Now that Stranger Back Home is an official contender in the 2021 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, we thought that we would take a brief look at the competition. We already reviewed last year’s winner; now it’s time to take a look at this year’s contestants.
The next one on our list was Emergency Shift, by Daniel R. Potter. We privately suspect that the ‘R’ stands for Radcliffe, or maybe Rowling. Personally, I think it’s a brilliant marketing technique; he’s probably stealing a lot of hits from readers who search for Potter Fantasy Books.
The blurb sounded intriguing—Emergency Shift is an urban fantasy, and a paramedic main character sounded like the story might be similar to something from the Dresden Files (a great urban fantasy series).
So was it as good as Harry Dresden? Keep reading to find out! In the interest of expediency, this review is based upon the first 10% of the book only. This does not necessarily reflect poorly on the book.
The Fantasy Genre—Thrill of Discovery
As we read and review fantasy books during this period, we are approaching each story with this core philosophy:
The primary attraction of fantasy stories is to give the reader the thrill of new discovery without the rigors of academia.
Fantasy offers new worlds to explore, history to discover, culture and civilizations and fantastic beasts, and above all a brand new science with brand new rules; and the reader is now the Magellan, the Einstein, the Howard Carter.
A good fantasy story should spread out this discovery, keeping a consistent pace throughout the exposition. The discoveries should make sense to the reader, even if fantastically impossible, and they should always relate back to the plot later in the book.
So, how did Emergency Shift meet this requirement?
Fantasy Exposition—So Many Fantasy Elements In Such Little Time
To be honest, if I were a SPFBO judge, I would disqualify this book from the contest.
The SPFBO contest specifically states that all entries must be either standalone novels, or the first book in a series. And Potter states in the introduction that this book follows another book that he wrote (although he claims that the prequel isn’t necessary to read before Emergency Shift).
I disagree. The first few chapters of Emergency Shift describe zombies, werewolves, anthropomorphic death and moon characters, Fey fairy warriors, and furry cat-creatures.
The thing is, the protagonist takes all of this in stride, as if it’s normal to her. But the rest of the world is apparently still adjusting to this ‘weirdness.’ It’s like instead of being bitten by a werewolf, she was bitten by a contagious copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
It’s as if her traumatic experience two months ago might have given her insider knowledge that the reader might need. Insider knowledge, such as a prequel novel. And that sounds like that makes this book not the first in the series.
I would really like to give this book some grace when it comes to discussion a socio-political perspective; after all, the recent Sparrow fantasy also uses a fantasy setting to explore a socio-political point.
Of course, these points are subjective. Not all readers will agree with my points, just as I don’t agree that All Cops Are B*****ds or that private gun ownership is the worst thing in America. Readers can disagree with the author’s politics and still appreciate the story.
But it’s easier to appreciate the story if the author subtly introduces these political points, and makes them integral to the plot. Reminding us on every single page that the secondary protagonist is a trans individual and society is reluctant to use her preferred name and pronouns… that’s just frankly annoying.
Making a main character who is a parody of woke liberal politics would be great for satire, but for a fantasy book that is meant to be taken seriously, the author committed literary suicide. I’m sure more than a few readers and reviewers will call this book stunning and brave, but the rest of us will call it boring and preachy.
Also, I would never want to visit Portland. It’s like everyone there is living in a fantasy… just not the kind we like to read about.
Conclusion: Weak Contender
The super-woke characters speaking in verbal tweets and social-media lingo, and the over-stuffed fantasy elements, and then the liberal Portlandesque preaching against the police really killed this book for me.
I was overjoyed when I reached the 10% mark and I decided that I could put this book down and get to the other SPFBO 7 entries. There are many other books that are much better, and written without the crazy political positions. Or if they do have political positions, they are integrated so much better.
And of course, check out our own contender, Stranger Back Home!