Curse Breaker Guild Assassin by Berley Kerr

Guild Assassin is a strange animal that is exceedingly difficult to review. A deadeningly passive story with a lot of action, part steampunk, detective noir, gothic, x-men, fantasy elements that strangely end up being mostly sci fi, and with a main female unique snowflake character whose main trait is being incongruously indistinct. Add in an imaginative setting that is over described in the details but greatly lacking in worldbuilding, and you get the idea that we have an odd duck here that can be either a rewarding or frustrating read.

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Story: In an alternate universe, Victorians develop instantaneous travel to far space locations using gates. Over time 500 major colonies are created.  On one colony, 11 year old Wendy is falsely accused of her abusive mother’s murder and sent to an insane asylum. By 14, she manifests a strange and rare power after she breaks under abuse at the asylum. This brings her to the attention of underground organizations interested in destroying or using her power. She will have to learn more about her rare curse breaking power if she hopes to survive this desperate new world in which she finds herself.

For me, I felt there were too many ‘new writer’ issues with the book. I felt it really needed a good professional editor to hone the storyline and curtail the prose. Infinite descriptions of the details – such as corsets and clothing, history and technology, were tedious to the point of needing to be skipped over since they just weren’t relevant enough to further the plot or needed enough to set the scene/milieu. But the overall picture of the setting was lost – I never felt like I was in the world experiencing it as Wendy does. The details distanced me from the setting rather than pulled me in.

In the same way, the pacing was very flat. We’re told things over and over rather than experiencing the plot and setting organically. All the action scenes were almost clinical in their descriptions. Things are done TO Wendy, she doesn’t really experience them. It made her reactions to everything from her mother’s death to alcoholism very unrealistic. There’s a difference between a walking wounded person and an ill-described one.  I just didn’t believe in Wendy as a person or in the world as her life.

I also really have a problem with homage references. E.g., author David Gerrold’s name is used in several instances – as the creator of the gate travel system and as the name of a location in the book.  While I’m sure author Kerr means it as a sign of respect to an author he admires, those of us who are familiar with David Gerrold might have a different reaction to seeing his name, such as (guilty admission here) yelling “CTHORRRR!!!!” in our heads, giggling silly, and then realizing that we’ve lost track of the plot of the Guild Assassin book and have to drag ourselves back in.  It’s just distraction and that is a huge problem with this book – there are too many distractions that take away from the story.  Well, that and there are no giant fuzzy worms or tribbles, I guess.

There is a lot of imagination here. We just need less distraction, more immediacy to the plot, and a character that is believable. All of those could be achieved with a rewrite under the supervision of a professional and talented editor. So while this book didn’t capture my attention, I am hoping that future efforts by this author are compelling.

Reviewed from an ARC provided by the publisher.

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