It feels like every time (yes, it is not all that often of late) I log in to this blog editor, the editor is different and/or more challenging to use. I feel like I may have seen other bloggers making similar statements. I am going to try to do my best to figure out what I have to do here in this editor to make this post look like my standard posts – above all making it readable.
Primary Target is the first novel in the Six Assassins series co-authored by Jim Heskett and Nick Thacker. It is my first read by either of these authors and is among one of my first non-science fiction, but still fiction reads this year. I am reading some different things from the bookshelves. This and the next review are of books that are kind of self-published/small print press books. I have enjoyed reading books lately, not studying them or becoming drunkenly scholarly over them. What does that mean? Well, I have enjoyed turning pages without using a whole lot of brain to do so. I have been reading my usual diet of non fiction that has left little for complex, mighty fiction reads.
There is a need for clear and honest assertions to be made regarding what I called above “self-published, small print press, print-to-order” novels. Amazon and a few other booksellers are utilizing this method and providing a platform for authors to get their works released without having to undergo the strains that major publishing houses may enforce. In honest truth, a lot of the stuff that is taking this route of escaping the big publishing house trials, is probably not worthy of being printed. Because of that, it is probably not difficult to see that a lot of junk publishing tends to spoil and taint the whole category. I think the commonest way to test the calibre of these novels is to look at the typos. Usually, the grammar and formatting is just simply not on par with what a completed, published work ought to be.
Here is a key point, though. I think the big publishing houses are able to hire high quality editors and have a more rigorous process for drafts. (FEAR NOT – I still find typos and errors in these “polished” books, too.) So, let us say for example that a novel published by Harper Collins or Hachette has less typos and errors in it than many “print-to-order” level books. That is a good thing and readers need to demand good language editing. However, to me, a lot of the books coming out of the big houses also have something of a “sameness” to them. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to describe this feeling – but though the story changes and the author changes and the characters are all radically different… there is still some ghostly sameness haunting these books. In my mind, it seems like it could be because the editors (and the edit process) from these houses are streamlined to handle the huge volume of work by precise deadlines. Self-published and print-to-order books do not rely on such a mechanical process.
That being said, this stuff is not fine literature. And it is not a dig against any author or publishing house to say so. It is a fact. An entertaining story with some fun characters is never going to be held up as the almighty shining relic over the great literary works of our time. It is possible to write very engaging and exciting stories, but without nearing that special and sometimes divisive category of “literature.” Further, though I doubt it needs to actually really be said, not every author is intending to write magnificent literature, anyway.
So, after that long and poorly-written musing, I want to present the Problematic. How do honest reviewers rate or grade these different sorts of books? I feel, generally, like I am treading all over people when I “guess” at their intentions for their books. I do not want to use the heavy hammer on a writer who just wants to entertain and tell a story. But at the same time, why should I lower the standards and put on a false mercy just because, well, someone said “entertainment” and someone else said “literature”? Anyway, I decided that in order to deal with this Problematic, the most important element in a review must be honesty. It must be Zen-level, standing-before-God level, completely open honesty. Does this mean other reviews are DISHONEST? No, I think, though, the difference lies in the simplicity of the discussion. There must be less musing and less supposition, therefore utterly less ambiguity or interpretation, in reviewing a small-print release.
So, here goes an attempt.
I read Primary Target because I saw it a couple of times and there was something about the storyline that I could not deny was interesting me. Because at the end of the day, action thrillers with assassins are interesting. There is an Assassins Club. Imagine that. Now, as someone who does read a fair amount of science fiction, I will tell you – no matter how hokey and goofy and silly the spaceship and the alien is, no matter how adult and sophisticated we want to seem, no matter how scientific we think we are: an exciting chase across the galaxy with a ray gun of some sort and some awesomely creative lifeforms to meet along the way, is always going to draw us in for some fun. So, assassins club.
The main character, Ember Clarke, is a cool character. I think the authors wrote her very well. I feel like she is genuine, honest, and seems to make fairly reasonable judgments. Is she a perfectly-written character? No. The other characters in the book are described as different individuals and play different roles. But – since we are being honest – they are not written distinctively enough. They are superficially different: this one is older, this one is younger, this one is taller, this one is smaller. But as I read it, most (not all) of the supporting characters do not bring their own separate and potent personalities to the story.
Storyline was good – in fact, maybe even a bit better than I expected it to be. What do I mean by “good”? Well, I was entertained and it seemed like a reasonable enough storyline that I could believe in it. Except for one thing: there seem to be TOO MANY assassins. I mean, in the world of this book. Because if there were THIS MANY assassins, and they were all doing jobs and being gainfully employed at their work, well, I feel like there would be a significantly higher number of dead bodies everywhere. The story was decent, though, and over the halfway point there is a plot twist that involves the main character (of course) that adds another dimension to this storyline. So the authors are not just putting out a “contest” story. There are several lesser threads to follow. Intrigue among the Assassins Club members and such. This is good – it means there will be more books and we are not just watching a cat and mouse game.
It is a lighter content novel – and that is the way the authors chose to write it. A fine choice, perfect for entertainment. The novel reads very quickly and nothing here requires a second of deeper thought. But the reader senses that lack of depth and while that should not equate to a lower rating, we cannot offer five-star ratings to every book that entertains. Therefore, I honestly state that for the category of book that it is, for the entertainment I got from it, I will give this book four stars. I have already acquired book two in the series. It would be a lie if I said that I found it to be an “average-level” read. Recommended for fans of assassins, female main characters, action novels.