The Acolytes of Crane by J.D. Tew

The Acolytes of Crane is one of those books that never quite coalesce into something coherent. There’s an interesting premise at the heart of it, namely pitching the battle between God and Satan as a battle between two advanced alien factions, and the main character has a promising start as a child from a broken household. Unfortunately, the pacing of the plot, the way the author presents the larger picture, and technical issues with the writing cripple the story before it can get started.

The pace of the story is a slow one that lingers in odd places. The initial bit Theodore, the main character, escaping from his broken home and finding a mysterious amulet is paced well enough, but then the story lingers for a long while in an attempt to build up the sense of mystery. The problem with this is that not enough besides the occasional unexplained event is really happening to keep things interesting.

There’s a good bit about how the character interacts with other children, what some of his issues are, and how he’s dealing with life in general, and in a different work, this would have been fine. Here, however, it was not intended to be the focus, and thus it drags on for too long. The real point of the book is Theodore and his friends getting swept up in an adventure, but the sweeping doesn’t really happen until the last third of the book.

Even then, the characters, instead of jumping right into the action, end up stuck on a ship treading water, and after that, in the climax of the book, the author begins jumping between perspectives, which slams on the brakes. The actual climax of the book hits right at the end, and there’s never a good denouement to tie it all together.

The second issue with the book lies in how the author presents the material. There’s a lot going on, but instead of letting the reader, and the character, feel out the world at an organic pace, the author relies on strings of paragraphs that outright tell the reader what’s going on, at times referring to future events. I’m not a fan of any story that jumps around time, even if it’s just in a quick, referential paragraph. It takes a lot of skill to pull something like that off, and the author doesn’t manage it here.

Worse, once the real adventure starts, the author throws a bevy of made up words at the reader in dense, two to three page paragraphs that rapidly become incomprehensible. There’s a lot of fun to be had in naming things as you write, but it’s important to show some restraint. Here, the words the author makes up never have a chance to really settle in.

In about five pages, I learned about five or so alien races, a bunch of fake technological jargon, the names of several planets, and a version of hacky sack. Used well, new words, like ‘fracking’ in Battlestar Galactica, can do a great deal to flesh out a world. In this case they end up being excessive, and most of them sound a bit silly when said aloud.

Now, on to the biggest issue with the book: the writing. It’s rare that I focus on the writing itself, since it’s a bit technical and really takes practice to improve. In this case, the issues were fundamental enough that they bear mentioning.

First, the sentence structure is incredibly convoluted. Given how I tend to write, that’s the pot calling the kettle black, but the way the author put the sentences together made it very hard for me to get through the book. Occasionally, the author also has paragraphs that stretch for several pages, most of which are exposition dumps given in dialogue form. The fact that the author messes up the grammar here and there, misses capitalization, and gets verb tenses wrong substantially exacerbates the issue.

Second, the author’s word choice routinely baffled me. An example: “I was simply adding to a massive collection of wounds to eternalize my fun those days.” That’s how the author says the character scraped up his hands climbing a tree. Now and then, that could slide, but almost every paragraph has at least one sentence like that. It’s difficult to read, and the words frequently don’t line up quite right into something intelligible. True, I can decipher what the author intended, but almost every sentence could have been simplified and made into cleaner, comprehensible writing.

Finally, there were parts of the book in which the writing made it difficult for me to follow what was happening. Once I figured it out, the events themselves were pretty straightforward, but the way the author technically presented them via diction, sentence structure, and paragraph structure (as well as a bevy of the made up words discussed above) baffled me. This shouldn’t happen in any book. The reader should only ever be confused when the author expressly wants him or her to be, and even then it should be done sparingly.

I don’t say the following to be cruel or snarky, but I’m a law student. I’m trained to extract obscure information from dense legal opinions. I spend a lot of time critically examining fiction, or writing it, each week. And there were parts of this book that, despite my best efforts, I simply couldn’t follow.

The book has issues with its pacing and how the author builds the world, but what ultimately kills it is the author’s technical writing. It needs a substantial amount to be of the necessary quality to tell the story the author wants to. It’s a shame, because the basic premise of the book would have made for an interesting adventure.

If you want to take a gander, you can pick up a copy from Amazon here.


One thought on “The Acolytes of Crane by J.D. Tew

  1. hi, Alex, Since your review of my book is probably coming up soon, I’m pleased to see that you take a lot of time with books even when you have trouble getting through them or take issue with them on a number of areas. FYI: my book won’t bring you the grief this book brought you, but I do bring in some new vocabulary and deliberately jump around in time while mostly using the present tense. However, I believe these techniques and terms are well-explained. You let me know if they’re not! Thanks for reviewing!

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