Love, Luck, and Lollipops

I first became aware of Jim Bernheimer while in a chat room.  We were talking about superheroes, and I mentioned Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible and I was talking about how it was an interesting take on superheroes, specifically the poor bastards who had to ride the wave of a shift from a Silver Age to a more Grimdark age.  While I was waxing poetic about it, someone suggested I look in Confessions of a D-List Supervillain.  With a title like that, how could I resist (incidentally, you should totally read that book, but I'm not talking about it today; however, it seems he wrote a prequel, hmm...).

Fast forward awhile, and I found myself looking for something light to read so, on a lark, I fed his name into a Barnes & Noble search and it spit out... Rider.

Rider cover
Look at that cover.  Look at it!


Spirals of Destiny Book 1: Rider.

The story of a sixteen year old girl named "Kayleigh" and her battle unicorn.  Like I said on Facebook, what the hell is wrong with me?  Let me try to explain...

First, this almost feels like a book done on a bet or a dare.  Much like how Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series was basically "lost Roman legion meets Pokemon", this feels like someone dared Jim to  write a book about a magical girl and her magical unicorn.  Rainbows and dancing puppies were optional.

The thing is, though, he's taking this concept and actually done something with it.  He's created a (so far) consistent world.  He's given thought to the magic of the world, the mechanics of how unicorn riders work, and even spent time explaining the training and so on to actually be a unicorn battle maiden.  In other words, this isn't a slapdash affair.  He's put thought into this and is laboring to make it actually work.

It's helped by not being in first person.  The perspective also shifts between the point of view of Keyleigh and the point of view of Majherri, her unicorn.  Frankly, the sections from the unicorn's perspective are a lot more entertaining.  Since he's gone through all this before, he carries a certain world-weariness and cynicism that's quite enjoyable.  Especially his long-suffering bemusement at how humans act and the idiocy of the other young unicorns.

Oh, and while the unicorns can understand humans and can communicate with each other, they don't talk.  They largely communicate through body language, and... well... the mechanics are left pretty vague, but there's no need to get bogged down in the details of the unicorn language.

There are some minor issues here; some are Jim's fault and some aren't (or not entirely).  The ones that are his fault largely flow from the dialogue.  Like many writers, he uses overly formal language at times, which makes the speech sound forced and fake.  People use contractions; eliminating them from time to time doesn't make your characters talking about mucking a stable more epic.  While this isn't his first novel, it looks like it might be his second, which could partially explain the stilted language.  Writing natural dialogue can be difficult and take time.  If he had an editor, that might get fixed.

Which leads us to the other major problem. This book is published by Gryphonwood Press.  While Gryphonwood emphatically states that they are not a publishing mill on their website, they are undeniably small press.  And the fact that roughly 1/3rd of their "about" page is that denial, it shows that, if nothing else, they're a little insecure.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they're still a very small press that apparently doesn't employ editors.  Or copy-editors.  At times, Rider reads like an eARC.  I had to actually look up Gryphonwood and see if they were an actual publishing house, or if it was just a bit of an authorial shell or a vanity press "publisher".  There are quite a few typographical errors, especially of the their/there variety.  There are missing quotation marks, extra quotation marks, inconsistent use quotation marks vs. italics for unicorn speech, and italics used either more than they should be or less than they should be for said unicorn speech.  These are all things that would have been cleaned up in a editorial pass, but it seems those never happened.  That said, I can't exactly blame him.  I mean, that's what the publisher's for.  Otherwise, you might as well just self publish on Smashwords.  And while typos in published works are nothing new (found two or three in Skin Game for instance), there's just way too many here.

Still, I can look past typos and overly formal language; this book is fun.  It's not destined to be a towering classic of the genre (if nothing else, it's way too short for that), but as a quick, fun read, it's great.  And I'll probably end up picking up the second book.  May God have mercy on my soul.

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