Some literary delights promise it all! Action, adventure, spirituality, deep characterization, coming-of-age, science fiction, this week’s meal seeks to deliver all of that and more to its readers. It’s a tall order for any book to deliver on, but it’s far from impossible! Let us break out the forks and knives to cut into this layer cake of story and find out!
Before we cut in, let’s recite 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.
There is some good, quality cooking here so, before I pull out the really sharp knives, let’s delve into these positive flavors first. We really have to look at Ben Brown as three distinct pieces, because it honestly feels like three different books (more on this below). If you look at each of these segments, they seem to be solid pieces on their own. The first segment has a wonderful, science fiction/fairy tale feel. The second segment makes for an interesting, if badly paced, alien adventure akin to Stargate, and the last segment is a surprisingly stark take on alien invasions, with a large dollop of Independence Day.
Though very, very roughly sketched-out, there’s nothing wrong with the characterization of the story. However, that being said, there’s not much done right, as all the characters feel very flat. We learn little about any of them, even the titular Ben Brown himself, outside of a few choice bits of characterization. Yes, what is shown to us is flavorful, but there is not much substance to the tastes. I believe Mr. Thorp’s intent is to let the character’s actions speak entirely for them, offering little internal insights to even the PoV characters, and that is admirable. However, there isn’t enough of it in such a short work to rely on that, especially with the expanse of scope and the rapid shifts of setting and tone.
Let’s tackle the biggest issue: the layer cake set-up of the plot. There are three distinct layers of this cake, three distinct plot sections. Each one has a substantial shift in tone, pacing, and plot. Though they all follow one after the other to make the final recipe, each layer really feels like it should have been its own novel. Again, this is a fairly short work, so each separate leg of the overall adventure feels extremely rushed and hard to follow because of that horrible pacing.
What complicates this even more is the chef’s decision to add extra spice to some parts of the story while skimping on others. There are some dense chunks of technical exposition in places, or intense focus on a character’s specific actions in a routine or technical section, while the creamy, flavorful bits of character development and, especially, world building in the later sections is left sparse and thin. For a treat intended for young adults, focusing vital scenes on the technical jargon and extensive use of acronyms and specific terms, even if they are real-world ones, instead of the characters, world building, and action do not help.
The last critical issue I found in the recipe is the problematic foreshadowing. There are elements that come up that literally are smacked into the reader’s face. Sudden reveals, vital plot points that come up only in hindsight, and the like leave for jarring transitions and head-scratching moments. Some of these are very scantly foreshadowed. Most don’t even have a hint of flavor in the mix before they come out in the recipe. It’s all right, certainly, to have some secrets to reveal. The problem is that if there is no hint at all, no foreshadowing, not even a hint of a reveal to come, especially when it is something the PoV character knows all about ahead of time, it makes the entire situation very jarring on the readers, stretching the bounds of disbelief to the snapping point.
So, to put it all together, Ben Brown’s Flying Machine promises a vast variety of flavors and delivers, but only in very small portions with jarring changes at every turn. There is some real promise in this book, but it really needs a few more revisions and, hopefully, a split into three books, with each major story section properly expanded to do them justice.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (A vast variety of flavors, but only in very small portions with jarring, puzzling changes at every turn!)