Starving Review: Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern


Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern (Amazon, Goodreads)

You have to respect chefs who have the tenacity to focus on real-world problems with their literary cuisine.  Savagery loads up this recipe, though, with the genocide in Darfur combined with child kidnapping, sex slavery, and human trafficking from the United States.  Are these spices too heavy and too far apart to mix well or do they blend together nicely?

Before we find out, let us cry out the Starving Review creed from the highest mountain:

  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


Starving Review: The Stove-Junker by S. K. Kalsi


The Stove-Junker by S. K. Kalsi (Amazon, Goodreads)

It’s no secret that most of the care packages that get put into my pantry contain sweet, life-sustaining genre fiction.  Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, all that sort of thing, delights both fun and sweet.  I do, however, also find a fair share of dramatic literature as well and today’s meal is served up piping hot and filled with a stream-of-conscious narrative to hopefully match the best in drama and tragedy.  Does Mr. Kalsi bring the goods or did he drop the plates on the way to the table?

Before we find out, let us stand up straight, hands over our hearts, and recite the Starving Review pledge:

  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.


Looking at Character: Tackling Dark Matters

Tragedy and hardship are often important ingredients in the brewing of drama, conflict, and characterization.  Sometimes, it’s caused by the nature of the story’s conflict.  Sometimes, it’s an element of a character’s backstory that is revisited during their character arc.   Even in a genre or story where such things aren’t front and center, few if any people (and that means characters) go through life without experienced some kind of personality-affecting trauma, even if it’s a small and relatively inconsequential affair.

Obviously, then, we writers should learn and understand how to tackle such topics.  There are a lot of dark events that can shadow a person’s life: the deaths of loved ones, chronic illness, natural disasters, warfare, slavery, serious injury, sexual crimes, and so on.  When we introduce such things into our stories, it becomes imperative that we not only handle these things in a realistic fashion, but also in one that shows a social conscience towards readers who may have dealt with these same issues.

That isn’t to suggest that these subjects shouldn’t be tackled or that they should be glossed over to prevent triggering old wounds.  What I mean to suggest is that tragedies and horrors that crossover into the real world need to be handled with all due respect and even then with caution.  In fact, glossing over a traumatic incident in your works is probably more insulting than harming to your potential readers.  It suggests that you believe such a horrible thing should simply be pushed away and not properly explored and, be inference, that the pain of the readers who have suffered from that thing should likewise be glossed over.

Don’t even include trauma if you don’t want to explore it and treat it properly.  Don’t throw in extraneous traumatic events to a character’s backstory and never explore the meanings and repercussions of those traumas.  Giving a character a tragic history to simply drum up reader sympathy without dealing with it is a poor poor choice and will, again, insult more readers than it will possibly endear.

In the end, when you consider including such dark matters into your plots and characters, always remember that we have a social responsibility as writers and creators of media.  What we do influences others.  Always keep that in mind and remember, always do your research!