Funny thing about us fantasy nerds: We LOVE theorizing about battles that will never be. Can Superman defeat Thanos? Would Brock Sampson take Brock Lesnar? What about Gandalf vs Obi Wan? These questions will never be definitively answered, yet they are the ones that keep us up at night.
I mention this because both Daniel’s novel, The Eagle’s Flight, and my book, The Woven Ring, have made it through the first round of the gauntlet/ trial by combat that is the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. This is quite the accomplishment already, yet we humble authors operate under no delusion that we, best-of-internet-friends-4EVER will end up facing off in the ultimate gladiatorial deathmatch in the final phase (no matter what an amazing narrative that would make for the third year of the contest (hint, hint, judges)).
Since this fantastic fight to the finish will never occur in this reality, we thought we would let it play out here in Critical Hits, swinging false equivalencies and winging insults instead of sword strokes and poisoned darts to determine the best SPFBO semifinalist: The Eagle’s Flight or The Woven Ring. As always, I’m joined by fellow fantasy author, SPFBO semifinalist, and all-round academic extraordinaire, Daniel E. Olesen, to put this issue to bed.
Matt: First off, it goes without saying, yet bears repeating, that even having made it this far in the competition is a daunting feat; the lifeblood of our fallen foes still staining us both and fading from livid crimson to muddy brown. More trials still surely await us, but the true victor has never been in question, his ascendance to the literary throne a foregone conclusion.
I speak, of course, of the masterwork known as The Eagle’s Flight by the peerless wordsmith Daniel E. Olesen.
The Eagle’s Flight is a true tome worthy of study in some venerable library where only wizened scholars dare to intone above a whisper. This is no YA pablum to be swallowed in one sitting by the unread masses, rather a work of Fiction (with a capital F) that taunts its readers to attempt it. Not since Malazan, or perhaps Seveneves, has a novel dared to be so dense, so intentionally obtuse. From the first paragraph alone, the reader knows it’s time to sink or swim, to push through all the trials and tribulations for the grand, glowing prize at the end.
For make no mistake, this magnum opus is not for the uninitiated fantasy fan. Only those of sufficient wisdom, mental fortitude, and moral surety may even attempt to scale its summit, and when one takes into consideration the overwhelming attributes of our blogger judges, who rightfully stand shoulder-to-shoulder with such critical giants as Aristotle and Ebert, it is only a matter of time before they make their hallowed decree to bestow the vaunted selfie stick of victory to The Eagle’s Flight.
Daniel: My esteemed peer, awash with kindness, has unfortunately a blind spot. Surely, victory and eternal glory must go to the masterpiece known as The Woven Ring. In a time where fantasy is beset by goblins known as clichés, orcs known as un-edited works, and trolls known as internet trolls, MD Presley has cut through the throng of mundanity that hangs like a dark cloud over the genre. Gone is simplistic morality, lazy characterisation, and storylines bloated with tiresome, expected twists and reveals.
With a truly unique setting, matched in its originality only by its protagonist and plot, The Woven Ring offers magic, characters, twists and turns like no other book. Tremble in fear at both monsters and villains alike, whether they wield terrible strength, sorcerous sabres, or simply cunning malice. With every step of the story meticulously planned, considered, and dare I say, woven together to keep past and future in perfect synchronisation, the reader is bound to be drawn into this multi-layered tale.
I would be remiss not to mention that one of its many sources of strength is how the book is inspired by the Civil War carried out by the colonials some hundred and fifty-odd years ago. This alone makes The Woven Ring stand out in a genre cluttered by stale formula and tired world-building, though I would dare say that the female protagonist is what carries this book all the way to the summit of fantasy. I can think of few other authors with the audacity to put their character through what Marta suffers, and if for no other reason than that, she deserves to stand at the top.
Matt: I have long suspected you suffer from either an overabundance of politeness or perhaps a degree of mild delusion, but after your above paragraphs praising The Woven Ring you have obviously suffered a full-blown psychotic break. Only stiff medication, or perhaps a turn in an institution, will suffice to deal with this descent into lunacy.
In Hollywood there’s a fairly open secret that non-linear timelines are the sign of a young/ weak/ arrogant screenwriter incapable of actually distilling his/ her story down to its salient bits. Cutaways are a crutch, and there’s a pretty linear correlation to the number of timelines in a piece of work and drop in literary quality thereof. And The Woven Ring has not one, not two, but THREE timelines if you count the ill-advised Prologue. And yes, prologues, like bangs and mullets (which, let’s be honest, are just bangs on steroids), are ALWAYS a bad idea.
Add to this linear deficit dialogue that’s so wooden even the mention of termites is a capital offense and prose so choppy it looks like it was hashed out by a toddler in a foreign language before being plugged through Google Translate six or seven times, and you’ve got yourself a meandering mess masquerading as a novel. Honestly, it’s nearly incomprehensible, a distinction drawn into even greater relief when compared to The Eagle’s Flight, which actually was written in a second language, yet shows a greater command of the English language than our current US president.
Daniel: Surely you jest; your own example of jumbled plot lines is only too fitting an accusation that must be leveled at The Eagle’s Flight. As if the constant change of what characters to follow isn’t bad enough, the book at one point simply jumps to an entirely different region, effectively restarting its own story. Only a sick mind could have conjured up such a garbled, non-linear storyline - even calling it a storyline is generous, as it’s more like a scattering of atoms blasted across the atmosphere by nuclear armaments.
The incessant attention to detail is another drag; do we honestly need to know the colours of every single noble family, every priesthood, and who knows what else? Just tell the bloody story! I seriously doubt it is the difference in shades of blue that’s keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Or who in their right mind cares about the exchange rate between gold and silver? How do you even manage to make that a plot point? I feel confident that if you make a Venn diagram of fantasy readers and enthusiasts of economic theory, the overlap is non-existent.
Not to mention, where’s the magic? Where’s the actual, you know, fantastical elements of this fantasy story? At least The Woven Ring has a magic system, which most if not all important characters make use of. Adalmearc is like reading the diary of a peasant in medieval Europe; plot twist, our harvest failed and we’re all going to die from starvation. The end. Who ever thought that setup was alluring to a modern fantasy reader?
Matt: I believe you sell yourself and your peasant short. Plus the pedantry; I believe it’s a well-known fact that readers expect the world to be so well rendered that even the bar table has a history that pertains to the story and will prove instrumental in the plot. And your peasant and his failed harvest that will lead to starvation? Well that at least creates some sympathy for your characters.
Compare that to Marta, who is so Mary Sue that I just switched out the Y in her first name for a TA. I mean, which power/ skill does she not excel at? Marta Sue’s a beautiful girl from the richest, most powerful family in all the land, who is also--spoiler alert--a powerful magic user, subtle spy, trained thief, unstoppable warrior, hard-drinking (wo)man of few words, military commander, and potential savior of the world.
And yet, despite all that, she has the personality of a block of wood that’s been stamped with “generic anti-hero de jour #216.” She has got to be the easiest character to write because her first response to a situation is always “grrr,” followed immediately be “time to bring the pain.”
And that’s just for the people she does like.
Both of them.
I mean, did I honestly think no one would notice I just basically took Roland Deschain from The Gunslinger and slapped a pair of boobs on him? And, since it worked so well with Roland/ Marta Sue, I might as well double down with Jake/ Caddie as the kid sidekick to soften said anti-hero.
And don’t even get me started on the Eddie/ Susannah & Luca/ Isabelle parallels…
Daniel: At least people will know and remember your characters. In The Eagle’s Flight, half of them has a name almost identical to their father/brother/son/cousin, making it look like the laziest case of ctrl+c, ctrl+v. Not to mention there’s so many of them, yet they somehow manage to still feel like the same. Oh look, another jarl. One more knight. An extra nobleman. Because that’s what the story needed, more of the same characters.
And it’s on purpose I use generally male terms above; what a sausage fest. There’s some attempt to redeem this in the second part, what with the young queen and female regent, and that would have been progressive in the 19th century. 2017 calling: just because you write about a backwards society, it doesn’t mean you should write like their gender stereotypes are the golden standard. Or silver standard - again, does anyone care? If you do, that’s great, go talk about Bretton Woods in the other room where The Eagle’s Flight belong; leave this one for fantasy, please.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read about fiat currencies for my next novel.
Matt: I assure you, I didn’t just google “fiat currencies” as a means to keep from putting the final edits on my own second novel. But unlike your sequel, which is obviously a love letter to medieval economists everywhere, I consider mine to be a second salvo in my ongoing war against the English language.
For the world to survive, one of us must dye...