“The Girl with Red Hair” by Michael J. Sanford

There is a tendency among young writers to become overwhelmed by the power of their art and to overuse that power without regard to the feelings of their readers. As writers we must realize that we have the ultimate control. We know everything about the story. The readers know only what we give them. One of the skills of the experienced author is to give the reader just enough information. Too much, and we bore them. Too little, and we confuse them. This book, with its vast and complicated mythology and its huge variety of magical powers, often errs on the side of thrift. Too many times I read a page and realize that I have absolutely no idea what just happened, or why it is important. Also, actions by the characters are made meaningless by the power of the magic arrayed with them and against them. The tension about whether the character will succeed or not in his endeavours is reduced if anything the character accomplishes can be wiped out by the sweep of a magical hand.

The Girl with Red Hair is Adelaide, an 8-year-old who appears out of nowhere and immediately coerces the other characters into accompanying her on a risky quest across the continent and through the land of Fey. The main character – Tannyl, an elf with serious problems of his own – is torn between helping her and dealing with his past.

The story develops in an episodic series of crises and battles, in which the only progress often seems to be the gathering of wounds and scars by the heroes. There is plenty of action, but the team’s progress towards their main objective is slow. Characterization is full, and all the major characters develop throughout the story. However, this is not a standalone novel. It is the first episode in a to-be-continued serial, so we finish the book knowing little more than we started with.

The style of the writing also serves to keep us in the dark. Pronouns without antecedents confound us. At one point “he” and “him” are used 9 times in 4 sentences, referring to three different people, and it’s very difficult to tell which one is whom. Seemingly random point of view changes throw us off the track as well. The story thrives on strong emotion, but sometimes the feelings occur out of the blue, not really connecting to or furthering the story line.

A lot of creativity, strong characterization and emotion obscured by poor exposition and weak editing. Recommended for High Fantasy fans who don’t mind feeling confused at times by the scope of the story.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

About the Author: Gordon Long

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