Monday, May 20, 2024

War of the Whiskered Ones Review: References, puns and memes, Oh My!

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War of the Whiskered Ones: Eorþe reads like an exercise in being as quirky as possible in an intentionally over-the-top manner, from the liberal use of puns and pop culture references to the very sudden appearance of ninjas attacking our heroes in the dead of night. The debut novel by Noor Ashour is an urban fantasy adventure that’s deliberately built to be a fun fast paced romp from start to finish. I’ll be honest, I’m not the target demographic for this story; it’s certainly not the sort of that I’d pick out at a bookstore myself, however, I did enjoy the time I spent reading through it.

Things I liked:

  • The world building. There is a clear effort made by the author to make the setting different from our world, yet still recognizable to a new reader using concise descriptions with elaboration where necessary. Where it falls apart is in the introduction and use of its more fantastical elements. Pro tip: If you need to put a glossary at the beginning of your book to explain to the reader what all the different fantasy creatures in the story are, then something’s gone wrong.
  • The pacing. This is a very fast paced story, one which moves at breakneck speed. The plot starts immediately as our protagonist Ellina is dumped straight into a fantasy world and must involve herself in the war effort to save the world if she is to have any hope of getting home again. Simple, straight-forward narrative stakes.
  • The writing style is, like I said, quirky. It employs liberal use of referential and pun based humor to tailor the story to a very particular reading audience. However, its use of this very specific brand of humor is a double edged sword, dating the story and potentially damaging its lasting power. References to beloved classic movies like Nightmare Before Christmas are one thing, but referring to the protagonist having an iPhone 6 and her interest in memes, things that are only relevant in this decade, is dangerous to a story’s long-term relevance. This isn’t even getting into how significant her meme collection on her phone ends up being in the story.
  • The dialogue. As cheesy and referential as it is, and I do have my issues with how jarring the interactions between the characters is with regards to the events of the story, there’s still an element of fun present in how the characters speak to one another. I’m a sucker for banter that shows familiarity between characters.

Things I didn’t care for:

  • The characterization leaves something to be desired. This goes for almost all the characters but applies specifically to Ellina. I felt she’s clearly designed to fit into the everyman role that any potential young reader can imagine themselves to be. And while such characters have been a staple of fantasy stories for a long time, they often don’t leave a lasting impression on the reader. Who is Ellina, and why should I care about her story? If your reader is still asking these questions at the end of the book, there’s a problem.
  • The tone. As mentioned above, I enjoyed the story’s quirky writing style but there comes a point where the disparity between the events of the story and how it’s presented to the reader became jarring. This is a fantasy story that involves a threat, not only to the protagonist but to an entire dimension referred to only as The Land of the Forgotten. The stakes are high, yet the way the story is being narrated, there’s no sense of urgency or dread or any worry. Even when things are at their bleakest, when confronting the villain, the characters still act like they’re hanging out at the mall. The cliffhanger ending presented the most jarring tonal shift. I’ll refrain from spoilers here, but I will say that I felt nothing significant reading the last lines of the story, lines that seem to be implying something truly horrific. And the fact that I was unmoved by the ending is a problem.

Do I recommend it?

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I do know a few people who fall into this book’s intended audience and I would suggest it to them once it receives a wide release just as some enjoyable light reading material. At the end of the day, this book is just a good fun read. It doesn’t try to be anything more than that, and I personally don’t think it needs to be. Noor Ashour certainly has a lot of room to grow as an author, and in my humble opinion, this book is a good first step.

Image courtesy of Noor Ashour

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