Battle for Honor: Gates by R.J. Brousseau

Gates is a straightforward fantasy novel that follows an avatar of the Guardians, the tenders of the cosmic balance and the like. The forces of evil have, through their ambitions, cast the world out of balance with the help of a bunch of racist, pure blooded elves to the point that the world is about to erupt in a genocidal war in which the gods and mortals alike will be culled. Although the story’s presentation intrigued me somewhat, the writing style and the author’s insistence on outright telling the reader who exactly each character is, what is going on, and even what is going to happen completely gutted any sense of mystery the novel initially built up.

First, the writing style is an odd jumble of tenses, periodically jumping between second and third person present. In general, using the present tense in any sort of fiction is tricky, and it takes a lot of work to make sure you don’t jumble your tenses and confuse the reader. It requires more precision than the third person, a lot of skill on the part of the author, and it has to overcome the fact that most fiction tends to be in written in the third person past tense.

The problem here is that the author didn’t use the present tense well. It feels more like the book is a stream of consciousness, or an extended outline or rough draft, than it is a novel. Periodic errors mingle the tenses, and the author’s tendency to start talking directly to the reader mid-paragraph further exacerbates all of the problems inherent in the use of the present tense. Some of my favorite books are written in the present tense, but they’ve also been painstakingly edited. It’s harder for both the author and the reader to keep straight in the present tense, and in this case, it just doesn’t work.

The real problem with the book is that the author outright tells the reader every last detail about the world, the characters, and the plot. Honestly, the novel reads more like a source book for a pen and paper roleplaying game than it does an actual novel.

First, the world. The author falls into the trap of going on long, narrative asides to flesh out the world. Instead of the information arising naturally, each time the scene starts in a new place the author tells the reader every last detail about it. There’s never a since of exploration or discovery. Instead, the author takes the reader through a guided museum tour, with everything in sterile, glass cases to be looked at, understood, then set aside in time for the next exhibit. One of my absolutely favorite things about reading fantasy is being transported to new worlds, and telling me everything about one rather than letting me figure it out on my own strips away much of my ability to enjoy the novel.

Second, Mr. Brousseau does the same thing with the characters. When the Dwarven paladin and his friends get introduced, the author outright runs through who each person is. The characters are more the role they fill in a Dungeons and Dragons party than actual characters, and what there is of them the author tells us. There’s no need to seriously consider them or to inquire into their motivations, and the same holds true for every single character in the book. Rather than showing us inner conflict and uncertainty, the author simply explains each character to us in detail and without passion. It’s the difference between meeting someone exciting and a dissection.

Finally, there is the plot itself. There are chapters which explicitly explain what the villains are currently doing, what they’re planning to do, and how they’re planning to do it. There are there different villainous groups, each with their own motivations, who are busy tricking each other. But when the book goes straight to conversations between the gods behind the entire conflict, then has chapters explicitly discussing what the Guardians are going to do to fix things, and then follows with chapters explaining how the villains are going to betray each other, there’s really not much reason to keep reading. The plot itself is an enjoyable genre staple, but it’s presentation is so transparent that the entire story could have been told as a bedtime fable.

The final problem is the main character, Marcus, gets visions from the gods so he knows what’s going to happen in the future. There are several scenes where he simply tells the other character and the readers how things are going to go down, and then they happen that way.

All of these problems are a shame, because despite the mashed up use of tenses and the fact there was absolutely no sense of intrigue or mystery to the book, I still enjoyed watching events play out. I’m always a fan of the “ancient hero rises from the dead and badasses his way through the world” plot, so I really did looking forward to seeing him get on his feet and kick butt. This book could have been a fantastic sword and sorcery genre piece, but instead, the spark of imagination was buried deep beneath all of its flaws.

There’s a real spark in this book, and there are moments where it shines through, but the flaws in the presentation of the story, both in the technical writing itself and in the broader way the author presents information to the reader, come dangerous close to snuffing that spark out. I give this one a 2 out of 5.

If you want to give it a read, you can pick up a copy from Amazon here.

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