[Editor’s Note: In 2011, Tom O’Donnell’s epic fantasy novel, Gormstander Kron: Requiem for a Barbarian Emperor of Tulgarth was published by Minim Press. The book received an unfavorable review from SF Signal. After several repeated requests, we have finally agreed to post Mr. O’Donnell’s response to that review.]
On March 3rd, 2011, SF Signal gave my novel what some have called “the most negative review of any book, ever”. Below, I will address and refute, point by point, the specific criticisms this review so unfairly aimed at Gormstander Kron: Requiem for a Barbarian Emperor of Tulgarth.
- “The novel is far too long.” – 939,000 words is too long? Too long to relate Gormstander Kron’s unlikely rise from hunter-gatherer to Emperor of Tulgarth, plus a lot of the stuff he ate while he was doing it? If anything, the final edit was too short to do justice to such an ambitious narrative! In fact, since publication, I have returned to the manuscript and added several additional meal descriptions and wizards.
- “The word ‘heartily’ is overused.” – I heartily disagree! You complain that “heartily” appears 7,286 times throughout GK:RFABEOT. This is less than many other words that you failed to mention (“said” “or” and “rippling” to name a few). More importantly, though, “heartily” happens to be most precise word to use in each of these 7,286 instances. What, would you prefer I just do a Replace-All with the word “lustily”? Then I’m sure that you’d be grumbling that I used that word 11,033 times, instead!
- “The character of Gormstander Kron is underdeveloped.” – I really don’t understand this criticism, as I spend no less than twenty-seven pages describing Kron’s armor, weapons, tattoos and hairstyle. I also included a number of appendixes listing all his magic spells, treasures and the meals that he ate. Plus, the fact that he does most things “heartily” tells you about his inner life.
- “It is virtually impossible to tell all the assassin-priests apart.” – This was intentional!
- “The character of Orgaxia the Nude is not believable and frankly sexist.” – Okay, this is equatorial Tulgarth we’re talking about. Clothing can be more of a hindrance than a help in its sweltering, liana-filled jungles. Also, on page 443, I specifically write that prostitution is “one of the most noble and respected professions in all the Empire.” So who’s the sexist now?
- “Long passages of the novel seem to be directly copied from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog, an animated TV series from the early 1990s.” – Just because “Gundulf the Gruy” is superficially similar to some character from a sixty-year-old trilogy, you assume I must have stolen him. (Gundulf isn’t even a wizard; he’s a sorcerer for crying out loud!) And I suppose the Sega Corporation simply invented the idea of a talking, blue hedgehog that runs at supersonic speeds and collects golden rings? Give me a break. These archetypes have been with us for centuries. I am just the latest author weave them into a groundbreaking work of new fiction that got crapped on for no reason at all.
While SF Signal did pan Gormstander Kron: Requiem for a Barbarian Emperor of Tulgarth, it is important to note that this critical appraisal is not unanimously shared. Several of my family members also read the book and many of them gave it far more positive reviews (2.1 stars out of 5, on average.)
The blame for the unjust commercial failure of GK:RFABEOT can squarely be laid with this site. Of the hundreds of copies printed, only dozens were sold. But rather than quietly resign myself to being the “Van Gogh of Barbarian Fiction” — unappreciated in his own time — I will continue to strenuously encourage readers to reconsider my novel on its own merits. Gormstander Kron didn’t give up in his battle against Voldemort; neither will I.
If anyone out there is interested in republishing Gormstander Kron: Requiem for a Barbarian Emperor of Tulgarth, please email me (The original publisher has voluntarily relinquished all rights).
Tom O’Donnell has written for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and the upcoming show TripTank, on Comedy Central. His new middle-grade sci-fi novel Space Rocks! is out now. It doesn’t contain a single instance of the word “heartily”. Follow Tom on Twitter as @TomIsOkay.