Terminus by Ryan Howse – SPFBO Review: And Then There Were Six
|Release Date:||April 24, 2016|
The SPFBO team are making steady progress in our search for a finalist. To avoid cruelly stretching things out, we’ll be posting individual reviews for those who don’t make it as we eliminate them rather than waiting till we’ve picked our winner. Please note that we’re not reading (or eliminating) these in any particular order at the moment.
On that note, our final seven becomes a final six as we say farewell to Ryan Howse and Terminus.
“Why are you in here? Do you have any idea who I am?”
She cocked her head to the side. “I don’t even know who I am.”
Cold and afraid, Equinox wakes up in a strange cell. She bears knife wounds and manacle scars that hint of a brutal past but has no memory of who she is. Nearby, a hushed argument between her rescuers reveals that tensions are dangerously high in the city outside…and that Equinox herself is possessed by a demon.
As you can see, it’s hardly surprising that the opening chapters of Terminus left the SPFBO team confused but also intrigued. The fragmented structure designed to deliberately disorientate the reader – as well as the author’s bold decision to drop us straight into the shoes of his semi-conscious, not-quite-human protagonist – is a huge risk that in this case paid off.
Regrettably, the features that made for such a promising start didn’t quite work out in favour of the overall story. Those of us who read on found ourselves becoming more frustrated by the disjointed narrative than intrigued by it. Similarly, we felt that much of the exposition served to confuse rather than enlighten us; and that, while we were interested in the simmering conflict between religious factions, we would have liked to see more clarity and detail in conveying this.
That’s not to say we weren’t able to follow the story. But while we generally understood (and liked!) Terminus we couldn’t help but see it as two separate premises pushed into an uncomfortable co-existence. On one hand there’s a dark, supernatural tale of sinister cultists and demonic possession. On the other hand, Howse gives us religious fanaticism and a palpable atmosphere of unrest in a recently-occupied city. Both are compelling in their own way. But do they work well together?
For me, no. I found the latter much more engaging than the former – particularly once the story started rolling – and I liked the careful drip-feeding of information about society and recent history. I would actually have loved to read more about Haraphaias and his underground resistance, as well as Samael’s awkward situation in the wake of his betrayal.
Howse creates a tense setting and realistic, multi-layered conflicts between subject and occupier. Yet it’s almost as if he squanders its potential by throwing in superfluous – and occasionally incongruous – plot elements that are equally underdeveloped. On a similar note, we also shared the opinion that some of the characters felt extraneous. Miltiades, Tarcisius, Khadim, Sim – even Aletheia and Equinox felt more like pawns than players; whereas Samael, Charon and Behedrine seemed to initiate events rather than just react to them.
I suspect that the shifting PoVs became part of the reason we struggled to connect with certain characters. Although Terminus starts by effectively using limited third person PoV, there comes a point where it switches without warning to a more omniscient ‘head-hopping’ style – which meant that we weren’t always sure whose head we were inside at any given time.
On the whole we agreed that Terminus would benefit most of all from another round of edits. The more we read, the more one thing became clear: many of our issues arose from simple mistakes or inconsistencies. There are one or two words and phrases that crop up with noticeable frequency, as well as several instances of repetitive sentence structure that at times made the action feel more like a list. A rigorous edit would pick out any line- and copy-editing faux pas, and make wider changes to the structure and plot to help develop it to its full potential.
I realise that this may seem like a very negative review. Truth is, it’s too easy to dwell on criticism, and because of the nature of the SPFBO we’ve all been wearing our ‘critic’ hats even more than usual. So I’d just like to stress that none of our comments – in this review or any of the others – are intended with any sort of malice. Far from it. We want to be as helpful and as constructive as possible.
Above all, we’re striving to be honest. And so I’ll say with honesty that, while Terminus does need polishing, its foundations are solid; and it is without doubt unique.
The Final Verdict: Interesting structure and limited third-person PoV make for a fairly gripping opening, which unfortunately isn’t maintained quite as successfully throughout the rest of the book. Has definite potential, but needs editing to produce a more streamlined and coherent story.
Favourite Quote: “You wonder why I consort with demons. I wonder why you consort with gods. Mine at least please me from time to time.”
Finally, on behalf of the SPFBO team I’d like to reiterate our thanks – and our admiration! – for everyone who has entered. Special thanks in this instance go to the darkly imaginative Mr. Howse. Farewell for now, my particular friend. Requiem bless your future endeavours…and Seth burn your enemies from this world.
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We are now down to six books from our original 30 in our search for our favorite self-published fantasy novel, which will be moved on to the next round in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Here are our remaining choices in no particular order.
Paternus by Dyrk Ashton
Ravenmarked by Amy Rose Davis
Yseult by Ruth Nestvold
Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
Off Leash by Daniel Potter
The Raven by Aderyn Wood