Tag Archives: the accidental sorcerer

Book Review: Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills

In this, the third installment of the Rogue Agent series, in another Ottosland, in a parallel dimension, the events of The Accidental Sorcerer didn’t play out quite as we know them. There, Gerald didn’t make a dragon to battle Lional. Instead, he turned to Lional’s grimoires of dark magics, and combined with his powers as a rogue wizard, became unspeakably dangerous… and unspeakably evil.

Not satisfied with corrupting Bibbie, shadbolting Monk, imprisoning Melissande and Reg, and committing atrocities against various government officials and others who crossed him, not satisfied with conquering Ottosland, or his plans for world domination, the other Gerald turns his mind to all conquering all the other alternate realities.

The first our Gerald and his friends know of it is when Monk answers the door… and finds himself. Frightened by the events described by the other Monk, and with Gerald off on secret government business, Monk and the girls of Witches Incorporated turn to Gerald’s boss, Sir Alec.
It is agreed that only Gerald can face Gerald… but our Gerald is missing. He stepped into a portal bound for Grand Splotze – and didn’t step out the other end.

The concept of this story is good, with the potential for crackling tension, but in my opinion the execution missed the mark. The first quarter of the book is a recounting of the final events of The Accidental Sorcerer, but from the perspective of the other Gerald. I found this boring, since I knew much of these events already, barring the parts where events deviated, but I also found it confusing. I quickly suspected that perhaps these were events in an alternate reality, but I wasn’t sure, and so I was confused. Also, if I was right, then I was completely uninterested, because I couldn’t see what possible relevance this had to my Gerald. I was too busy wanting to get back to my Gerald to care much about this other Gerald.

The next quarter of the book skipped back to Monk and the girls, where I, the reader, listened in boredom as the other Monk explained the state of events in the alternate reality – events I already more or less knew because of the backstory infodump at the beginning. In my opinion, there would have been a lot more conflict and tension if the reader didn’t know anything about the alternate reality when the second Monk turned up. Even his arrival wasn’t interesting because I already knew who and what he was.

While the back half of the book picked up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the incredibly slow start. Definitely the weakest of the three books in the series to this point. I really only stuck with reading it because I mistakenly started Wizard Undercover first. It became quickly apparent I was reading out of order, and I stepped back to Wizard Squared to fill in the blanks. If I hadn’t known there were events in Wizard Squared that I needed to know in order to make sense of Wizard Undercover, I probably would have given up on this book early on. 

Disappointing given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the series.

Review of ‘The Accidental Sorcerer’ by K.E. Mills

Welcome to Ottosland, a country with a vague British flavour, in a world that more or less resembles ours, except that alongside the telephone sits the crystal ball. This is a world of both magic and technology.

Gerald Dunwoody is a Third Grade wizard, graduate of a mere correspondence course in wizardry, and reduced to the level of inspector for a government department. When the blame for the destruction of Ottosland’s most prestigious staff factory falls on Gerald, he finds himself virtually unemployable.

At the enthusiastic insistence of his genius friend, Monk Markham, Gerald takes a job as advisor to the King of New Ottosland. Monk reasons that Gerald needs to get away from the debacle that is the destruction of Stuttley’s, and when he returns, not only will the uproar have died down, but Gerald will have ‘advisor to a king’ on his resume.

Reg, Gerald’s apparently sentient bird, is less enthusiastic. Potential employers need to be vetted, she says. Royalty can be dangerous. And what does a king want with a Third Grade wizard?

Against Reg’s objections, Gerald takes the job and they travel to New Ottosland, where they are greeted by Princess Melissande, the Prime Minister of New Ottosland. It quickly becomes clear things are not at all what they seem. The Privy Council has been sacked. Melissande, under-staffed and over-worked, is trying to do the work of the Council, the Prime Minister, and negotiate with a delegation from neighbouring Kallarap about tariffs the king refuses to pay. The kingdom is verging on bankruptcy.

And King Lional himself demands that Gerald impress him, or be sent on his way.

Sweating under pressure, Gerald somehow manages to turn Lional’s cat into a lion. A level 12 transmogrification spell? Impossible! Such a feat is beyond the skills of a mere Third Grade wizard. But what if Gerald isn’t a Third Grade Wizard anymore? What if the events at Stuttley’s have… changed him?

Completing the royal ensemble is Prince Rupert, more interested in his butterfly house than the running of a nearly bankrupt kingdom or royal politics. He is quite obviously mad, and yet Gerald has the sinking feeling that Rupert might be the saner of the two brothers when Lional announces that Gerald will be his secret weapon in the negotiations against Kallarap.

Adding a sinister feel to proceedings, it soon comes to light that Gerald’s five predecessors in the position of advisor to King Lional, all First Grade wizards, have not been seen since they supposedly left New Ottosland…

Why is Lional determined to provoke war against his neighbours? What happened to the missing wizards? And what does he want with Gerald?

The book is engaging and fast-paced, as well as humorous, though perhaps written more in a young adult style. If that bothers you, give the book a miss, but I found the story compelling and well-written. Though hardly the most competent wizard, Gerald draws you in with his personality, his well-meaning dedication, and his genuine attempts to make the best of a bad situation. When things turn really pear-shaped, he is really tested, and the decisions he makes will shape the man he will become.

A mostly fun, light-hearted read interspersed with darker moments, the book is a solid, well-written effort and definitely worth your time. 

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Club Fantasci: Review of the Last Continent

Club Fantasci met last weekend to discuss both the December and January Books of the Month – Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey and The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. You can watch the discussion of co-hosts David Lowry, Dionne Lister and myself below.

You can find our full reviews of the books here on the Club Fantasci website.

February’s Book of the Month is The Accidental Sorcerer by Australian author Karen Miller, writing as K.E. Mills, and the Hangout will take place on February 23rd at 7:00pm CST.

Character Movement and Fight Scenes

Last month, Dionne Lister and I attended GenreCon in Sydney, Australia. One of the workshops was run by fantasy author Karen Miller (also writing under the pen name K.E. Mills) on character movement and action scenes. 

She explained we are now a culture steeped in visual imagery and story-telling. If you’re a fan of Dickens, Tolkien, or other classic authors, sorry, this doesn’t cut it for the modern audience. Modern fiction has shifted away from that style of story-telling to meet the more visual expectations of the modern reader. As far as visual imagery goes, it’s also worth knowing that people will believe something if they see it, even without explanation, but that in a novel plot holes will be more readily questioned. This explained to me why I’m not able to be as critical of movies as I am of books!

Despite the fact your audience is visual, you can’t just take a fight scene (for example) and transcribe it into words – this will create a boring description which does not in the least engage the reader. Instead, you have to translate what you see into words that create an impression. The scene must be fast enough to ensure the reader is not bored, clear enough so they understand, and real enough they feel they’ve experienced it. 

Relatively speaking, you should incorporate very little actual physical description because this will bore the reader. It’s also unrealistic. When someone is in the middle of action, they can’t and won’t notice everything. At the same time, they can experience time distortion and time will seem to slow down so that person may notice quite a bit in what actually took only a split second. These are qualities you should be sure to note in your fight scenes. 

Action scenes should be anchored through the viewpoint of a particular character to help place the action (unless you’re using omniscient POV, you should be doing this anyway). You should include emotions, thoughts, and sensory impressions of the viewpoint character as to what’s occurring around them. Short, punchy descriptions and verbs will help you to keep the energy going. Choose words that tell us something about the characters, words that make an impact and are energetic. 

It’s very important to get your characters moving even outside of a fight scene or an action sequence. If you don’t, you’ll create a static scene in which people do nothing but talk to each other i.e. talking heads. To avoid this problem, try including body language to bring a scene to life (what Karen called the equivalent of subtitles for books). Not only does this help to define the action, it also helps you to flesh out the characters.

When doing this, try to work out what actions go properly with the dialogue i.e. there may be automatic actions and responses you associate with the dialogue. Think about them and try to identify what they are. You may find there is more than one correct interpretation, in which case you need to decide which is the impression you actually want to convey. This will depend on the plot, the story you want to tell, and the level of conflict you generate. 

While long speeches are uncommon in genre fiction, sometimes characters need to say a lot. If you let one character just ramble on, this can have the same effect as a ‘talking heads’ scenario, and the reader may get bored and wander away. To avoid this, either have the character interrupted a lot, or find the right moment, a lull in the speech, to interrupt and include a physical action on the part of the character. 

Some other words of wisdom from Karen included:

  • Use said almost all the time – it becomes invisible;
  • Dialogue tags like retorted, objected etc. should be used judiciously and ‘he ejaculated’ is not recommended any more;
  • There is a school of thought that it should be clear from the text how the dialogue is presented, but this is not always the case, and then sometimes you may need a descriptor or an adverb – but this should be used carefully;
  • Exclamation marks can be useful, but don’t overuse. Don’t use multiple exclamation marks or exclamation or question mark combinations;
  • Be vigilant about unintended repetition and sentence construction – don’t use repetitive sentence rhythms, as it will put the reader to sleep;
  • Try to give each character their own rhythm and speech patterns (easier said than done!).
  • Including everything slows the pace too much;
  • All you can do is the best job you are capable of at that time, with all the input available to you. You cannot control how the reader will interpret it;
  • Every reader’s view is correct – subjectively speaking;
  • Remember every character is the star of their own show. Give each character a thumb-nail sketch of realness. Don’t ever treat a character as a cardboard cut-out;
  • Use italics to stress a word of dialogue judiciously – only do this when needed to clarify an ambiguous line where it’s important the reader get the correct message;
  • It’s said that you can get the reader across the galaxy, but you can’t get them across the room.

Karen is a brilliant writer, so I strongly recommend taking her advice into consideration. Not only did she read us a fight scene from her draft WIP, which was good enough to turn me green with envy, but I read the book she gave me in two days flat. It’s not often I have the time to do that these days, and when I make the time, you know that book’s got my attention. 

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