Book #28 for 2016
I was in the mood to read something with a skeleton key on the cover. Yes, I have oddly specific moods. This was actually my second attempt. I first tried The Legacy of the Key, but it was so relentlessly stupid that I ditched it at the 3% mark. So this book at least beat that benchmark of quality. I was a little worried that it was trying to be a YA/steampunk Neverwhere, and the volume of errors did not bode well, but there were enough intriguing elements that it held my attention long enough for me to decide that I might as well finish it. Because skeleton key cover.
As it happens, my original worry was ungrounded. There was not enough depth or texture or sophistication to the tale for it to be more than momentarily compared to anything from Neil Gaiman’s fertile imagination. It is tempting to call it an attempt at a steampunk Harry Potter, because the amount that Fletcher borrowed from Rowling is insulting, but that implies a certain level of effort that I highly doubt was put forth. The characters were flat, the internal dialogue was emotionally tone-deaf, the pacing was bogged down in banal exchanges and re-hashes, and the action scenes were choppy and poorly blocked.
And then there are the errors. Look, I get that not all writers are strong with the mechanics of the language. Even some of the big names rely heavily on their editors, and even the major publishing houses get a little sloppy now and then. I rarely find a book without at least one typo. But if you need help with homophones and apostrophes and basic sentence structure and such, then GET HELP! And do it before you even think about hitting that publish button on whatever vanity press site you’ve chosen. And if your beta readers are not informing you that you clearly don’t have even the vaguest understanding of how punctuation works, you need new beta readers.
Despite the fact that the protagonist read like a poorly educated 12-year-old boy impersonating a somewhat dense 15-year-old girl he can’t figure out, she did come up with a few clever ideas here and there in the story. And when Fletcher bothered to provide any worthwhile detail, some of the steampunky visuals were kind of cool. It was all just interesting enough to keep me reading to the (dissatisfying) end, so I’d give it 1.5 stars for being almost okay. But I look at how many young readers are reviewing this book under the serious misapprehension that it is a quality publication, and I have to take a stand and round down to 1 star. They can do so much better.