Monday, July 11, 2011

The Sable City (M. Edward McNally)

I would love to play RPG with M. Edward McNally. This was the prevalent thought I had while reading his e-book The Sable City, available on Smashwords and Amazon. The story certainly knows its way around different fantasy tropes, combining them well enough to create an adventure campaign that is light in tone and quick in pace.

What I enjoyed most about it is that it felt like a throwback to RPG-inspired series like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. In The Sable City, Captain Block and Tilda Lanai find themselves far from their island home in search of a man long lost to their people. Along the way, they encounter a host of other characters (and monsters), getting themselves embroiled in an adventure that is much bigger than what they first anticipated. Running counterpoint to their story is the adventure of another party. Zebulon Baj Nif is hired to be the translator of a mysterious woman and her Far Western warrior escorts, a job that leads them towards the same destination as Tilda's (the titular city, in case you were wondering). Mr McNally excels in creating likable characters with interesting backstories, and he certainly knows them well enough to keep them moving from battle scenes to courtly games. At key points in the narrative, I was convinced that Mr McNally plays Legend of the Five Rings when he wasn't writing epic fantasy -- though his story featured only two Japanese-inspired characters (one of them a 'shukenja'), his world's spellcasting method made me recall certain elements from my favorite tabletop RPG.

Despite the book's engaging characters, it was in no means an easy read. I came to this forewarned about the amount of info-dumping here and while I applaud the author's efforts to create such a rich and realized world, it was hard for me to care about it as much as he did. I think moderation is key; fantasy readers often appreciate flavor as long as it is provided in manageable doses. One such manageable dose appears late in The Sable City, during Amatesu and Shikashe's backstory, which was evocative of a Japanese folktale. The setting and circumstances of their tale are very stylized compared to the rest of the book but it does not necessarily contain a lot of Places of Interest or Historic Titles that I had stumbled upon in the earlier chapters. I feel this stripped-down sensibility makes these scenes stand out against the rest of the book.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Mr McNally's characters and how they dealt with each other, I would have to admit that most of them acted as if they were in an RPG and had no choice but to keep to the quest instead of going off on their own and risking the GM and party's combined wrath. There were times when I felt that a certain character did something contrary to his persona just so he could stay in the story. Moments like this came off as contrived but despite this, The Sable City is a solid effort that has a lot going for it. Mr McNally writes with real skill. He has a good feel for conflict and knows how to balance humorous banter with sobering tension. I thought there was a freshness to it that I hope to still see in his next books.

Thank you to Frida Fantastic for the reco. It was well worth it!


Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm glad you enjoyed The Sable City! I agree that Amatesu and Shikashe's was much better done than the other backstories... the infodumping lightened up as the book goes on. I think some editing on that front and making some of the D&D references less anachronistic could make it an even better book.

dementedchris said...

I agree, Frida. Not every detail is essential to tell this story, and a finer editing eye should make this flow much smoother. But this has definitely convinced me that there can be worthwhile reads to be found outside of the conventional publishing channels.

Frida Fantastic said...

I think indie e-publishing is just another business model. There's good books in both legacy and indie publishing, and there's terrible books in both. Because of the nature of indie publishing, there's more indie books, hence more stuff to sort through. But I think that good books rise to the top through word of mouth and reviews.

I sift through *a lot* of books because I receive like 20 book submissions a week, and looking for a decent indie book isn't that big of a deal. You can learn a lot just from reading the book description and the first five pages of a sample.

The Sable City is actually one of the least polished indie books I've reviewed so far with regards to editing, which goes to show that there are many indies whose quality can stand up to any legacy-pubbed book you'd see sitting in the bookstore.

dementedchris said...

I'm really encouraged by your response to indie publishing. I was just about ready to give up on finding a nice fantasy read until this one! :) I'm vacationing in Manila at the moment but I'm looking forward to reading The Emperor's Edge when I get back.

I try to get a feel for the writing by reading the samples and the reviews but I've bought a few that started out well and really struggled with some issues in the middle.

20 submissions would be very intimidating for me! Good luck with those!

Frida Fantastic said...

I hope it's not raining too much in Manila ;D I'm actually heading there very soon.

Hm, that's unfortunate that you were reading books with some issues. Sometimes reviews of indie books are overly positive, either because people don't want to hurt a "small author" and/or it's from the author's friends. Generally reviews on Goodreads are more honest. I don't hunt for indie books often anymore (since I just wait for them in my inbox :D) but I usually pick out reviewers I trust and what they said about it. The more well-known indie reviewers I trust are Grace Krispy, Big Al's Books and Pals, and Red Adept. For SF/F, I often agree with Antony of, and he reviews a combination of indies and legacy-pubbed. I dunno, reading several reviews takes less time than getting stuck with a bad book XD