The Clearing by Thomas Ryyder

Title: The Clearing
Author: Thomas Rydder
Publisher: Greyhart Press
Year Published: 2013
Pages: 228 (ebook)

First Line (Prologue): He stepped aside and let the followers pass.

Received through the Early Reviewers program over at LibraryThing.

I wasn’t overly impressed with The Clearing, but I wasn’t disappointed, either. Writing in a well established genre, especially one currently dominated by teen-angst ridden garbage, is difficult, and kudos to Rydder for giving it a whirl. And really, there’s nothing exactly wrong with The Clearing. It does a couple things well, narrowly misses a couple others, and falls far short in a couple areas as well. There is a single thing that ruins the entire book for me, but it’s a personal preference and probably shouldn’t be held against Mr. Rydder or The Clearing.

All in all, a solid and respectable first book that Rydder should be proud of. And hey… At least nothing sparkles.

What worked:
1. I really liked the reintroduction of the more traditional elements of the werewolf legend. There were a few new elements that Rydder implemented, as well, and he kept them in line with the traditions of the genre. That worked extremely well for him throughout the novel.
2. Rydder’s description is solid. His tendency to imply rather than be explicit works well for him, especially when focused on the inherent violence and gore of the genre. But that solid description comes with a bit of a price, which I’ll get into more in a moment.

What almost worked, but just missed:
1. PoV of a dog: I love the idea, but for me it fell short of it’s potential. This is a dog… I think there needs to be a much more drastic change in the style and/or structure of the narrative to pull it off. A more pronounced sensory component, perhaps, with limitations of black/white vision. But the thought process, in general was extremely similar to the PoV-human sections. I have no idea what the thought process is of a dog, but I would have liked to see something much more distinctive that set it apart from the other chapters/sections of the novel.
2. The overall structure of the novel seemed… choppy. I think this was intentional and meant to assist the pacing of the story itself – things happening quickly – but, for me, it just seemed awkward and, in places, unfinished. He seems to have found a sort of no-man’s-land with scene length that just didn’t work – I always either wanted more action or less “filler” (see below).

There were also a couple things that fell far, far short for me:
1. I didn’t buy the budding romance of the main characters at all. Much of it had to do with the female character, Beth. She starts out as a strong, independent woman, which was a breath of fresh air in the stale female characters typically generated for this genre. Soon, however, her strength evaporates and she devolves into the typical weak-willed and weak-minded girl-who-needs-saving by the big strong man. The relationship that forms between Beth and “big strong man,” as a direct result, is cliche and just doesn’t work. The romance also drew focus from the primary storyline, and the overall focus of the book becomes very unclear.
2. The biggest weakness of the novel, though, is Rydder’s struggle with dialogue. It is, to be blunt, awful. Rydder seems to be aware of this, however, and he results to long passages of exposition and description, often times in places where it would be best to focus on action and, unfortunately, dialogue. There were times, especially in the “romantic” scenes, that the dialogue seemed so far removed from any sort of characterization that I nearly put the book down.

The ruiner:
I loathe being beaten about the eyes in the final paragraphs of a novel with obvious setup for the next novel – especially if the setup novel is not even 300 pages and the next is going to start immediately without a change in the overall conflict! In my mind, The Clearing is half a book. I’m a fan of multi-volume stories with story arcs that span multiple novels (see my upcoming post on The Wheel of Time, for example), but they need to be planned that way from the beginning, and the arc needs to be strong enough to tie everything together. That is not the case with The Clearing. Instead, Rydder started the story arc for his sequel about 2/3 of the way through, and then pummeled me with the main characters making plans for what to do next in the final pages. I felt tricked, used and wholly unsatisfied with the conclusion of The Clearing.

That said, I still think The Clearing is a solid first book. Will I read the sequel? Probably not, but primarily because of the the personal preference that ruined the book for me rather than anything else about the narrative or style. The research Rydder did is evident and paid off early on. I just wish he had stuck with telling me a story he has finished rather than selling me a story he hasn’t.

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