Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The odd experience of reading reviews

First, I’m happy to see the number of reviews ticking steadily upward both at Goodreads and Amazon. As always seems to be the case, there are more reviews at Goodreads (twice as many, which is to say, about forty so far), but the star rating is higher at Amazon. The two sites do seem to run that way.

Oh, btw, evidence that reviews matter, check out this tidbit from Cecilia’s review (Feb 19th): But what actually got me reading? Stephanie Burgis’ tweet and Liviana’s review.

See? So reviews DO matter. Though you probably knew that already. I bet we all pick up plenty of books based strictly on reviews.

Second, it is just so interesting to see how different reviewers disagree with one another. This is basically freeing: If one person thinks the fight scenes are boring and seem too distant from the action, and someone else declares that the fight scenes are great but the in-between scenes seem slow and boring . . . well, I may as well please myself. (Well, and my agent, and my editor.)

Opinions are even more divided on the characters, especially Natividad.

Natividad is sometimes seen as rather Mary-Sue-ish, which by the way is a term that has been appropriated to mean “overly nice” rather than “idealized author,” since no one would ever think Natividad is a bit like me. But even more often, Natividad is a favorite character. I haven’t tracked all the references down, because obviously that would be quite a job, but opinions don’t seem quite as divided about Alejandro, probably because no one would ever think of him as “overly nice”.

The worldbuilding is sometimes lauded as beautifully subtle, without boring infodumps; and sometimes panned as too confusing, without enough infodumps (not usually phrased as “more infodumping please,” but that is sort of the impression I get).

The reviews at Goodreads have dates. The reviews I pulled off specific blogs have the blog name. AND, don’t take any specific comment as necessarily reflecting the overall tone of the review. Quite a few of these were basically positive reviews with one or two negative comments. I don’t think I have read any truly negative reviews, because I try not to.

Okay, here we go:

The Bookish Outsider: …it was great to see Alejandro’s struggle firsthand, to see into his head about everything that was happening especially with his beloved sister. Natividad was also a strong character, headstrong, backing down if she absolutely had to but more than willing to go out a limb to help people even at the risk of her own life.

Robin, Jan 17th: Natividad is brave and really someone you want to get behind. She makes mistakes but is always trying to protect those around her.

Cecilia Feb 19th: I wonder if it is possible NOT to fall in love with Natividad.

Ellie at Book Revels: Natividad is one of the bravest characters in the story, which is saying something considering practically everyone else is a fearless, badass black dog.

Book Yurt: I wanted [Natividad] to stand out as a character, as a person – but aside from a few glimmers of personality, by and large [she] is just a hodgepodge of overly perfect traits: nice, sweet, fragile, beautiful, a good cook, even, and magic to boot, instantly beloved by everyone she sees…

Emma, Jan 7th: Rather than opening with a ton of info-dumping or endless buildup, we’re thrown right into the middle of the world of black dogs and magic users, but not so much as to make it hard to keep up.

Deniz Feb 13th: The world building is absolutely awesome! . . . But I found it quite hard to relate to any character much.

Tabitha at My Shelf Confessions: While the story arc for the characters was strong, the background history of the alternate version of our world was a touch weak. The story is set in a time after a war with vampires has taken place (I think worldwide?), so it is referenced a lot but there just isn’t enough detail given on these points to properly acquaint the reader with the state of things in the world.

Fangs for the Fantasy Jan 16th: The world presented is fascinating and presented in a way that is almost frustrating at the rate of reveal. . . . If I have one criticism it’s that the fight scenes didn’t flow and participants often felt like observers. . . . I also think that [Natividad’s] rash actions bordered on open insult to the Dimilioc which seems beyond ridiculous given the circumstances.

Ria at Bibliotropic: If there’s anywhere that this book fell down for me it was that the narration at times felt flat and distanced from the characters, a hovering overhead camera instead of being right there in the thick of things. Except for fast-paced and brutal battles, that is; then we were thrown right into the middle of the action, which made it seem even more tense by comparison. I got more emotion and connection from Alejandro’s viewpoint than I did from Natividad’s.

Isn’t that interesting? And, as I said, freeing. Such disparate takes on everything — fight scenes, characters, worldbuilding — means that probably didn’t get anything TOO wrong.

I do look forward to the sequel hitting the shelves. Because a good many reviewers who made one or another type of negative comment about, uh, certain things, are probably going to be happy to see, um, certain plot twists and new worldbuilding elements.

You have NO IDEA how hard it is not to just TELL everyone what is going to happen in the sequel.

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3 Comments The odd experience of reading reviews

  1. Pete+Mack

    Star ratings are higher at amazon because the stars mean different things.
    Amazon: I hate it; I don’t like it; It’s OK; I like it; I love it
    Goodreads: did not like it; it’s OK; liked it; really liked it; it’s amazing

    So up until the highest rating, the ratings at amazon are one above the same ratings at goodreads.

  2. Elaine+T

    You can tell me all about the sequel and I’ll buy the book anyway. [puppy-dog eyes] Truly, it drives my husband crazy how unattuned to spoilers I am. I’ve learned not to talk about a book he’s reading if I’ve read it. It’s also one of those issues that makes it hard for me to write reviews, as I know other people really care about spoilers, and I don’t, so I have trouble calibrating info in reviews.

    I remember seeing Natividad called a Mary Sue and wondered what that person was smoking. She doesn’t distort the narrative by her presence, and there’s no undue attention to her. Now if the older guys had also started falling all over courting her…. maybe. And jeepers, people, there are real live people out there who are warm and approachable and instantly likeable. Writers can’t ignore them for fear of being accused of committing Mary Sue.

  3. Rachel

    Elaine, you made me think of how completely horrified the older Dimilioc wolves would have been if Natividad had inexplicably chosen one of them — it makes me laugh.

    Plus, you are right. I personally know, or at least have known, three people who would be Pure if they were in the BLACK DOG world, because they are just that kind of person.

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