Ragged Claws: Review

Just finished this one last night and wrote a review as soon as I was conscious this morning. This is a must read for everybody, except small children.


The world John Collick has created is not one the reader can ever get to know. It is as limitless as the imagination of its author. There are none of the familiar physical features of our world, not even of our fantasy worlds. Take a medieval vision of Hell, give it the Spielberg treatment, remove all the laws of physics you ever learnt at school, people it with the monsters you used to draw when you were ten, and you’re ready to dive in. Take the cover illustration. That isn’t a fanciful image produced by a cover artist who hasn’t got a clue what the book is about—that weird white thing is one of the central characters, and a very accurate portrait it is too. I’m not even going to begin to describe the story; suffice it to say it’s like nothing on earth.

I must admit that I hesitated slightly at the opening scenes of this latest episode in Max and Abby explore the end of time. How many fantasy novels have I read that begin with the hero leaping out of the window of an inn in a low-life quarter of a scruffy town to rescue a damsel in distress? How often does the hero end up with a long-term girlfriend or eternally grateful prince/priest/mage in tow after saving her/him from ruffians? However, I should not have doubted: Ragged Claws is anything but predictable. After only a few paragraphs we part company with the trope, and Max and Abby are plunged into the next absolutely mind-boggling leg of their journey in the company of two enigmatic characters who grow more and more unsettling as the story progresses.

This is a wonderful book, a massive canvas of purple and blood red skies, oceans of liquid metal, decomposing cities full of fear and squalor inside the body of God (yup, that’s right), nightmarish beings, and exquisite beauty. It isn’t for the squeamish either. Be prepared to be splattered with blood, red and white, and fountains of tripes and engine oil. One of my favourite images is of a beach on the edge of a sea of some molten metal, composed of minute cogwheels from the millions of dead machines and war engines lying at the bottom of the ocean. It is a vividly visual book, deep blues and purples shot through with the artificial lights of a dying universe, filled with crumbling skyscrapers miles and miles high built from rusting girders or filthy green glass, and the furtive, almost invisible remnants of humanity.

Every good story has a quest, and Max and Abby’s is not to defeat evil and bring back the good old status quo. It is no less than to ensure that the construction of God is completed so that he (it?) can carry humanity through the god door and into the next universe before this one flickers and dies.

This is a very strange and beautiful book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to readers who appreciate the world of fantasy comics, early sci-fi films, or simply being carried along on rusty tracks faster than the fastest fighter jet and tossed into a universe of immense empty darkness, and savage metal claws.


To review, or not to review

Authors are advised not to write book reviews, probably so as not to be accused of gunning down the competition. But when I have finished something I enjoyed, writing a review is an extension of that enjoyment. Perhaps my enthusiasm will be contagious. But what happens when I don’t like the book?

Since I acquired a Kindle, I have stopped reading ‘books’. As owning a Kindle automatically draws you into the Amazon buying experience, I have acquired a lot of ebooks by authors I would otherwise not have heard of. At first I was dismayed to find that the big names were still expensive even in digital format, but also made the much happier discovery that there is a wealth (or at least a hell of a lot) of cheap to free books to be had.

As a new author, who will one day be published, I have been trawling through the lists looking for those books that, like my own, are by complete unknowns, but could be as entertaining as anything on the lists of the big publishers. The first two I read, The Fifth Circle by Tricia Drammeh, and Thumb by John Collick I very much enjoyed and was more than pleased to write reviews to encourage others to try them out.

Since then I haven’t had such good luck. I have abandoned a couple after getting far enough to know that I was wasting my time, and a couple more that I finished, enjoyed certain aspects, but the overall impression was of something lacking, glaring plot holes, or an irritating plethora of typos.

Much as I would love to write about the things I enjoyed in these books, I put myself in the place of the author, and think how crushed I would be to be told, kindly, but firmly that the characterisation was nice, the description effective, but the storyline was just a random string of events with no connection and no tension.

The rating system on Goodreads and Amazon makes a review more like a judgement. Some aspects can be good, others less good, and others frankly rubbish, so do you take the highest or lowest denominator? Either is unfair to the book. Seems to me that criticism ceases to be constructive once the book is published, except at the level of, you’d be well advised to take this book down and clean up all the typos.

Even when it is laden with what seems to me to be completely unjustified praise, I would feel very uneasy about giving a critical review to an indie book. I feel too much for the author, the ego and self-confidence that is so easily bruised by a less than glowing review. If I can’t praise a book wholeheartedly, I’d rather keep quiet.
This is the difference between the review written by a reader to inform other readers, and the review written by an author to encourage and support a fellow author. Is it hypocritical to only write reviews of books you have liked? Can an author gain anything except a red face from receiving a critical review? Is it incumbent upon every reader to stick red warning lights on every book they dislike?

I don’t know the answers, but I know that there is a bunch of books that I have liked, but felt were flawed, that I am keeping quiet about, unable to steel myself to writing an honest review for fear of hurting an author’s pride.