by Alex Khlopenko
I was wrong – this is a zero stars book since nothing in it works. The characters don’t deserve to be called cardboard cutouts, it has no dramatic structure whatsoever (more like one endless second act, with no change, development, or resolutions), the plot is convoluted, confusing, unstructured, and offers no payoffs – and naturally so since there were no established stakes and thus I couldn’t give two shits for anything that happened in this massive tome. There were moments in the last third of the book where I expected it to become better, to pay off the enormous build-up, and the fact that it didn’t, made the impression from the book even worse.
No death in the whole book means anything or make you care about since 1) you don’t care for characters, and 2) it’s written in such an inexplicably awkward manner you may just miss and being forced to reread a couple of pages to catch where something important has happened.
No concept or idea presented in Black Guard is even remotely fresh or new – at best it is a rehash of some of the oldest, most exhausted tropes in the genre used by someone who wanted to write Game of Thrones but didn’t want to actually do any work required for it. The world-building, the setting, even the names of cities, nations, and cultures make no sense and often confuse when they should’ve offered depth.
What is worse, (much, much worse) is the prose. There are whole pages that present no information, and whole paragraphs that retell the same things over and over again. The wording and phrases lack any rhythm or pacing, sentences are generic, abrupt, and often just useless. pages and pages of uber-detailed fights that drag on and halt any pace that the plot could muster, only to mean nothing.
That left me with the option to skip from dialogue to dialogue. But there was an uneasy feeling that Tom Wiseau was invited to write dialogue for this book, but then I thought he wouldn’t drop so low (“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” is a stroke of genius compared to The Black Guard.) The constant, monotonous repetition of the same facts, explanations, info dumps, and senseless musing, numb you to the awfulness of the dialogue and just make you consume it like unsalted, overboiled macaroni without cheese. You’re miserable, the meal is miserable, and yet, you continue.
At least the cumbersome prose let me skip whole pages without missing anything and finish the book as fast as I could since any minute spent with it is a waste of time.
That shouldn’t be taken as an attack on the author’s skills or vision, that’s an attack on the editorial policy and amount of effort the editor at Zeus Press put into this book. If I can polish stories into perfection for Three Crows Magazine for free, a couple of people who are paid to do it as their day jobs could sit down with A.J. Smith and do some developmental editing and copyedits. My impression is – they didn’t since it reads like a first draft of a teenager who just finished “A Feast of Crows” or “Way of Kings”, no better than that. Who thought that this is publishable, or at least publishable in the condition it is now – is beyond me.
But the trouble didn’t end there. Then there is A.J. Smith himself who decided to drop by into my notes on here and attempt to troll me and shame for not understanding his magnum opus. Not cool, AJ, just not cool. I thought maybe I was wrong to comment that much and etc, so I asked around among reviewers and critics if that was okay for an author to do so. I got a unanimous “no” and yet they said I was wrong too since everyone in the community only leaves positive reviews or nothing at all since publishers and authors will go fucking biblical on them with stalking, repressions, blacklisting and etc.
This is a forgettable, if infuriating, an attempt at epic fantasy that has no place in the fantasy canon whatsoever.