Review: “Risen,” M.T. Miller

Pros: Some interesting concepts
Cons: Combat and setting issues
Rating: 2 out of 5

M.T. Miller’s Risen: First Book of the Nameless Chronicle asked more questions than it answered. In it, a man with amnesia climbs out of his grave and kills several people who seem to be after him. While he doesn’t remember the details of who he is or what his life is, like, he has all the basic world knowledge intact. A beggar with no hands, Horace, ends up helping our main character and dubs him “Nameless.” Mutilated gang members, redneck cannibals, and nuns with mirrorshades seem to be the main denizens of this world.

 

The book hints at the world having fallen apart 15 years ago, but stays away from detailing which sort of apocalypse it was (assuming I didn’t miss it). I know this sounds picky, but the world and how it works in a post-apocalypse are hugely dependent on what happened. Some events (nukes, plague, etc.) wipe out large portions of the population. Plagues can cause people to draw back into small groups, not wanting to meet anyone who might be infected. Some events attack infrastructure, leaving us without water, sewer, and electricity. Other events can attack food production, distribution, or supply. Destruction of governmental or economic prosperity could result in some unusual people taking over the government of part or all of a state or country. The military might take over, or it might be just as devastated as the rest of the world. These are the details that define post-apocalyptic worlds and the dangers therein.

Speaking of electricity, Nameless retains basic knowledge through his amnesia and seems to understand pretty much everything except… electricity?! He called it sorcery. That doesn’t mesh with the rest of his knowledge.

Dialogue staggers between stilted, stereotypical, awkward, and weird. It gets worse when the author tries to write in dialect for some groups–in particular the highly-stereotyped back woods cannibals. It was kind of excruciating to read that part. Also, one of the women in the group raped Nameless at gunpoint–more than once–and his main reaction is to think of it as “[a] rough night-time romp”, even though he very clearly did not want her to do what she was doing. And when she does something to help him escape, he thinks about how much he owes her. Sorry, but you don’t get a pass on the consequences of rape just by switching the genders up or hand-waving away a ‘rough romp’.

The combat in particular slowed things down. In fiction combat is almost always used to increase the tension and pacing of a story. Not in this book. There is an odd truism regarding combat in fiction: if you try to detail too much it has the inobvious consequences of slowing the pace and confusing the reader. Think of it this way: in horror, you often leave some of the horrifics to the readers’ imagination. People fill the blanks in with what scares them most. In our combat example, consider that the more you detail your combat, the more it will push aside readers’ imaginations in favor of excruciating detail. But the truth is, this can backfire. Your audience fills in blanks as they go, and then suddenly you’re filling those blanks with something else (‘wait, I thought it was the other arm that got ripped off… now I’m confused’). Take advantage of audience imagination and pick out unnecessary details. Overly detailed combats also tend to slow things down, making it a really bad thing to use in spots where you want audience tension. Ultimately I found the combat to be boring, stiff, and entirely too detailed.

The book gives us a tease of what might be going on with Nameless and then ends, presumably to pick up in book two. It was a very abrupt end.

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