Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: The Last of the Ageless by Traci Loudin

The Last of the Ageless by Traci Loudin is a post-apocalyptic novel set three hundred years in the future on after an event referred to the Catastrophe. The events which led to the Catastrophe and since then have altered not only the planet but also the human species. Some humans can age back and forth at will. Others can shift into different kinds of animals. There is also a species known as the Joeys who are part alien and part human. But don’t worry, there are still the plain, old boring humans but they are now known as Purebreds. The novel centers around two groups each consisting of unlikely trios as they try to accomplish different objectives yet who are ultimately forced to come together and defeat a common enemy.

There is not a clear main character, but rather three: Dalan, a teenage Changeling which means he can transform into different animals; Nyr, a different kind of Changeling whose main form is a feline-human hybrid; and Korreth, a Purebred slave, who along with his friend Jorrim, have recently escaped their master. In addition to these three, we also see the story for a fourth character, Caetl, who is a mystic, but his actions don’t factor in too much until about half way through the novel.

The novel starts with Dalan who is heading away from his village to complete an annual rite of passage journey. During this journey, he must go out into the world alone to be chosen by a dragonfly as a companion and return safely home. However, even before he leaves his village he is told that his journey will also see him having to solve a problem. Nothing specific is told to him as to what that problem is so when very early on into his rite of passage journey, he encounters Nyr, an uneasy alliance forms between the duo after Dalan saves her. At first he believes he has solved the problem but something inside of me nags at him that he is not finished. Later on the duo encounter a Joey, Ti’rros, who he saves from death much to the annoyance of Nyr and the disappointment of Ti’rros. Ti’rros believes throughout the book that her actions, which led to her nearly dying, are too shameful for her to continuing living in the world.

Dalan is a sympathetic character whom I liked quite a bit. He is a good, naïve kid who is a firm believer in the Ancient teachings. After finding his dragonfly and saving two people’s lives, all he wants to do is return home but circumstances work to take advantage and even exploit his non-violent nature and morals.

The reader is introduced to Nyr when she stumbled upon Dalan. She is part of the Tiger Clan and is usually in her half-feline, half-human form. Her personality and background are a complete opposite from Dalan as she is angry and violent. Where she comes from, violence is normal and one of her ambitions is to do a hostile takeover of her clan. It is her clan which pops into the story once in a while which propels most of her story but with disastrous results.

She doesn’t like or trust Dalan and Ti’rros yet due to some necklaces she’s stolen from someone, they are bound together. Unknowingly, what she thought were just trinkets, trophies to brag about committing a misdeed, are what lead to her downfall. She has some idea something isn’t quite right with the necklaces since they act as some kind of shield when someone attempts to harm the wearer. To spread the love, she gives Dalan and Ti’rros each one which inadvertently seals their fates together.

Finally we have the other major character of Korreth. He and his friend Jorrim are former slaves who have escaped from their master. When we first meet him, he is still physically bond to Jorrim, something they are so used to that they have mastered how to move as well as create their own language via a serious of taps. Both Korreth and Jorrim want to return to their respective tribes because they are not from the same one. As Purebreds, they are the lowest form in this version of Earth

They come across a powerful woman called Soledad, who is one of the Ageless. An Ageless is someone who has been around far longer than the average lifespan because they can easily switch from child to old person and everything in between. This makes it incredibly difficult, but not impossible, to kill an Ageless because when injured, all they have to do is simple melt into a different, un-injured age. Soledad removes Korreth and Jorrim’s physical bonds only to bind them to her via magic spells. Now controlled by Soledad, they once again find themselves at the whims of a master who commands them to inflict violence and protect her.

Nyr and Soledad control where each trio goes and at first, our unlikely trios are on separate paths. Nyr and Soledad have their own agendas and neither cares about the welfare of their followers other than to keep them alive as long as it suits them. Although neither woman’s original plans should have crossed, they do when it becomes apparent someone is killing off high-ranking Ageless. It’s not known originally why and this leads to rumors and speculations. Through a series of events involving different villages, the two groups must forge an even more unlikely alliance to defeat the enemy.

It is these unlikely, forced alliances which is one of the biggest themes in The Last of the Ageless. No one really trusts anyone else and with very solid reasons. Dalan disagrees with Nyr’s violent ways. It is only Ti’rros whom he gets along with and that is because Ti’rros is a quiet creature, wallowing in self-pity. Korreth and Jorrim are forced to align with Soledad whom they are constantly trying to figure out a way to break the spell which binds them to her. They can’t kill her because they’ve been ordered not and because if they do, it will kill them in the process. Soledad is a liar as is Nyr and while their underlings know this, they have to accept it if they wish to survive.

Oddly enough, each woman’s underlings develop an odd respect for them. I wouldn’t say it is a case of Stockholm syndrome as Dalan, Ti’rros, Korreth, and Jorrim all still acknowledge Nyr and Soledad are not good people. It is only in Nyr’s character that we see a change where she seems willing to voice admiration for Dalan’s morals. Soledad, though, doesn’t ever come out and say she respects or appreciates Korreth and Jorrim’s forced assistance.

Another theme that appealed to me is the cultural and philosophical differences in play in this world. It’s a very tribal-centered world with a definite pecking order although who is on top varies depending upon who speak to. The only thing that is certain is that Purebreds are the lowest form. Nothing’s unique or special about them after all.

Everyone is pretty ignorant of what each other’s tribes are like, something that is relevant now. The fact Ms. Loudin’s characters all struggle with it, even the Ageless ones who have been around since before the Catastrophe and have access to bits and pieces of advance technology, is intriguing. What is fascinating is throughout most of the book, none of the characters want to really care to change their ignorance until the last third or so of the novel. This is when it is realized that if they work together, they can defeat the now common enemy but seeing each of their strengths brought to the fight. Oddly enough it takes the enemy’s own motivation for what he’s doing which gets the two groups to realize this.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I was worried that with a story set in a post-apocalyptic world would be too depressing and bleak since so many novels take this approach. It was refreshing to have a world which still basically functioned even if the planet and creatures inhabiting it were drastically altered.

The world it’s set in with is a mixture of old and new, magic and technology, and was not something I expected. The characters were unique and their uneasy relationships didn’t feel forced even though the circumstances each group operated in were. The changes in the characters also felt natural and I liked how some of the characters didn’t necessarily change for the better. After all, we don’t all get better with time and age. Even the main villain and the other possible villains had motivations which were not what they seemed at first.

I think Ms. Loudin thoroughly knows this world and these characters and a lot of time and consideration was put into it. It’s hard to juggle that many different characters but she did it very well.

The biggest drawback to me was the last third of the book. There was a lot of action and the final battle went on forever because of the way Ms. Loudin structured it. Since we’ve got more than one main character, each one told the final battle from their point of view. This made it difficult for me to grasp at first until I realized what the author was doing. Initially I thought that was a unique approach until it kept going on and on.

Another drawback, although minor, was how many characters had more than one name. Depending upon whose head the reader was in, at times it was hard to keep track who was actually being talked about. With a novel with several characters, having multiple names gives the illusion there are even more characters involved in the story.

Another minor problem I had with The Last of the Ageless was how often people were traveling from point A to point B then back to point A. I admit zoning out a little bit when people were yet again on horseback and journeying. Reminded me a little bit of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy with all the walking.

So on a scale of 1 to 5 pencils, I give The Last of the Ageless three and three-quarters pencils. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I thought the characters were wonderful.


Weekly Musing: Need Not Apply

Something I’ve frequently heard is that writing teaches people to try new things, pushes us out of our comfort zone, and to experience the world. Since I’ve been doing this for a few years now, I must say I don’t think this is true. At least not for me. The older I get the more I’m willing to try new things, but within reason and within my comfort zone; however, I don’t view these experiences as fodder for my writing. Somehow I think if I did it would take away from enjoying the experience. I equate it to tucking away my cell phone whenever I go anywhere new. I occasionally take pictures if I remember and feel inclined, but I would rather just absorb the place and the experience.

I understand the sentiment behind getting out and trying new things as a writer. Not only does it get us out of the house and around other people, new places and experiences help our understanding of the world. What I disagree with is the notion I am supposed to immediately catalogue those new feelings and experiences. Or to only live life so that I can use it later for a story. Why not just live life for the sake of living life?

This brings me to another rule or philosophy I hear frequently but disagree with. A piece of advice I see is, as a writer, we should eavesdrop on conversations because it could be a gold mine. Hmmmm, um, how about no. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes just sit there and listen to other people’s conversations. I do and think it’s natural for humans to do. When I do target my hearing to spy upon people, it’s usually because I’m staring into space while thinking. I’m fascinated by how people speak; their accents, emphasis upon certain words, turn of phrases, the speed and cadence, all of it is interesting.

I’m not so much drawn in by what people are discussing as that feels like an invasion of privacy even if the conversation is taking place in public. For this reason I absolutely cannot bring myself to jot down or commit to memory what people say. Not to sound snobby or self-righteous, it feels very unoriginal to me to mine other people’s conversations for story ideas. Granted, some people have some very compelling and unique stories which would make for great tales.

Which leads me to another piece of advice I try to stay away from and that is base characters off of people you know. A funny phrase I see is something to the effect of don’t annoy, anger, or interrupt a writer because you may wind up in their story, usually as a dead body. I guess this bothers me because what if the person reads the story and recognizes himself or herself?

I’m not suggesting we as writers try to be PC because that annoys me to no end. People are going to be offended no matter what. What I’m suggesting is know your audience. Some people are okay with being included, regardless of how they are portrayed.

I suppose one solution is to give the person a heads up before publication of said story. I don’t think it’s helpful to let the person know when you are drafting and later send the story out for publication. After all, if it doesn’t get accepted, what’s the point?

Another solution is to pick people who are dead or people whom you don’t mind rankling their feathers. Or cherry-pick characteristics Victor Frankenstein-style and mash them altogether. Or stick to physical characteristics, which is something I did for a minor character in my WIP. I did that since this person suggested I have a character with a certain name. As an ode to that person I made the character look like him but that’s where it starts and stops.

I can’t fully express why these suggestions bug me so much. They aren’t the only pieces of writerly advice that I disagree with it, but these are the ones which I’ve always found annoying. Maybe it’s because I have this contradictory natural tendency to only follow rules and advice which make sense to me. Perhaps I’m making it even harder for myself by not pulling from real life. Honestly, though, the characters in my mind shape themselves and their unique experiences shape them just as any “real” person.


Weekly Musing: I Know Why Writers Drink

No, I’m not going to talk about alcoholism and authors. If you want that kind of info just do a search.

Without intending to, here’s an update of my progress on revising my novel. August was an incredibly productive month for me. I managed to finish the initial round of revision done for one of the two main characters. This was amazing considering it took me all of July to get through four chapters yet last month I got through nineteen chapters.

There were a few things which helped me get into a groove. The biggest was constructing a thumbnail outline of the character’s story. I have down numerous outlines to help me figure out a general idea. For some reason, doing a simple two or three sentence description for each chapter and assigning chapter number helped me “get” the bigger picture.

Doing this helped me figure out what scenes to cut as well as see holes. This meant I had to draft new chapters and adjust other chapters which is fine. The thumbnail outline also makes it easier for me to move chapters around to see how the story is affected. Obviously this is the point of revision.

Another added benefit came as I was looking ahead to tackling the other main character. Once I was done working on the story for the first character, I did a quick outline for the other one. Since their storylines eventually combine, I had a better visual of the structure and flow of the story.  

Finally nailing down the time scope for the story was another big moment. This is something I have literally struggled with for years. I know the story was going to span more than a year yet I knew I did not want it cover the entire historical conflict that serves as the catalyst and background. But what years to pick?

Once again I employed keeping it simple. I combed over my research and scribbled down the years with the most activity. Then I compared that timeline with the characters’ stories. With a few adjustments I now had my time scope. I wrote out a quick, one-page summary of historical events with a sentence about where each character would be in relation to it. Finally getting a chance to “see” this helped me notice some of the decisions the characters make would be supported by what was going on historically.

It seems the theme of keeping it simple was big in August. Another useful aid was creating a cheat sheet of info for each character. What this means was I already knew the name of parents and siblings of each character, but instead of flipping back and forth from Scrivener to my manuscript printout, I just retyped it. I left plenty of room on the page to handwrite minor characters who pop up that are associated with each character.

Something I added to the cheat sheet of info was a literal road map. This was another area I’d been struggling for years. Again, turning to history and Google Maps, I was able to approximate where people should be. The road map had to be backed up by history so that meant the story would have to be adjusted accordingly.

I was also able to estimate how long it would take characters to travel from one place to another. Of course the times are based in a perfect world. Since I identified my occupation on a recent medical form as Creator of Worlds and Puppet Master, this means I was now allowed to further mess up their journeys. *insert evil laugh here*

As it stands now, I have 23 revised chapters and am at a total of 57,591 words. This is for one character. I know there are chapters which are bloated while others are deficient. This is okay because I am nowhere near the final product.

Due to all these epiphanies in August, I am vastly more hopeful I will be able to get a complete first round revision done by November. Just in time for NaNo where I plan to write a different kind of novel, one that may or may not be revised. With all I’ve learned during August I believe I can carry the momentum into September and October. For now, though, if you’ll excuse me, there is a lake house friends and I are renting for the weekend with moonshine and other kinds of alcohol, games, and football calling my name. A well needed break to clear my frazzled mind.