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REVIEW: The Ninth Avatar by Todd Newton

REVIEW SUMMARY: A first outing that needs to go back for directions.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Evil army of the undead led by a prophesied destroyer of all that is good, ravages the land. A small party of would-be defenders forms by chance amidst the ashes and takes their small fight to the enemy.


PROS: Symbol-based magic that manages to feel distinct.

CONS: Awkward dialogue and actions. Characters don’t remain true. I’m quickly left with a heavy lack of interest.

BOTTOM LINE: Too much packed into a poorly designed package. I am left with the feeling that many richer stories (of smaller scope) could be pulled from the framework of this and polished into shiny goodness.

Flying wizards, an army of the reanimated dead, a giant alabaster gargoyle, dragons, oh my! All of this should be lending itself to a great epic story of adventure, excitement and grand fantasy. But it all just comes off…awkward.

Yep, awkward, that was the word that kept popping to mind as I read; forcing myself through this story that I should have stopped before hitting triple-digit page numbers.

It starts off with an old, but promising, fantasy trope: evil army seeks global domination. We’ve seen it before, but a great setting and intriguing characters can still cut a swath of enjoyment. Here’s where, unfortunately, Newton’s first book didn’t deliver. The characters are thinly conceived and awkward. It’s rare when something feels natural and I’m left with the feeling that Newton wanted too big of a story; so he pushed his characters through it, changing them as he saw fit, whether it worked for their personality or not.

The main character, Starka, starts off decently. A backstory and interest are built and you expect great things to happen. You also expect her to seek out her beloved, missing twin, but thoughts of her dear brother quickly fall off the radar and Starka’s character begins to unravel. She is shown to have no firm ideas and no ability to defend herself. However, she consistently puts herself in harms way, where she is both no help and a liability; with those that know better doing little to dissuade her. This is forced drama and adds nothing. I could have appreciated her more if she had at least shown some common sense or intelligence, but she does neither.

One scene that sticks out painfully for me involves Starka wandering aimlessly in the midst of battle, finding a large cluster of darkly mysterious crystals. Despite knowing nothing about them, in a world of magic and danger, she picks them up and lugs them around the battlefield–aimless, like she was strolling through the mall with a prize find. Why was she not hiding, fearful of the carrion soldiers, and worried about her comrades?

I have no idea.

Yes, her party is composed of powerful warriors that kick a lot of hiney, but there is far too much emphasis on how deadly the enemy soldiers are for them to be ignored. In fact, one problem about this book is that there is too much magic. Everyone has some power or ability and it kills the sense of suspense.

Behind the scenes, the world appears large and diverse, with thousands of years of history, talk of wizard wars, and more. Normally this would be a good thing, but it never comes across as vivid and compelling. It’s told as fluff in an attempt to make the world seem larger and more fantastic. The book would have been no worse without it, and perhaps better.

I wonder idly if the author was afflicted with World-Builder’s disease–a common ailment of the starting fantasy writer. I’ve been there, it can be hard to kick.

Ultimately, Mr. Newton bit off more than he could chew. At only 300-some pages, the dozens of characters, ship voyages, expansive travel, and multiple cities sucks out any life that could have been breathed in. There were many stories that could have been pulled from this book and made into a far superior piece than the combined hodgepodge.

I should note that I made it to page 200-something before I pulled the curtain. So, Mr. Newton, if you somehow pulled off the amazing and ended with something phenomenal…I missed it.

(P.S. Writing this review was agonizing. Todd Newton is a nice guy and worthy of following on twitter or his blog. Given time I think that he may become an author of note. But, his first effort is not going to be THAT book.

I should also disclose that Newton bought me this book. [Aren’t I lovely for writing a bad review.] This made it difficult to write of my distaste. No matter his explicit blog post noting the benefits of bad reviews.)

12 Comments on REVIEW: The Ninth Avatar by Todd Newton

  1. jeff vandermeer // November 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm //

    I guess my main question would be: Why? It looks like the book is definitely flawed, but why waste the signal boost, then? While also humiliating the writer? I’m not against negative reviews by any means, but this seems like overkill. And time that could’ve been spent introducing us to something more unique.


  2. @JeffV because a bad review is just as useful as a good one.  Good reviews give me recommendations as to what to read.  Bad reviews give me recommendations as to what not to read.  As someone who has read a significant amount of garbage, I appreciate these reviews.  The author has used up his valuable time in reading (most of) this book and in writing this review in order to save us the time.  That’s a useful service.

    I wish someone would have done that for me before I picked up Battlefield Earth… 🙂

  3. @JeffV

    It’s important to note that I practically demanded Clifton write this review (while also demanding that he be honest). Trust me when I say that it’s hard enough to get reviews of any kind, and I appreciate all of the effort he put into the reading and the posting.

    As far as humiliating me, that’s a non-starter. I love my book and want other people to love my book, but I’m not going to be embarrassed if they don’t. If everyone agreed with me, or if they were easily convinced that I was the coolest thing on earth, I wouldn’t value their opinions as highly as I do. The book is published, therefore all I can do is accept the criticism and use it to create something better in the future. This may sound like “I’m so humble” fluff, but this is one of the harder parts of writing. People aren’t going to like it. I accept that, and encourage them to tell me what they didn’t like.


    Thanks for that, I think your comments are right on target. Bad reviews serve a great purpose, and these days I’m more prone to read them than good ones (as CH and I have also discussed on AbsoluteWrite).

    Considering that I’m a debut author, there literally aren’t that many reviews for my book in existence. For the ones who wouldn’t like it, I’d much rather they receive some kind of warning in advance 🙂

  4. This book review kinda reminded of the movie The Chronicles of Riddick: too much stuff going on at the same time, too much plot lines struggling for attention, and utterly losing the audience attention.

    While the previous movie, Pitch Black focused on a single story, built great characters and became somewhat of a cult classic.


    And for an extreme example of that, there’s a movie on the making, The Last Voyage of the Demeter (or something like that) that focuses on a particular moment of the book Dracula, when the vampire is being transported in a boat to England. Now that’s pinpointing. Hope it is any good.

  5. @The Ragi

    Interesting. I loved Pitch Black, but Chronicles of Riddick was a failure to me because “Furians” was too much of a pun. We get it, he’s always angry.

  6. Now you know why I wrote the review: Newton had a gun to my head. o_0

    You also know why I expect good things one day from him and greatly respect his stance of professionalism regarding how his book will be received.

    @JeffV – Certainly my initial stance on reviews was: Why bother writing a review of a bad book? But after Newton’s own post, a talk with Denardo and a fairly well explored thread on Absolute Write: I was convinced.

    It didn’t make writing it easy though.

    Humiliate? No, I don’t think so. I have no interest in writing a review to Shock and Awe someone into submission, it’s a critique and my opinion. That’s all.

    @Gal – Thanks for the support.

    @Todd – Thanks for chiming in and good points as always. These I will remember when I hopefully get something published.

    @Ragi – Pitch Black was pretty awesome. I think that was actually my introduction to Mr. Diesel. I didn’t see him in The Fast & The Furious until later.

    Considering his gravelly voice I wonder if he’s ever done any Batman voice work?

  7. jeff vandermeer // November 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm //

    Yeah, well, don’t take this the wrong way because it’s not said snarkily, but I don’t think you learned anything from this review you couldn’t have picked up from a how to write manual or a good editor…and continuing education doesn’t have to occur in public. My point is, if someone dislikes a book so much without having anything interesting to say about it–can’t even give it one star–I just think some other book the reviewer was more interested in should have been reviewed.


  8. @JeffV – Saying that Newton could have picked up all of his writing how-to before is like saying we should all speak Latin and build rockets. Sure the information is out there, but even someone dedicated to learning won’t necessarily become an expert without critique and interfacing with others. After all, writing a book is a big project and it can be easy to forget important basics when mired within an imaginary world. Just like someone learning a language needs to talk to others with that language to perfect the sounds and learn its subtleties, or a rocket scientist would need others to catch errors  in the construction (and, well, help build the huge rocket). You DON’T want to launch a rocket, only to find out you screwed up something important!

    If you want to read a positive review, check out the last review for Warbreaker which was decent or look for an upcoming review of Way of Kings which was very good (so long as you like epic and LONG fantasy).

  9. @Clifton: But that’s (part of) JeffV’s point: if the writer has that much to learn, then it’s not unreasonable to expect the writer learn it (or editor to help remedy it) before putting the book out for consumption. The most useful feedback you are going to get comes during the process of writing the novel (the second most useful comes during the editing), when you can both fix the problems as well as work to prevent further ones. Hearing about things after the fact, while maybe useful for the next book, doesn’t help the book that is already out of your hands. And that book–especially a debut–helps fix your style and ability in readers’ minds. It is your first impression as an author.

    I haven’t read Mr. Newton’s book, so I can’t speak to the veracity of your review; however, if it is close to the case, then I think it shows that Mr. Newton needs to re-evaluate his process (before, during, and after writing) in regards to his next effort. And, if the review is not on the money, then he can still try to determine what he can to do address some of the perceived concerns you, and possibly other readers, had. But *if* the flaws were as great as you say, then I tend to agree with JeffV when he says that not all education has to occur on the page, in front of the reader (at their expense, both in terms of time and money).

    As for posting a negative review: even in this case, I think it has value, if for nothing else than 1) making me aware of a book I am not likely going to be interested in, and 2) starting this discussion. If every review you did was a zero or one star shredding, I’d agree that there was no worth to them; but the occasional bottom of the ranking review has it’s place, as long as it is the exception. 

  10. I want to quickly address this assumption that I didn’t receive [enough?] feedback at the writing or editing stages. My publisher did hire an editor and the manuscript underwent major changes (both requested by the editor and publisher), but it’s possible that they have totally different sensibilities than Clifton or other readers. Not trying to argue, just to clarify.

    I appreciate the input and discussion.

  11. @DougH – I can see your argument and thanks for posting. To clarify: I don’t write all negative reviews. This is in fact the first, and I was initially against doing it.

    As to the first book becoming a fixation of style and ability I agree, but I don’t think it’s an absolute. Sanderson’s first work is far removed in quality from his current. If I hadn’t been listening to his Writing Excuses podcast I might have written him off with disappointment, thinking that he would not be able to finish up the Wheel of Time adequately. So I think if there is some other medium, or perhaps a next book of Newton’s that is hyped up, it could easily erase any disinterest from a first foray.

  12. @Clifton: For clarification: I wasn’t by any means saying you write all negative reviews; in that instance, I was talking about approaches to reviews in general, and not just you. Sorry if that didn’t come across.

    @Todd: It’s never easy to throw your work out there to be picked apart by others. I don’t look forward to it myself. I will say that you are handling this gracefully, regardless, and kudos for that.

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