3 out of 4 stars
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3 OUT OF 4 STARS
This book is rated three stars for characterization, plot, and themes. Lack of setting as character (my personal preference in prose) is the only reason for lack of an additional star. The book is above average (more than 2 stars) because there is enough complexity in the characterization, plot, and themes that many readers can appreciate.
I hail from Canton, OH – where the Pro Football Hall of Fame lives. And I'll be honest, I don't like football. Not even a little bit. In the first chapter of Coles' book, there's an in-text photo of a football and a major conversational to-do about football. So imagine my surprise at how much fun, how much delight I took in the first chapter of his novel. Trust me when I say no one is or was as surprised as me.
Now THAT alone will show the prowess and integrity of Coles' writing style.
Had someone said: Read this book and then whispered it's partially about football, I know I would not have given it a chance. I'm sad to report this, but I have to be honest. Reviews are about honesty.
There's something else, too before I even tell you how much I enjoyed the book.
Cover art matters.
A great artist can be inspiring to a writer – and while all art (including writing) is subjective, I am speaking from the point of view of a writer often inspired to read and write by interesting cover art. Coles in for the win here with Guardian of Deceit. The additional artwork in-text is just as phenomenal, which is the word I use when I consider art to be both inspiring and worthy of discussion and further analysis. (Note: I read a pdf version of the book which may not contain the same cover and in-text graphics as sold/issued by major online/ground retailers.)
There are most likely many reasons why this book was a finalist in the 2012 William Faulkner-Williams Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, but I detect much of Faulkner's work to be inspired by setting and the often bumpy plight of the protagonist. There's less attention to setting in Coles' novel, but quite a bit of struggle on behalf of Darwin, the appropriately named protagonist, as he stumbles around familial and personal decay.
Throughout the entire novel, Coles does well with characterization. Even in the most mundane of situations, his command of dialogue and characters make the scene pop for the reader's imagination. Even the characters you won't like – you'll still want to read about them. Again – that is the prowess of Coles' writing style. I appreciated it and I think all readers of recent fiction will as well.
Finally, the overall plot (series of events) and themes (main ideas) are at once approachable and complex. Coles' characterization and prose are never written in condescending style to the reader – as I've seen in a lot of recent fiction. There's no snark, just truth, and that goes a long way in the professional standards I hold for excellent modern storytelling.
The strange thing about the aforementioned 'excellent modern storytelling' – I want it to be both new and familiar. That is, I want to learn something, be engaged. I want my imagination piqued. I want the novel to make me feel new things BUT not TOO new. I want there to be some aspect of the comfortable, as well, something I can identify with and hold onto. No pressure there for the modern writer. The good news is: Coles was able to do this. Maybe he just got lucky, but lucky doesn't usually carry for over 300 pages – that's a commitment to the writing process and teamwork. I would have to read additional books written by Coles to check the luck vs. talent factor and that is something I am willing to do.
Guardian of Deceit
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