BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Nakor is a very special elf, at the center of a story involving the return of a spider Goddess. Oh dear, its a D&D campaign turned into a novel. A bad novel…
PROS: An unflinching look at what an early novel from a published author looks like, and what the author has learned since then.
CONS: Sometimes the annotations and snark grow thin or repetitive, leading to long passages of passable (or worse) prose and plot.
BOTTOM LINE: A book that stands as an interesting artifact of Hines’ career more than a training or teaching tool.
Overuse of raised eyebrows; pretentious quotations; unnecessary adverbs and adjectives; characters who appear and disappear, with inconsistent characterization and even worse character names; wobbly plotting; story elements inspired or descended from a D&D campaign; tormented, angsty vampires (who thankfully don’t sparkle); mustache-twirling henchmen; bad dream sequences; terrible plotting….These things may be in your recently completed Nanowrimo novel (no one should ever read mine from a few years back), but they are also elements of Rise of the Spider Goddess, the hitherto unpublished first novel from Jim C Hines. Hines read an excerpt of the novel (in costume!) as part of a fundraiser. He got enough of a response to publish the entirety of the novel.
Rise of the Spider Goddess itself is the kind of first novel that is usually best left in the trunk to never see the light of day. What makes the relatively-short-but-banal novel readable is that Hines has taken it upon himself to annotate and comment on the writing, the story, the action and the characters. Hines knows what he wrote is very much unpolished tripe, and he goes through it with verve and joy. From the small to the large, Hines looks at his writing weaknesses, his plotting problems, his characterization, and shows why this is bad, and how he has learned better. Interestingly, tiny bits of things found in this novel have subsequently wound up in later, published work of his, showing that even in dross, things can be salvaged.
The annotations and commentary — which are thick, merciless, and furious at the beginning — do taper off as the novel progresses, leading to relatively long passages of a not very good nor engrossing fantasy story. The impact of the novel and Jim’s annotations are strongest and freshest at the beginning of the work. After a while, pointing out the same flaw over and over would get old, and Hines eschews this, letting the bad prose to often stand for itself.
I think Rise of the Spider Goddess is best aimed at Hines’ fans, in particular, who are interested in the witnessing the evolution of the author’s skill. In a way, Rise of a Spider Goddess is the “It Gets Better” evidence for those would-be-writers who despair at the lack of polish in their current craft.