Friday, May 16, 2014

What Hides Within: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A review for What Hides Within, by Jason Parent. 

Nutshell: Jason Parent weaves a number of disparate storylines into a seamless whole. All loose ends are tied up by the end of the story, and in a way that makes you conflicted on whether it should be called bittersweet or a downer. You may struggle with tolerating Clive for awhile, but the story’s worth it.

Atmosphere: 3 out of 4. When the Horrible Stuff starts going in the final act, the atmosphere is superb, and in no place does the story’s atmosphere dip below average quality.

Characters: 2 out of 4. The characters are well-constructed but the blurb may not give you adequate preparation for the Loser Protagonist that Clive is going to be for awhile. Chester honestly kept me guessing, even though my metareader kept telling me that I freaking knew what she was all about, I just couldn’t listen.

Plot: 3 out of 4. Some parts were predictable but only because I tear these stories apart as I read them. Overall, original and well-constructed. A hair more foreshadowing may have been appropriate though.

Writing Style: 2 out of 4. It’s subtle, but there’s a voice there. I really, really like the sensory detail that’s given in some chapters, but the writing can verge on purple prose too, and there are technical issues in the writing at times.

Worldbuilding: 2 out of 4. The worldbuilding is minimalist, which I think is a great strength. Indeed, it’s at its weakest when it goes into the most detail.

All ratings are on a scale of 0-4, 4 being incredible and almost literally beyond belief, 0 being so abysmal as to be the literary equivalent of a trainwreck, and 2 being average.

In-depth: [here there be spoilers]

I liked the ultimate revelation of Chester’s nature but I think that the name-dropping of Nephilim was a hair too much. Let those who know, know, and let those who don’t, be left in the dark. It just felt very weird for Chester to refer to herself in that way. Kind of forced, and not seeming in-character. I suppose that part of me thinks that they would have their own name for themselves rather than a Hebrew one, and the reference couldn’t have been for Victoria’s benefit because she didn’t even know who Arachnae was, and she’s the nearest thing to a spider buff that the story had.

There are two things that really hurt the story. The first, as mentioned above, is that Clive is such a Loser Protagonist for most of the story that it pains me just to think about it. This kind of applies to most of the characters but especially to Clive. If he really had to be so… well, so Clive in order for the story to work just right, then instead of toning down this aspect of his character it could have been offset by foreshadowing his gradual development into a more responsible kind of human being. For awhile there I couldn’t tell if that’s how it was going to go or if I was going to be rooting for his death by the end (because, as much as I had to tell myself that it was a very bad thing to do, I still found myself thinking time and again that, whatever happened to this guy he had it coming).

But he’s misogynistic, misanthropic, spineless, hypocritical, and not a little ignorant. It took a lot of work for him to get back into my good graces one bit.

The second thing is that it takes till chapter seven before we get a female character whose description doesn’t reference her sexuality (I’m not giving points for Clive’s niece not being thus described). Even Judith is characterized by her ugliness. This is a subtle pattern, but it's one that I think that we could have done without.

What Hides Within is at its strongest in the police investigation chapters with Reilly. I don’t know how he feels about the idea, but Jason Parent should seriously consider writing a story entirely from perspective of a police investigation sometime.

There are twists and turns, as I said earlier. Some of them are predictable, others are not. Example: chapter six had me convinced that something very bad was going to happen to Victoria. Instead, she probably comes out better than anyone else (what does it say about me that I consider Victoria’s fate to be a Good End on the balance?). For another, I took Kevin to be a red herring for the psycho bomber and… well, he was. But not totally. And thinking that he was so made me overlook other things.

You’re a tricky man, Jason Parent.

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