Awe-Struck, $4.99, ISBN 1-58749-499-X
Historical Fantasy, 2005
Remember Michaela August? You may remember the pseudonym for Marian Gibbons and Karin Welss who back in year 2000 had many people shaking their heads at how their very good Sweeter than Wine couldn’t find a traditional publisher due to its “unmarketable” backdrop and all? Once many people got off their soapboxes and kept the pearls away, they forgot all about ebooks and Michaela August. It is only recently that I discover how Michaela August has quietly published three out of the five planned books in the historical fantasy series House of the Rose. Oh well, no harm giving the first book in the series Glass Souls a try, I think to myself as I add this book to my shopping cart.
Having struggled for three months to finish Glass Souls and finally having done so with a huge sigh of relief, allow me to first say that the formatting of the PDF file that this book comes in the form of could have been much better. Usually pages in a book are formatted in a consistent manner from book to book when it comes to punctuation, the use of italics, spacing between the lines, the type of font used, and chapter header format. In Glass Souls, however, the page is set in a way that doesn’t conform to the usual manner, which won’t be so bad in itself, with added bonus of awkward use of italics and dashes to throw me off-guard. The use of a dash at the start of a telepathic conversation (-Like this. Yes, I’m speaking to you via telepathy-.) takes some getting used to but the situation is muddled further when italics are also used for internal monologues (Wow, italicized mindspeak. This must be reserved for special occasions like mental shag sessions with Dr Spock. –But sometimes, like this sentence, there is a dash as well, maybe because this sentence is a very, very, very special kind of mindspeak, even more special than the one without a dash, especially when there’s a dash at the end of this sentence too-!) as well as flashbacks (My eyes were so much better before I attempted to read this book.). I guess I’m a traditionalist set in the old ways because I like the pages of my books to look like… well, the pages of a typical professionally-set book. The unconventional use of punctuation (a full stop after a dash, for example) and typeset really makes it hard for me to read this book because my eyes feel the strain after a while. The unprofessional formatting in this book really strains my eyes. The lack of comfortable white space and the use of single line spacing even between paragraphs contribute to the messy appearance of the layout. I cannot read this book for more than ten minutes before my eyes start to water.
Oh, and some smart fellow has set the font in this PDF file to be bigger than necessary so this book clocks in at a hefty 615 pages. Therefore, before you ask, no, I am not even going to think about printing that many pages!
This story, at least in this book, revolves around Menelaos, who is a djinn. The djinnis are actually vampires – don’t ask – charged to protect the House of the Rose in Béziers, from both the Saracens and the Crusaders during the early years of the thirteenth century. Unfortunately for Menelaos, things didn’t turn out so well for him and he lost his wife and child during a Crusader assault on Béziers. As a result, forty years later Menelaos is now reincarnated as a powerless being who is charged with a mission by an elder djinn.
In the course of his adventure, he encounters an eighteen-year old Crusader – male, of course – named Michel and his cousin Sir Roland d’Agincourt. These three will soon begin traveling to the House of the Rose where Roland will become the new Protector of the House and there will be secrets to be revealed. Michel also turns out to be the reincarnation of his beloved wife Honoria and the attraction is still there between Michel and Menelaos who is now known as Sir Dominic to the people he encounters. This isn’t a homosexual romance story, by the way, at least not in this book as Dominic and Michel don’t have much opportunity to explore their attraction. The bulk of the middle portion of this book is about Roland learning to be the new leader of the reformed House of the Rose. He’s arguably the main character in this story.
Glass Souls is a very difficult book to review fairly because I’m only reviewing the story based on one-fifth of it. I enjoy reading the second half of this story because the author sweeps things up to a well-written climax and the villains are complicated and fascinating. However, you may have noticed that the synopsis I’ve given of this story is not detailed. That is because half the time I have no idea what is going on in this story. Everyone seems to be a reincarnation of someone else and I have a hard time keeping track of who is who because Michaela August commits a sin that many romantic fantasy authors tend to commit: she uses all kinds of exotic-sounding jargon or otherwise ordinary words with the first letter capitalized but there is not enough exposition to allow me to understand the world-building that the author has done for her setting. For example, the House of the Rose. I’m still pretty unclear as to what it is. I have this impression that it is a religious cult of some sort but with no details forthcoming from the author, I can only guess.
The biggest mistake, I feel, is in the opening pages when Ms August describes the turning ceremony where the Protector is made into a vampire. These pages are so opaque because I have no idea what is going on and the author isn’t showing me, she’s instead throwing fancy-sounding names and phrases at me without even giving me any hints to make an educated guess as to what these phrases mean. I don’t even know what these people are doing with their chanting and all because the author describes the scene without actually telling me anything about it. Such obfuscation throws me off. I am trying to regain my equilibrium, so to speak, as I turn the pages, so I am not happy when the author continues the trend of using phrases and words without providing any much-needed exposition to help me understand what is going on. Fortunately, the mumbo-jumbo words are dropped and the author uses words that I can understand when Sir Dominic finally meets Michel and Roland, but the damage is done. There are many fundamental aspects of the plot – like the nature of the House – that are not made clear when a comprehension of these aspects is needed for me to empathize with the main characters. For example, I have no idea what the House really is or why it is so important to everyone connected to it, so I cannot identify with this urgency to rebuild the House to its former glory. And since the rebuilding of the House is the main theme of this book and probably the rest of the series, I need to understand why the House is so important.
I admit that for all I know, the author spent a paragraph or two somewhere in the story explaining what the House is. I can’t remember if she does the first time I finish the story, so I make two more tries to reread the book before I sit down to write this review. Every time I try, however, the formatting of those pages make it very difficult for me to carefully reread every word on every page. I end up skimming the book on my final reread because my brain threatens to shut down every time I see a sentence like this – –Oh, this is a mental conversation -. – on every other page while my eyes water as I struggle with the messy layout of the page. So if I have clearly overlooked an important paragraph here or there, I will happily admit to doing so. But I’m being careless in order to prevent my eyes from completely failing on me so I hope everyone will understand if this is the case.
Seriously, this is the first digital book I’ve read that is a painful struggle to finish due to the technical aspects of the formatting, so I strongly suggest that anyone who wants to purchase this book to choose some other file format other than PDF; hopefully those other file formats are easier on the eyes. I won’t mind reading the second book in this series as long as someone can reassure me that there will be more exposition and less exotic but ill-explained jargon, and more importantly, that book will not be formatted to make me feel as if someone has launched a missile into each socket of my eyes.