Annie L. Jones
This is at least the fifth self-published first novel i have read in the past couple of years, all of them, funnily enough, in the genre i have been taught by my clever friend Stephanie to call SF ~ speculative fiction, though i used to use those initials for sci-fi alone. One might almost thing that i could set up in some kind of pre-reading business (and, oh, how i would enjoy that!), if this trend continues.
Two of these five were written by Stephanie and i have an emotional tie to them, not least because i beta-read them and have seen them grow and mature until publication, so i am not able to fairly judge or compare them; of the other three, however, this by Jones is in mine opinion clearly the best. The other two, Miss Mabel's School and Joshua's Key (i have linked each title to my review of the novel), were by no means failures ~ i suspect that almost no one would throw away the time and, i imagine, money required for proper self-publication if the product were not at least reasonable ~ but each, including this one, had flaws. The flaws here are, however, lesser than the strengths, which are what are worth exploring in this review.
The plot is, at root, The Taming of the Shrew thrown into a fantasy setting, and given some elaboration with a bit of adventure thrown in. I recognised the plot basis very early on, but that did not spoil mine enjoyment ~ indeed, perhaps it enhanced it as i was pleased with myself! ~ as the differences were sufficient that it is not simply a retelling of Shrew but a development. The major difference is that after the Petruchio analogue, the Marco of the title, has won over his bride he is suddenly put in a position of peril and she, almost without understanding what is happening, is put in the position of rescuing him.
Part of the plot is built around the setting, a valley or plain, a region almost, with in impassible mountains, with enemies of some form on the outside of the mountains, some form of magic or sorcery which has in some measure been used to set up the communities within the region and protect them from the outsiders. Marco is the eldest son of the family whose task is the coordination of that protection, which is exceptionally physical at times. I find that i want to know more, more than Jones has given us, about the land, the sorcery, the history, the reasons for the way things are. I wonder, is this an initial introduction or is it all that Jones is planning on doing; i believe she has made herself a setting she could use in the future to tell further stories ~ if they were of the same quality i, for one, would read them. And that statement alone, using my criterion, makes Mad Marco a success.