Power is a dance of shadows.
About This Book
Title & Author: The Conjurer by Nick Oliveri
Length: 194 pages
Genres: Literary Fiction
Publication: Write My Wrongs LLC [December 8, 2021]
In the thriving kingdom of Idaza, Mikalla is the adored Conjurer, the nation’s chief storyteller, using the shadows cast by the city’s glorious ceremonial flame.
But death awaits around every corner. Addiction rattles the king. Trauma haunts the nobility and their conflicting motives. Murder happens, but to find out who succumbs to it is a journey the reader must take alone through the halls and palaces of the glorious Inner Gardens.
With a beautiful family and his position as one of King Oro’s favorite courtiers, Mikalla’s life is perfect. That is, until the king commands him to deliver a deadly message—one that will inevitably end in bloodshed and a war-torn Idaza.
With King Oro’s minions—Secretary Kitan and General Jax—skulking in the wings, Mikalla doesn’t know who to trust. Worse, he isn’t sure who’s really pulling the strings behind this political charade.
Betrayal and murder lie in the shadows Mikalla has always used to captivate the masses.
Will the flames reveal the truth hidden within the twisted schemes, or will Mikalla rise to his government’s call? Mikalla, the Conjurer, must realize his choices alone hold the power to change Idaza—to change everything.
★✬✩✩✩ • 1.5 / 5 stars (I’m sorry… ☹️)
This book… Unfortunately, I have things to say about this book, and most of them aren’t good. I feel terrible about it, because I hate rating stuff one star – and I’ve never done it for a book before – but I just couldn’t justify rating it any higher.
I have things to say about all kinds of things, from the plot, to the characters, to the dialogue, to the prose itself. Because of this, I’ll be doing something I haven’t really done before here: I’m going to be breaking this review into different sections. It’ll all be one review, don’t worry, I’m just talking about the formatting. Cuz I want everything to be clear (unlike this book).
And I really don’t want to dunk on it too much, since it’s a debut novel and all – and I firmly believe that all writers can improve – but I will be presenting my points as criticisms. I’m not flaming or anything – I promise! I always aim to be my best self, even on the internet – and I am intending absolutely no offense whatsoever. Think of these as some critiques! 😁
I thought I’d start off this review on a brighter light. To start with, I actually really like the cover. It’s pretty simple, and some might not find it to be eye-catching, but I honestly did. It’s actually what attracted me to The Conjurer in the first place. I love the way that the red looks on the white background, and how there’s only occasionally a bit of black used for the shadow puppets. It really makes them stand out all the more. I also like how the red fire underneath the puppets appears to be creeping upwards – it makes the threat juxtaposed against Mikalla’s morality seem dangerous.
The other thing that I really liked, were some of the lines. The opening line in particular is pretty good, and it’s the quote I used at the top of my review. It really boils the core of the story down to one line in a fantastic way. There were other good lines though:
He was the caster of narrative whimsy, the creator of the gods.
He entrenched his audience in the characters’ lives. He swept them up in the torrent of the plot. And then, awash in the rapids of the story, he spat the audience out of the cyclone and left them transformed.
I also quite liked the first chapter. It was the part of the novel where the writing was strongest. (The writing, unfortunately, went downhill from there.) In fact, it’s where I found most of my favorite lines, including all of the quotes above.
It’s a shame I didn’t have anything else that I liked, because I was pretty excited about reading this book, as the plot looked promising and it had good reviews. But I just didn’t gel with most of what this book had.
Part I: The Writing (or Prose – Whichever You Prefer)
It’s not that great. I hate to say it, but it really isn’t. To me at least. Maybe I’m completely wrong and this book is actually amazing. I don’t know. The only thing I can say for sure is that the writing in this book definitely wasn’t for me.
First off, the POV is all over the place. Like, in the same chapter, the POV will suddenly shift from one character to another, without even a divider, or even extra space between paragraphs. It was very disjointed and felt as if the author was attempting 3rd Person Limited and 3rd Person Omniscient at the exact same time, which sorry, but it’s just not possible.
To elaborate, what I mean is it’ll stay on one character in 3rd Person Limited, and then abruptly transition to another character and be slightly more omniscient. And sometimes, in a character’s limited POV they’ll notice something about another character’s thoughts or expressions that this particular character shouldn’t know, and is clearly for the reader’s benefit.
A good example of this is when the King of Idaza, Oro, is having a discussion with his advisor, Kiten, and then they break off and Kiten walks away from the king. This is in Oro’s POV by the way. Anyway, Kiten walks away from the king, completely facing away from the king, by the way, and then he smirks to himself. There is no way that King Oro can possibly see this, so how is Kiten smirking in Oro’s POV? Or is it somehow Kiten’s POV now?
And don’t even get me started on some of the descriptions in this book. The way the author chooses to describe certain things boggles my mind. Also, the similes and metaphors don’t make sense.
I guess I’ll get into the grammar a little bit. There’s several run-on sentences, incorrect use of tenses, and missing punctuation, among other things. I really, really hate to say this, but it really felt like a first draft or something, not a book ready to go. But yeah, here’s a quote that’s kind of all over the place in terms of tense, and it also doubles as being a poor metaphor:
The next morning, Oro sat on his throne like fungi sitting atop the moss of a tree.
I’m not going to say anything specific about this quote, you can make any and all judgements on your own. I also don’t want to start getting nitpicky about anything, as this review is already ludicrously long. (Sorry about that.)
Part II: The Plot
The plot was probably the least egregious part of the novel. Even though the synopsis embellishes it a little, it is accurate. Now, I didn’t end up enjoying the story as much as I’d hoped, but that part’s on me. Nothing against the storytelling itself. So good on the author for that! You did good there author!
There was an odd dream sequence about halfway through that I didn’t really get. I guess it was supposed to be Mikalla, the main character’s, subconscious realization that that something was very wrong in his personal life, even if he wouldn’t accept it outwardly. But it was a little confusing, and it really came out of nowhere, and I wasn’t really sure why it was there at all.
Part III: The Characters
I didn’t like any of them. Mikalla wasn’t a compelling protagonist. Characters in the book often describe him as a child in a thirty-eight year old man’s body (not in those exact words), and I can’t say that they’re wrong, unfortunately. I think that the author was trying to go for a free spirit who has a strong moral compass, and will do the right thing at the cost of everything. The moral compass aspect came across decently, but everything else didn’t really. He’s also incredibly indecisive and nervous most of the time, despite his very high station. Also, it should be noted that Mikalla is not like other guys: he was born on the lower end of nobility so he’s not as much of an ignoramus as the rest of them.
King Oro was probably the worst character in the book, though. I don’t understand how this man hasn’t passed away from alcohol poisoning already, because every scene he’s in – and not just the ones from his POV either – he’s constantly drinking. Constantly. And also, he’s incredibly lazy and idiotic, which I understand was probably the point, but it still stinks. Like, I get that he was supposed to be essentially a puppet king, with his advisor making the real decisions from behind his shoulder, but Oro was comically incompetent. He couldn’t do anything on his own. And yes, there was a bit of a backstory for this in the last third of the book, but it didn’t help me sympathize with him at all. At some point in your life, you just need to start adulting, and he never does. (It should be noted that characters often describe him as an overgrown child, just like Mikalla.)
Kiten and Jani, Mikalla’s wife, also suck. Kiten is a weak antagonist (that’s not a spoiler, it’s obvious from the second he’s introduced), and he was only able to function that way in any capacity, was because everyone else around him was obscenely stupid and obtuse. Jani was annoying and she was clearly out to get Mikalla (that’s not a spoiler, it’s obvious from the second she’s introduced), and was an even weaker antagonist. Near the end, the author attempts to show that she has empathy and perhaps make her seem as more of a grayer character, but it just doesn’t work – she’d been established as something else for the entire novel until that point, with the empathy thing coming out of nowhere. Also, and this applies to both Kiten and Jani, their motivations didn’t feel very strong. I didn’t get a sense that either of them loved Idaza as much as they claimed they did.
The other characters didn’t matter and were extremely bland.
Part IV: The Dialogue
Oh, the dialogue… 😮💨 It wasn’t consistent at all. And some of the language used just did not fit the character using it. Like, King Oro would say “guys” all the time when talking to a group and it doesn’t sound very… kingly.
Don’t get me wrong, it can definitely work to have a ruler or leader speak like this, especially to their close friends, but this book allegedly takes place in an ancient time, though whether in a fantasy world or otherwise is unclear. So it was kinda weird to read Millennial speak coming out of some ancient king’s mouth. As well as everyone else’s. It just felt extremely unprofessional to me, and it really took me out of the story.
Part V: The Setting
I wasn’t originally going to do a Part 5, but as I was writing this review, I remembered that there were a few problems with the setting. It’s labeled as ancient historical literary fiction, but the prose makes this unclear. It’s a mish-mash of ancient culture and indoor plumbing. No, I’m not kidding: some of the nobles have plumbing. Because of this, it reads more as a fantasy novel to me, but without any magic. There’s nothing wrong with the literary fiction part of its genre classification though – that works perfectly fine.
TW: graphic descriptions of regurgitation, extreme alcohol addiction, war and violence
And that’s all I’ve got to say about The Conjurer. I desperately wanted to like this book, guys. Like I say near the beginning of my review (way, way up there), I was genuinely looking forward to this book, and perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed by the end of it. I feel horrible about one and a half star-ing it, but I just don’t feel like I could put it higher. It wouldn’t be true to my feelings, and I don’t want to display any falsehoods on that front. Ever.
I still encourage anyone who thinks the synopsis looks interesting to give it a shot, as the problem could have just been me, and the book might not be as much as fault as I feel it is.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start reading Children of Ragnarok by Cinda Williams Chima. Thanks everyone, as always, for tuning in, and have a fantastic day/night!
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