for the author. I was right. This isn’t the teen’s real name, by the way. For privacy, he used a pseudonym. So let’s get to it, starting with the teen’s review:

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book, great writing, would recommend to others., May 3, 2015
Joe Nunley
This review is from: Countryside: The Book of the Wise (Kindle Edition)
Countryside: The Book of the Wise is a rather gripping novel. It’s a magnificent book that is about finding the power inside everyone. The family aspect of it is powerful but that is just one of the many characteristics it has; it has suspense, action, mystery, and more. Although it is mostly about the assimilation of its main character, Luke, into a magical society; it also accurately depicts the struggle for teens to find a place. It is a brilliant book and is hard to put down and easy to read. I, personally, felt that it seems to rush through the pages without slowing down for details. Although, everything considered, it was still one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Amazing that he found none of the problems I did. Here’s my review:

3.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative series start, better for kids than adults, July 6, 2015

I didn’t love this story compared to the American Harry Potter, but I did like most of it. I put off writing this review for months while waiting to get the opinion of a couple of boys who said they wanted to read it. Only one finished and posted a review, so it’s time to post mine.

Some of the things I liked were Luke’s family, their good manners, the realistic split of opinions among adults about how to handle problems, and the world building. The magic holding was well done and easy to visualize. And oh yes, the mystery was good. The latter two elements just weren’t enough to drive the plot forward when… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I wanted to see if the boys would notice the problems I found. I think the one who finished must have ignored that confusing first chapter, a classic info-dump. The scene would have worked far better much later, after readers learn more about the world and need the background because the characters come in contact again. Near the end, I had to go back and reread the beginning to refresh my memory of a mystery character. At least one reviewer never figured out who he was because there was too large of a gap between his scenes. I can think of multiple ways – old surveillance footage, for one — the mc could have witnessed that first scene at a point where it would make sense and help solve the mystery character’s identity.

Another problem is that Harry Potter comparison. Yes, there are parallels, but Rowling knew how to write a compelling plot. This must involve the main character acting like a hero at some point. I’m not talking about getting bruised up in football practice or learning to tackle without complaint. Rather, a hero must take the hero’s journey to capture readers’ sympathy. Harry wasn’t great at doing whatever he was told – mostly because he actively tried to solve his problems and investigate mysteries. Luke, on the other hand, obeyed well but didn’t show interest in searching for the lost (spoiler) until very late. I waited chapter after chapter for him to show some initiative and react to threats like a hero should. Even without the threats, as a kid, I would have been all over that mystery, looking every chance I got. So would all four of my sons, from the most shy and laid back to the most outgoing. Who could resist searching for something that important? Luke could. He just let life happen around him – even when danger and chaos swirled around the adults.

Another example of Harry Potter gone wrong: Luke played football, a very boring non-magical version—in the midst of a town full of magic. Okay, it’s the American sport. But even if the game was non-magical before Luke entered the scene, why didn’t the ball sprout wings, or even feet, after he started playing? Any kind of magical change would work. A magical hero should have had some impact on the sport other than mundane hits. A misbehaving ball could have partly made up for the fact that Luke never followed the patrols or did anything else to learn more about the threat to the holding. Sure, he was polite, but that doesn’t make up for his lack of hero characteristics.

Bottom line, Luke never seemed concerned enough about saving the town for me to care about him. If readers can’t identify with the main character, there’s no feeling of danger to themselves, no heart racing, and no urge to turn pages to reach a safe spot.

Now, you might think I disliked the book enough to stop reading, but curiosity kept me turning pages to analyze what the author could do to capture hearts of adults as well as those of kids. Besides, I haven’t mentioned all the strong points yet. For one, most characters were individualized, so I didn’t have to keep asking myself who was who. Also, I love good family role models and authors who keep them around vs. whisking children off elsewhere. Too many books follow the Harry Potter pattern in that aspect. The mystery bears mentioning again. There’s enough happening behind the scenes that bodes well for further adventures. I just wanted a little more revealed in book one, and for Luke to be responsible for that revelation.

As it stands, this is an average fantasy, not likely to break out of the pack because kids won’t have to compete much with adults wanting to read it. 2.5 stars for me rounded up to 3. With some rewriting, it could be outstanding. Don’t take my word for it though; read it yourself and then give it to a tween. Most of them will thank you at the start, and even more will learn enough manners to thank you by the end.

I doubt very much that the author will care enough about my opinions to do a rewrite, but the things I’ve mentioned aren’t so extensive that rewriting should take overly long. Not like changing from third to first person, for example. If you ask me, the changes would pay in much bigger sales. I feel qualified to make these judgements as a content (developmental) editor who has studied story structure and plotting for many years. In fact, I’ve made recommendations for far more extensive changes that made a huge difference in the books ending up with compelling stories. But those were books I was asked to copy edit, and the authors were open to suggestions for content editing. I wasn’t the editor of this book, so there you go. What would you do?

One last tidbit of information: Even Orson Scott Card rewrote a book called Ender’s Game to bring it up to date and comply with elements introduced in later books. If he did it, what’s to stop others?




Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.

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