Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Curious World of Shelley Vendor (Colin R. Parsons)

The Curious World of Shelley Vendor
Colin R. Parsons
North Staffordshire Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)

DESCRIPTION: A lifelong klutz and bookish misfit, Shelley Vendor never quite fit in with her schoolmates. Only Katie, another book-lover and fellow target of classroom bullies, ever befriended her. When they learn that their class is taking a field trip to a major book event in the city, they're thrilled. Even more exciting, their favorite author, Niloc Snosrap, will be there, signing copies his newest release! Nothing could possibly ruin this day!
Inside the exhibition, Shelley becomes distracted by a special display: a rare book with a jewel-inlaid cover, its origins a mystery. Even as she marvels, she spots trouble: a group of strange, blue-skinned midgets are trying to steal the book... but she's the only one who sees them! Shelley gives chase, and tumbles into a strange world. Soon, she finds herself on the wrong side of a dangerous hunter and his vicious wolf-beasts, with no idea how she got there - or how to get home.

REVIEW: Well, I can't say I didn't have ample warning. This book starts with a wholly unnecessary prologue, explaining the story that's about to occur, as if Parsons either didn't trust his own skills to adequately relate it or didn't trust his audience to be able to follow it. Within five pages of the first chapter, a host of red flags were waving: slapstick action, clunky writing, and the oh-so-clever self-insertion of the author's own name (spelled backwards, lest he be too obvious about it) as Shelley's favorite best-selling writer. I should've heeded the warning signs and simply given up then. But I'd be a poor reviewer (if a happier reader) if I threw in the towel that easily. Ignoring my gut, I plowed onward.
Shelley's clumsiness goes from being a character quirk to a tooth-grinding annoyance with record speed. Shelley herself does little but whine, stumble, scream, and burst into tears throughout the story. To be fair, her best friend Katie, who follows Shelley into the world of Reflections, fares little better, though she at least has one moment where she actually does something that isn't either useless or actively counterproductive. (Is this really how the author views girls, as pathetic little weaklings who'd get lost in a paper bag? If so, why write female protagonists?) I also can't say much in favor of their allies, a native boy and a talking monkey, except that at least they display the occasional glimmer of common sense. All of them, even the bad guy, behave like grade-schoolers, despite nominally being teens or even full-blown adults. The narrative and dialog jerks and stumbles over itself, forever explaining what the characters are doing or thinking... actions and thoughts that turn on a proverbial dime from one paragraph to the next. I felt like I was reading the novelization of a Saturday morning cartoon - a bad Saturday morning cartoon, the kind that talks down to its audience, refuses to let bad or scary things happen, and relies too much on poorly-timed slapstick silliness. There is no real logic or explanation to the story, which builds to an ending so pointless and out-of-the-blue that I could only stare at my Kindle in disbelief. All I could think was that, while filling the previous pages with so much aimless filler, Parsons had entirely forgotten that the story was supposed to end, and winged it at the last minute.
In its favor, The Curious World of Shelley Vendor reads fairly fast. Try as I might, I can't think of much else to recommend it.

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