When “Kindle Cover Disasters” debuted on Tumblr earlier this year, the Internet ROFLMFAO’d at the truly heinous designs: cheap clipart, effects reminiscent of early Print Shop, clashing pastels, Photoshopping by palsied hands, and fonts so troubling you find yourself celebrating the relative peace of Comic Sans.
But if you were taught anything in this life, chances are it was this: Never judge a book by its cover. Of course, whatever genius came up with that old stinker never laid his eyes on a self-published Kindle e-book, so it’s fallen on us—well, specifically on me, for reasons having to do either with my generous spirit and love of “bad” sci-fi/fantasy, or some sort of karmic debt—to find out whether the rule still applies. Is it fair to judge e-books by their terrible covers, or does genius lurk beneath? For the foreseeable future, I’ll regularly be downloading and reviewing a selection of the most eye-catching disasters. Will we find the next Wool, or just the next 50 Shades of Grey? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.Lawrence Ambrose
After some debate with my editors, I convinced them to let me inaugurate this series with Lawrence Ambrose’s Moira: The Zorzen War (The Divided Worlds Book 3).* Yes, it’s the third book in an ongoing saga, and no, I have not read the first two, but apparently those covers weren’t disastrous enough for “Kindle Cover Disasters,” because I couldn’t find them on the Tumblr, which means they’re out of contention. And anyway, why not? I can tell you now this turns out to be the absolutely right decision. The plot of Moira: The Zorzen War is too straightforward otherwise. Starting midway through The Divided Worlds gives this book just enough mystery—like, what happened to Moira’s mom, and am I to understand that Moira possesses multiple hearts?†—to sustain interest for the estimated 208 pages (estimated because, in Kindleland, pagination doesn’t exist).
*On Amazon, Book 3 in the Divided Worlds goes by a different name: Moira: A Girl and Her Dragon. Despite Googling, I have not been able to divine why this is so. It’s an inferior title in every way, not least because it diminishes the full impact of the Zorzen War which, being not very impactful to begin with (see The Review below), needs all the titular help it can get.
†Moira refers just as often to her singular heart (“tugged at my heart,” “my heart’s content”) as she does to her plural hearts (“jolted my hearts,” “my hearts racing”). No explanation is given.
As straightforward as Moira’s aim (she’s killer with a bow, apparently some forgotten step-sister of Katniss’): Moira finds herself in a strange land, Zorzen, so she starts looking for a “pathway” back to her Earthly home. In between, there’s a war.
Moira Noonan, a college-age girl who, though she spends most of the book as a blonde, actually has red hair and some sort of part-Akrasian-royalty blood flowing through her (very sturdy, and extremely deadly) warrior-princess body.
Winner: “I stared at the velociraptor, wondering what it tasted like or whether it was even safe to eat. Could I eat meat raw? Was it even possible to start a fire on a ‘Planck B’ world? It must be, or they wouldn’t be capable of smelting steel, right?”
Runner-up: “I traveled in my stolen ‘war chariot’ with my ‘homeys’ (Orion, Abrax, Acheron, and Diodoros), along with Tyrus, Asclepius, and Alkaios, the famous warrior, philosopher, lover, and flute-player who was also by far the largest satyr I’d seen (close to seven feet and surely approaching four hundred pounds—very little of it fat).”
Since you’re likely wondering where velociraptors and satyrs fit into the Zorzen War, we’ll start there. The former are the Zorzen themselves, evil cultish lizard-men who practice a perverted form of Christianity and seek total domination over this alien world. Which is also called…Zorzen. This becomes confusing and problematic for the following reason: We’re meant to believe the Zorzen race has no valid claim over the planet Zorzen, yet—at least nominally—it seems they do. (The satyrs are the good guys, we’re told, and the side Moira takes.) That said, it’s possible Moira’s simply confused on the subject of Zorzen nomenclature, or perhaps she says “Zorzen” to mean “inhabitants of Zorzen” (except she doesn’t call the satyrs “Zorzen”; they’re the Silouani). Whatever, it’s fine. She opens the book by admitting her “usually reliable memory” is faulty, possibly because she hasn’t eaten in a while. In fact, she hasn’t been this hungry since “that time in the torture coffin.” (I don’t understand this reference, of course.)
This, actually, is one of the book’s virtues: If you’re confused, Moira probably is too. She isn’t what you would call well educated. It’s not her fault—she was abducted from Earth during her freshman year! So she doesn’t speak in perfect sentences, and she has a very college-age habit of starting most sentences with “Um.” At one point, she says this:
“I couldn’t be sure, but I couldn’t escape the disheartening sense that our initially successful blitzkrieg was stalling, and that the ‘winds of war’ (or was it ‘tide’?) had shifted against us.”
And later, this:
“He [her dragon] was floundering in the air—or was it foundering, I could never keep those two straight?—obviously struck by Zorzen darts and maybe more.”
This is very refreshing. Most of the time with YA—the genre to which this book seems, in a kind of bastard-child way, to belong—we’re forced to accept that tween- or teenage first-person narrators can tell their stories in publishable sentences mostly free of usage errors. But do we really think that Twilight’s Bella Swan knows the difference between “floundering” and “foundering”? Not a chance. Moira, by contrast, is frank about her linguistic shortcomings. In fact, she’d probably tell you she’s not much of a writer at all, so why fake it?
There are other virtues to Moira’s just-your-average-gal-from-Urbana style. For example, she surrounds every vaguely metaphorical word or phrase in scare quotes, clearly as a helpful way of reminding us she’s not being perfectly literal, as here:
“I raised my shield and crouched beneath it as darts rained down on me. Most of them bounced off the shield, but one imbedded in my left thigh. I ripped it out, and staggered to the control sphere a few yards away, dragging my increasingly ‘wooden’ leg with me. I got my hand on the sphere and shot out of there at full ‘throttle.'”
Now we know Moira doesn’t actually have a wooden leg. It’s a “wooden” leg.
Yet another plus: Moira will never make a reference you don’t understand. Whereas authors of so-called “literary” sci-fi/fantasy indulge in the most esoteric allusions to ancient Greek sub-deities and side characters from Russian literature, which rarely makes anything clearer, Moira seems capable only of referencing well-known franchises (Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), popular fictional men (James Bond, Rambo, Homer Simpson), and popular real men (Gerard Butler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hillary Clinton). These have the advantage of being so accessible, so relentlessly contemporary, that meaning is almost never impeded. (Except, of course, when they get a bit bungled, which they sometimes do. Two mentions of the Creature from the “Lost” Lagoon creep in, and Ambrose spells Hillary Clinton’s name with only one “l.” At least she’s president in this version of Earth, which, perhaps being a parallel version, could plausibly account for the misspelling.) My favorite comparison: Late in the book, Moira observes that the lizard queen looks like a “gay Kermit the Frog.” So vivid.
But we’re losing sight of the story, which proceeds like this: Moira starts by being kind to some race of zombie dirt-creatures, so they reward her with brownies and point her in the direction of the friendly sex-obsessed satyrs and their sister nymphs—with whom, after taming a Zorzen dragon she names Patrick (her father’s name), she allies in their fight (which she basically instigates) against the Zorzen. This has all been prophesied by the white-haired Erato.
The relationship with the dragon Patrick, or Pat for short, is the story’s central love story. “I’d never had a pet in my life,” Moira says, “except for one misfortunate hamster named Winston (who’d managed to impale himself on his running wheel).” I too have encountered a pet named Winston (except he’s a pug and, as far as I know, largely unimpaled), so I related to this, as well as to Moira’s growing affection for, and dependence on, Pat. Who doesn’t want a pet dragon? The war with the Zorzen, by contrast, which involves satyrs coming together with their “dark” northern brothers (also prophesied), is underdeveloped. It amounts to a lot of bloodshed and little momentum. Perhaps this is why Ambrose couldn’t justify “Zorzen War” as the subtitle.
Which, again, is too bad, as it’s better than “A Girl and Her Dragon,” but at least that subtitle means we get to see Pat the dragon on the Amazon Kindle version of the cover. He’s the heart(s) and soul of the book. Atrocious to look at, but cute and cuddly on the inside. As with dragons, so with self-published e-books: Absolutely judge them by their cover, as it will probably save your life (or at least your time), but if you’re willing to part with $2.99 and put in some effort to tame the wild beast, you might find a bit of warmth, even companionship, within.