A while back I was talking to a friend of mine who was very excited about some recently acquired books. They were written by a youtuber he watched, and he thought the books quite good, recommending them to me. I read through the synopsis and thought, “why not?” I placed the first on my amazon wishlist. As I may have mentioned, I use it as a catch-all for books I intend to get eventually. Either when I have gift cards to spend, or need just a bit more for free shipping. Of course, sometimes more than that disappears from it, since my family’s been known to shop there for gifts. Hence the appearance of Priest by Matthew Colville in my Hannukah box.
There’s a line on the cover saying “A Fantasy Hardboiled” and I think that helps make it clear what a reader should expect here. Our protagonist will be, for all events and purposes, a detective. Someone with a mysterious and scarring past, who has the contacts and experience to do the job today. However, what he and we don’t realize at first is how hard the job will dig into those old wounds. Sounds like a typical noir, but in a fantasy setting.
Priest suffers from two major drawbacks: “first book” and “self-published” syndrome. I’ve seen worse examples of both, and even of both together, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m the sort of person who can get jolted out of their immersion by a typo, so you can bet I notice these things. Not that there were many typos here. I think only one that I recall. I did see a couple instances of words that were spelled correctly, but not the correct words for the sentence. “Suppose” instead of “supported” for example. There were also some widows and orphans and a page or two with only a few lines of text on it, which just screams “we need a professional to fix this spacing issue.” I am a designer, I do know how to do it, and I want to reach through the book to the computer that allowed this to happen and fiddle with the numbers and percentages necessary.
The absolute worst typo is pretty awful. “3 thousand.” That is something you should never, ever put into a professional piece of work. Either be an adult and type out “three thousand” or be lazy and use “3000.” You should never, ever, mix numerals and text though.
Then we get into the problems that an inexperienced author makes for themselves. First and foremost, I felt the lack of description rather keenly. I don’t have a good idea what most of the characters look like, not even our protagonist. Geography is also a bit scanty, but it’s not as important. There are several nonhuman races mentioned, but again, we don’t get a lot of detail about them except as “oh here’s a dwarf, he’s short and stout” or something like that. I can be patient when waiting to understand the interactions between the species as a whole, but if I’m having trouble understanding the differences between ethnicities of humans, it’s pretty scanty.
Next is another typical newbie author problem – that of the point of view. The book is likely intended to be told in third person limited, meaning that it is not written from the point of view of the main character, but the reader’s knowledge is still limited to what the characters know. However, Colville has a bad habit of jumping from Heden’s (the protagonist’s) viewpoint to the characters he’s currently interacting with. Only for a line or two, then we’re back to Heden. It’s disorienting to say the least. There’s nothing wrong with showing what’s in other people’s heads, but you need to use a section break in order to key the reader to the change. Frankly, given how Priest has its hero in every scene, I think the author would be better off sticking to Heden’s head and staying out of everyone else’s. The reader may have less surety about what the other characters are thinking or feeling, but the narrative will be more internally consistent and stronger for it.
Despite the many faults the book has, I am still intrigued by it and curious to see where it’s going. I’ll stick the sequel, Thief, on my wishlist for the future and hope for the best.