Starving Review: Wyvern Diary (Ira Draconis Book 1) by Dahraan du Toit


Wyvern Diary (Ira Draconis Book 1) by Dahraan du Toit (Smashwords, Goodreads)

This is it, my literary foodies.  This was the book that did what no other ones have yet to do in my short but eventful review career.  This was the meal I couldn’t finish.  Like so many other hard-to-swallow morsels, I find it, in hindsight, horribly regretful because I truly wanted to love this book.  Cut through the suffocating globs of fat, the underdone strings of meat, and the bits of choking spices, there are some neat concepts in the bones of this novel.  But, well, it’s so very very deep.  Let’s tackle this unfinished meal from the top and perhaps we can see why this terrible event happened to me.

Before we break out the silverware, let’s remember the Starving Review creed:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

I have just taken a large sigh as I think of the depth of the task I face here.  As any of you long-time readers know, I truly want my reviews to be helpful to both reader AND author.  This means that often I must be mean to be kind … I simply won’t doctor or alter my reviews to spare feelings.  So, this will be harsh, people, but hopefully out of this harsh critique a better crafted literary meal will come out of it.

Let’s simply start with the core elements of any novel: plot and character.  Wyvern Diary has plot, of course.  The problem is that the plot doesn’t follow any logical course of action.  Events simply come barreling down the plotline with little visible cause and effect.  They just happen and reader be damned if they can figure out precisely why.  Perhaps, if I could have choked down all the gristle and fat, I could have made it to a point to where it all came together, but the sheer randomness of some things, especially character actions, make me doubt that.

Which leads me to characters (but don’t worry, we’ll address the comments on fat later).  The author literally assaults us with a DELUGE of characters, many often appearing just a time or two, yet each gets more than their fair share of description and introduction.  The problem being that, as these characters get almost no characterization, we learn nothing about them or how they act.  Even more important ones get the barest whitewash of characterization, at best appearing as hollow archetypes.  Maybe this could be salvaged if Steve, the main character and our first person viewpoint, was a well-developed and intriguing person.

Unfortunately, Steve just isn’t.  His motivations are constantly shifting, as well as his feelings on any particular subject.  He sometimes is impulsive, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes filled with a greater purpose, sometimes lazy and procrastinating.  Each paragraph could bring a different Steve to the fore.  There are entire plot points that hinge entirely on this, where Steve randomly decides to be lazy or be curious for no reason, such as seeing an open door and deciding, despite all common sense, to waltz right in and snoop around.  What we are told about him never combines with how he acts and with the history that is laid out.  Essentially, there are no really relatable characters because of this and that leaves readers disconnected from the plot.

So that fat.  As a literary cook, I have one major flaw that my fellow chefs have to constantly remind me about: I love to add just too much of each ingredient, leading to bloated recipes that could really use a trim.  So, speaking from that perspective, as a lover of big words and big sentences, Wyvern Diaries is so insanely bloated.  There are SO MANY scenes that are completely pointless, enough literary fat, that I suspect most readers would get a heart attack from clogged arteries before they finished the book.  This tremendous fat also kills the pacing, drawing out even simple tasks into long slogs of paragraph after paragraph.  It gets worse as, over time, the reader starts to realize how pointless so much of the writing is and he/she is tempted to start skimming, just to cut through to actual plot.  You, as a literary chef, NEVER want to the reader to do that.  If they are doing that, you are losing them and losing them fast!

If only that were the end of it, I perhaps could have carried on and cut my way through this meal to the end.  It isn’t though.  The fat kills the pace and then that pace is kicked while its down by alternating periods of drudge and rapid-fire obfuscating action.  There are considerable sections of ‘As You Know’ and Infodump that, unfortunately, linger lovingly on things that are not really important to the plot while glossing quickly through the things that actually ARE.  There are entire events that looked to be important subplots (one regarding a supposed traitor who was actually framed and works still with the good guys) are literally resolved within a dozen pages of being introduced with literally one sentence of off-camera handwaving.  There are action scenes where we literally do not know anything about who the characters are fighting, why they are doing so, and the purpose of said fighting.  The state of the supposedly post-apocalyptic world is baffling: everyone keeps shouting that they need to reclaim what mankind lost, but this mankind has giant robots, magic, nanomachines, self-replicating bullets, teleportation technology, and hydrogen-fuel cell cars.  Oh, and they still have the internet after the supposed breakdown of national governments and the like.  What?

EVEN ALL OF THAT I could have forced myself to choke down but I was brought low, staring at the half-eaten meal with a dead glaze in my eyes, by something seemingly innocent enough.  Certainly not something that should stop a mighty eater such as myself.  I was stopped by … formatting.

Oh, you laugh now, sure, but there are literally NO scene breaks.  Combine that with ponderous HUGE chapters (the first third of the book (almost 100k words) has only the prologue and *2* chapters), paragraphs that persist through multiple full pages of my e-reader, almost no indications of time or the passage of it, and the glacial pacing and you have a literal recipe for reader headache.  Lines of text started to blur together in my eyes and I found myself constantly having to bounce back and forth to make sure I had my place.  Combined with a bland and overly expository writing style (No, I do NOT need to know that you need to use the bathroom when you wake up!  That’s standard human living stuff there!), it’s literally like trying to gargle semi-soft blocks of lard.

So really, that’s all there is to say.  I was not brought down by explicit scenes or something horribly offensive or incomprehensible writing.  I was brought down by something that was simply so bloated, so ponderous, and so poorly written on the stylistic level that I just couldn’t bring myself to cut through to the end.  Again, as I said at the start, there is a deep-down core of interesting ideas that could, if you simply tore away all the fat and worked on toning up the literary muscle, could become a fantastic meal.  However, I only see that happening if Wyvern Diary was torn down to the literal bone and rewritten with a brand new recipe.

FINAL VERDICT: * (Way too much fat, gristle, nonsensical characters, and glacial pacing for this Starving Reviewer to choke down.)



    1. Don’t you know it?

      Still, I am happy to report that, instead of a negative response, the author has already been in touch with me, asking about every negative point, in an effort to make his writing better. That alone makes it all worth it.

      Even if something goes wrong and I never quite break-out as a writer myself, if any one person I review does after one of my critiques, I’ll be more than happy enough.

  1. That must’ve been tough to write, though I can only imagine your relief when the author recieved it so constructively. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thanked the universe that the internet wasn’t so developed when I was younger; I can almost guarantee I would’ve slapped a cover on my earliest work and not recieved criticism half as maturely as Mr Du Toit. In fact, it probably would’ve stopped my development as a writer altogether.

    A writer learns nothing if nobody is willing to be the bad guy, which is why I tend to avoid writing critiques myself. No matter how careful and fair I try to be, that feeling of being a pantomime villain never quite goes away.

    1. I understand!

      Writing negative critiques is one of the hardest things I have to do, a million times harder than writing the good ones. It didn’t help my first one was taken very poorly, but I will say that almost every negative review I’ve written since then has gotten surprisingly positive author feedback.

      It still doesn’t make it any easier though!

  2. (my first thought is “whew, it’s not my novel”.)
    Poor Starving! It sounds as if you choked down quite a bit of the unpalatable literary meal before giving up. I suspect that some similar comments could have been made on my first novel, and indeed I wish someone had made them.
    As you say, sometimes one must be cruel to be kind. Reviewers and readers do authors no favours by pretending not to see things that could be altered to improve the end result.
    But as other commenters (and you yourself) have said, giving that negative feedback is challenging. The humour you bring to your reviews makes a bitter pill easier to swallow, I think.

    1. Maybe that’s why I decided to go with it. If I have to at least spend some of my mind thinking about humor and food gags, it makes the bitter parts easier to swallow!

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