Some literary cooks delight in the art of recipe-making. They are filled with the passion for creating entirely new literary worlds, whipping up brand-new recipes, and painstakingly picking out and detailing every ingredient of that new recipe. It can turn into a wondrous meal, filled with startling new flavors, or turn into a mushy, half-baked mess with some ingredients over-used and others half-baked. This Shrinking World is the first of nine books in a series dedicated to a new literary world in this fashion. Does it come out fully cooked or does it collapse like a poorly-execute souffle?
Before we find out, let us take to hear the Starving Review creed:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
This Shrinking World is dense. There’s no other word I can use to describe it. Let me add, though, that ‘dense’ is not ‘bad’. Still, to say anything else would be a lie. This book delivers ingredient after ingredient, one after another, all in service of an ambitious world-building recipe. The author is striving to create a truly new world, connected to our own but dramatically different and, in many ways, that work pays off. There’s a lot of material here and a lot of passion injected to make this new world a living, breathing one.
That’s fantastic, you may be wondering, but a beautifully crafted world does not a fantastic story make. It’s just one part of a blended whole that makes for excellent literary dining. Again, here, I cannot lie: the world is the best part of the book. Again, this isn’t to say the other elements are bad, but they don’t have the strength or the attention laid onto them that the core world-building does. Let me explain in depth …
The characters are, for the most part, interesting. The main characters are well-developed and intriguing and the author wisely chooses a very relatable viewpoint character, which allows we, the readers, to learn about this new world along with her. However, I found two quibbles on the character front. One is minor and that is the fact that the book, while written in a third-person limited perspective from our non-native’s point of view, is crafted using the terms of the alien world itself. This may not sound like a problem but I found it slightly distracting for the narrative to use terms that the viewpoint character doesn’t even begin to use until about 60% of the way through the book. It’s a minor point, but it still stuck in my head.
The second characterization issue dovetails with my largest issue with the plot itself. There is no antagonist. Yes, technically, there *are* antagonists in that there is an overall threat and opposition to the protagonists. However, they have no face, no focal point, at least none that show up in this first book. It doesn’t mean there is no conflict either. However, without a driving force or a relatable antagonist, there is no counterbalancing force in the narrative to the strongly-developed protagonists. In addition, between the lack of tension caused by this absence and the (sometimes) excessive descriptions lavished on the world and its people, the pacing of the plot becomes quite glacial.
Let me clarify this a bit more. Unlike many pacing issues that totally kill the plot, This Shrinking World‘s plot continues to move along, even when it’s reduced to a crawl. It’s easy to forget that the characters haven’t really done anything for ten pages when the reader gets wrapped up in the intricacies of this alien world and that makes the proposition easier to forgive but, at the end of the book, it certainly left me feeling like I had eaten a very airy, fluffy creme pie. It was tasty, but it really didn’t fill me up very much.
It may sound like I’m being quite critical but let me be clear: there is a lot that is done right here. The plot is very logical and nothing seems contrived or out of place. The characters, as well, are well-developed and consistent. I liked all of the protagonists and do look forward to reading more about the alien world the author creates for us. However, while I think This Shrinking World is a great prologue to a fascinating series, it is weak as a stand-alone volume. It feels like the book ends just as the story really gets started and, while that may not seem like an immediate issue when you know there’s more to the series, it can leave your readers feeling empty and, perhaps, even a little cheated, especially if they paid as much for the start of a tale as they did for a full, complete story that ALSO starts a longer narrative.
At the end, I’ll say this: This Shrinking World is dense with a fascinating new fantasy world with great character, but light on actual plot. A brilliant introduction and an auspicious start of something but that is all that it is at the end of things: a start. I look forward to reading more though and, if it develops as I think it might, I may end a future review with the suggestion to the author to combine volumes to make for stronger individual tomes. If you don’t want to invest in a long-term series and are looking for a quick read, I would suggest you knock off at least 1 star, possibly 2, from my Final Verdict as I cannot suggest anything less than commitment due to the nature of this book.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (A flavorful start for a new series and a dense new world, but too light of a plot to stand alone!)