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Book Review: Salt and Iron, by Tam MacNeil

Salt and Iron - Tam MacNeil

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Salt and Iron - Tam MacNeil Cover

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James van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster-hunting family—and the family’s big disappointment. He’s falling in love with Gabe Marquez, his oldest friend and son of the family the van Helsings have worked alongside for years. Things get even harder for James when he becomes what he and everyone else despises most—a magic user.

He didn’t mean to evolve into such a despicable person, and he knows using magic is illegal, but there’s nothing James can do about it, no more than he can stop himself from loving Gabe. Just when things can’t seem to get worse, he and Gabe are called to help nab a network of magicians who are changing destiny. Not just any destiny, but the destinies of the van Helsing and Marquez families. James foresees a terrible fate, one in which monsters emerge from the cracks, along with his dark secret. And that’s when people start to die.

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Book – Salt and Iron

Author – Tam MacNeil

Star rating – ★★★★

No. of Pages – 200

Movie Potential – ★★★★

Ease of reading – very easy to read.

Would I read it again – Yes.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

This was quite a strange one for me. On one hand, I really didn’t enjoy it when I started. The writing style of 3rd person, present tense, isn’t my thing. I’ve never really enjoyed it in a book or been able to settle with it. This one took a few pages, but I eventually got into it and into the story.

I normally review the Plot and Characters separately, but this time I’m doing Pros and Cons. It will seem there are more Cons than Pros, but that’s only because it’s easier to describe the issues than it is to definite a feeling that a good story gives you.

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CONS

The writing is quite casual. For the first 20% I seriously didn’t want to keep going. The story wasn’t progressing to anywhere that kept me interested, the writing was strangely done and the tense, as said above, didn’t work for me. There was a very casual way of writing, where it would have fitted and made sense in a 1st person POV story, but not in a 3rd. Example: “He has to undo it and retie it. Should be able to do this blind. Knew he’d maybe overdone it,”. Cutting sentences like that off is really unnatural in 3rd person, but after a while it stopped. It felt quite lazy and sloppy. Half the time I wondered if the real problem was that words were missing, that would normally have made these sentences make sense.

It genuinely felt as though the writer wasn’t confident with themselves or the story for that 20%, as it reads as though one person wrote that part and someone else wrote the rest. Maybe it was the author getting into the stride of the story, I don’t know, but about the 20% mark is where the characters grew into something palatable, the story took off and began to make sense and when it all came together.

In terms of plot, I have one argument in that there is a creature called a “sidhe” and not once in any part of the story is it explained what this is. My dictionary recognises it as a fairy people of Irish folklore, but that’s not how it reads and I really would have liked an explanation of what the author meant this creature to be.

From the blurb, the cover and the use of the van Helsing name, I expected this to be historical in some sense, but it wasn’t. Not in the slightest. It’s an urban fantasy novel, contemporary, beginning badly but growing more mature as it continued. There were a few run on paragraphs that confused even the author, allowing repeats of half sentences to appear. These may be fixed before the release, but I’m mentioning them because they were in my version. Example:

“When he gets up to Maria van Helsing’s little library, or the Red Room as he calls it when he names it for himself, since the couch and the chairs are all red leather and the oriental carpet on the floor is red too, when he gets up there she’s waiting for him.”

There’s also no warning or definition of a change in POV. No notice of who the POV belongs to, for sometimes a few paragraphs (or at all, in one or two cases) and no break or line to separate the POV’s between characters. Sometimes one character’s POV runs through the gap between scenes, taking up an entire chapter, sometimes 3 different POV’s appear in one chapter, with only one line gap between them and no warning of whose head you’re in or that’s its changed from the previous scene. In total, this book has multiple POV’s shown, sometimes for less than a page, sometimes for chapters at a time: James is the biggest POV, then Gabe, then Rob, Abe and Maria.

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PROS

When it comes to the characters, I really genuinely loved how messed up James was, how loyal and terrified Gabe was at one point, then how broken and crazy they both became. They had genuinely human reactions to whatever situation crept up.

The plot was a wholly original take on the van Helsing legacy, mentioning very briefly the whole Dracula thing, without ever leaning too heavily upon it. To be quite fair, I’d say the only references to the original van Helsing story is the use of the name, the duty bound task of tracking of monsters and the skimmed mention of Dracula. Everything else is entirely original and captivating.

I began reading in the early morning and didn’t put it down until early evening. I made very little notes about the positive aspects of the story, because I was too engrossed in my reading to mark them down.

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OVERALL

This would have been a 5 star rating, if it wasn’t for the niggles and the frustration of the first 20%. Other than this, this was a solidly good read and I’ll be reading more from the author in the future.

The first 40% acts as the build up and that’s where I floundered most. Getting to know the characters, their personalities and the role they all play in this new world was a little tiresome, when the style of writing wasn’t to my taste and didn’t seem to fit the tense/POV the author was using. However, after that point, it was non-stop action, danger, romance and intrigue.

This could have been a story for the YA market, if it wasn’t for the prolific swearing and a few gross parts that made me gag at the images they brought to mind. The author certainly touched on the right amount of gore for the story. There is no explicit sex and, actually, no sex at all that’s on page in anything more than a sentence of mention. Even then, it’s between a man and woman. However, the romance was there as strong as I wanted it to be and it was perfectly fitting that the MC’s didn’t venture into sex, after all they’d been through. The story ends nicely, with a hint that more might be to come later, if the author wanted to, but also that nothing is tied up in a neat red bow. Things are settled, but far from perfect. And I like that.

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FAVOURITE QUOTE

“Gabe turns his head. He smiles a faint, pained smile. “I’m a monster, Jamie.”

“And I’m a drunk, so we’re a pair.””

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