I was kinda looking forward to this SPFBO7 entry. The blog that my own Stranger Back Home is assigned to has already made Demons, Ink one of their semi-finalists. They have also eliminated several other books, so apparently they found something special in this one.
Reading the synopsis was also encouraging. The concept seemed intriguing: an urban mercenary possessed by demons, who keeps them under his tentative control through his magical tattoos (maybe a little derivative of the Fellowship of St. Giles, but whatever).
So was it as good as I was led to expect? Read on to find out!
Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off
SPFBO is a huge competition between three hundred indie fantasy books. Each of these books is assigned to one of ten fantasy book review blogs.
Unfortunately, TheShortStoryTeller is not one of the official review blogs. Regardless, we still wanted to provide these authors with some additional visibility (and accountability) with our detailed book reviews.
For Demons, Ink, I actually made it to 20% before deciding to lay it aside. As with previous reviews, I evaluated it in four categories:
Background & Exposition (Check out our fantasy reading philosophy here.)
Background & Exposition
Fantasy fiction is unique for how it creates new, imaginative backgrounds, and truly great fantasy authors know how to deliver that background to readers.
Most fantasy authors make the mistake of providing too much exposition in the beginning of their books.
Snyder goes the other way on this one. There’s little-to-no exposition before the 20% mark.
There are some dream sequences and flashbacks, but mostly they just raise questions rather than answering any. There are illusionary shadows in the streets, witches and warlocks, cursed dollar bills and anti-cursed quarters, psychic pain attacks, and demons everywhere.
There are also some tattoos in a magic language that have something to do with those demons, I don’t know what.
Snyder throws these elements into scenes with absolutely no sense of timing or organization. If he were a chef, his specialty would probably be the lemon garlic ice cream cake.
Which is a real shame, because these elements could make a great story, if the author would just provide some explanation for them. Maybe he was saving all of his exposition for the end of the book. I’ll never find out.
Jack Nyx. I think I could tell just from his first name that he was a bruiser. Just like Jack Reacher.
Nyx is surrounded by a full cast of characters who each elicit extreme emotional responses from him. He keeps an ex-lover’s soul imprisoned in a jar in plain sight, and keeps a picture of another ex-lover on a table next to his bed. He frequently has nightmares and flashbacks about his various father figures.
I mean, we know that Nyx has literal demons, but we’re starting to think that he also collects figurative demons in his memory bank. Like, if you’re that angry about everyone in your past, maybe don’t keep those people displayed where you will encounter them every morning?
Snyder sets up the key event and inciting incident within the first (absurdly long) chapter of the book. A client approaches Nyx and hires him to rescue his kidnapped daughter.
Then Snyder resolves this plot arc in the second chapter. Wait, what?
By the time that I reached the 20% mark, I had no idea where the plot was going, and I was utterly confused about several expository points.
The author writes dreams and flashbacks as a form of exposition, but sometimes these sequences are in present tense, and sometimes they are in past tense. If you’ve been following this blog for more than a few reviews, you know that we hate present tense here; the only thing worse than consistent present tense is inconsistent present tense.
But on a positive note, he tells the story with a comical first-person narrator. Somewhat like Sparrow in tone and voice, Jack Nyx survives life by making jokes about everything, which puts a casual, somewhat light-hearted perspective on what would otherwise be dark and bleak events.
Conclusion: Well, It’s Already A Semi-Finalist…
Honestly, when I started Demons, Ink, I was hopeful that I had found a book that I would feel challenged to compete against.
The narration is laid-back and easy, and you can tell that the narrator doesn’t take anything too seriously. The concept is intriguing, and if the reader is captivated enough, I can see how he would continue to slog through the confusing scenes and persevere despite the lack of explanations.
But the gratuitousness of the sex and violence is not a suitable substitute for proper exposition and background explanation. I honestly can’t see how anyone would continue past the poorly-plotted Act 1 in this book.
And of course, check out our own contender, Stranger Back Home!