Indie Review: Dark Empathy
If this is your first time here, please read this explanation of the philosophy and purpose of these reviews.
[[Is it wise to review your own book? Probably not. But it didn’t seem fair to review others’ work without putting my own through the same wringer. Plus, it can serve as a sample of how these reviews work. So here we go!]]
What it’s about
Misanthropic empath Bastian Lucas escaped a shady military compound a year ago after undergoing an experiment that nearly killed him. Now he’s been dragged back to help find a serial killer who shouldn’t exist–and who has powers very similar to Bastian’s. Over the course of the investigation, Bastian not only uncovers the sinister dealings of his mentor, Major Valentine, but also very inconveniently finds himself falling for Captain Henry Mortimer, the compound officer assigned to keep an eye on him…and who has a secret power of his own.
What rocked my socks
These dorks tho: The biggest strength of this book, hands down, is the characters. Bastian, Henry, and Laurel are some of the best (and most enjoyable) characters I’ve ever written. Their relationships and flaws make them both believable and hilarious, and the ways they suffer and grow drive the story. Also, it’s embarrassing how hard I ship Bastian and Henry. (Don’t worry; I’ll spare you.) And since heroes are only as good as their villains, mad props to Valentine for being delightfully creepy in a destroying-your-sense-of-self-by-preying-on-your-insecurities sort of way. Yeesh.
Feeling the feels (and hating it): Empathic characters are often portrayed as kind and caring and gentle, which Bastian is, er, most definitely not. The conflict inherent in someone who is extremely emotional but sees that as a catastrophic weakness makes for a compelling character, if only because we know he’s going to have to grow past it or let the crankitude consume him.
Friendship is magic: I’m particularly proud of the relationship between Bastian and Laurel. Platonic friendships between men and women can be hard to find in fiction, and this one even has its own arc as Bastian struggles with How To Friend and Laurel very slowly reveals more about her past. Their diametrically opposed personalities also contribute to the lulz.
What didn’t rock my socks so much
Keeping it #profesh: Like many indies, I fell into the trap of releasing too early. The earliest versions of DE were definitely not up to snuff in terms of packaging and editing. Since then, I’ve cleaned up the prose and reformatted the e-book–and gotten some excellent help reformatting the upcoming paperback. But the originals definitely left something to be desired. I hate that I helped to reinforce the stereotype of the unprofessional indie, but making mistakes means I get to learn from them.
Reader in the dark: Stylistically, DE tends toward action and snappy dialogue rather than extensive description. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can leave the reader without a clear sense of what people look like or where scenes are happening. There’s giving your readers room to use their imaginations…and then there’s outright leaving them in the dark. It’s a balance I know I have to work on as a writer.
*Insert maniacal laughter here*: The trouble with showy villains is that they’re, well, showy. John Doe was super fun to write, but I have to admit that he sometimes has trouble keeping away from mustache twirling, particularly during the endgame showdown. Hopefully, his motivations are realistic despite all that scenery chewing.
While there are definitely areas for improvement here (most notably the need for more time spent setting the scene), overall, this is a delightful story that hits some great notes of romance and humor alongside the darker stuff. The characters and their relationships are engaging, and there’s a lot more of the Compound Network to explore. If only there were a sequel coming up that would dig a little further into these characters, their powers, and their world….
Get your copy of Dark Empathy here.
Writerly Takeaway Corner
- Tell stories about interesting people. No matter how good your worldbuilding is, it can’t help you if your story isn’t happening to engaging characters. No need to let your fears around this stall you out, though! If you love your characters, chances are other folks will, too.
- Try to balance exposition and action. Give readers enough background to get a good foothold in your world, but don’t bore them with extensive backstory when what matters is the here and now. And the toughest part: realize that no matter how you approach this stuff, your style isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Your best bet is to tell your story in a way that excites and engages you.
- If your goal is a sustainable future as an author, take the time to put your best foot forward when it comes to your work. I’m not a fan of guilt-tripping indies (or anyone) into thinking they’re losers if they’re not willing to put down thousands of dollars and a gazillion work hours right this second. But releasing an unpolished book isn’t doing you–or the industry–any favors. Give yourself some space to figure out what timeline and investment work for you, and commit to learning and improving with each book.
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