Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Universal Constance: The Haunted Shadow


Universal Constance: The Haunted Shadow by  Leon Gower


This is a story that I feel I created a woefully inadequate grading scale for. Really the story needs some attention in the area of a few quick fixes that would not ultimately change the story itself. However I feel that if it does not receive these corrections it cannot be taken seriously. Normally I declare my scale to be a pass or fail. If you receive a score lower than 5, it’s back to the drawing board, lower than 9, you need major revisions. Higher than 9 you have a solid story that you should be pushing to publishers. This story however falls in between needing major revisions and being ready for publishing… somehow that is possible.

Universal Constance really is a story that is worth the read. The four chapters I read had me begging for more and I hope someday to read the rest. Here is the score up front, 9.25 out of 12. For regular points the story receives an 8.25 out of 10 and for bonuses it receives 1 point for a very unique character, Constance herself.

As to objectionable material, I actually didn’t find any. Perhaps if an individual generally shies away from stories that involve and encourage meditation that is a consideration, however as far as directly sensitive material, there was none. Again, I can’t be sure that the story could be given a complete G rating, after all, I’ve only read four chapters.
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A great suspense slash character study, Universal Constance is the story of young Constance as she slowly begins to realize that there is something very wrong with her world, or at least the way she perceives it. Is she going insane, or are outside forces really hunting her and trying to communicate with her from space or even the great beyond? The author of this story takes great care in setting up a character that many will be able to directly relate to, and the narrative itself moves along at a good pace, never revealing too much too early. It’s really great to read a story that has a balance of plot AND characters.
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Now that I’ve given the author a plug she can use if she likes, here’s the meat of the review.

Warning: Spoilers may be ahead.

Full scoring explanation.


1.      Spelling/Grammar
Score: ¾
Really there was not a massive number of mistakes in this area, nor a big misunderstanding that I could track. However the story did have enough mistakes that I must say it is in need of a few out loud readings. I do not feel there is anything I need to explain to the author, he just needs to look over the story again.

2.      Interesting Plot
Score: 1
Having only read 4 chapters, I can’t guess the entire arch of this story, but I can guess the basic premise. The question of if our lead character is part of something bigger, or if she is indeed going insane is an interesting thread. Also the creation of a character who in reality could be found in any given neighborhood living a not so extraordinary situation, makes it so I believe that this is a real person. The story contains no real giveaways which keep suspense high.

3.      Good Direction
Score: ½  
This is one of the major categories that can’t be missed no matter what. Direction, plot, likeable main characters and scene description. Any one of these areas a story misses, revision is not an option, it is a must.

Here are the two areas in direction where this story appeared to fail.

First the story is told in third person omniscient, changing from one person’s perspective to the next on what feels like completely random intervals. Three or four pages will go by told completely from Constance’ perspective, only to have one paragraph from another person’s perspective, and then straight back to Constance for another few pages. I think the writer really needs to force her narrator into first person or third person limited, as otherwise the effect is jarring and very difficult to follow. Several times I had to read a paragraph three or four times just to figure out who’s thoughts and perspective was being analyzed.

The second problem is not so critical to reading period, but I must stress its overall importance. This first chapter of this story is a character introduction. Unfortunately it gives no real suspense. Even what could be hints of the unusual are given mundane explanations, with no reasons given for the reader to doubt such explanations. The first few sentences of the story will pull the reader in, but the chapter itself will probably lose him as absolutely nothing of significance is introduced, explained or played out. Personally I fell in love with the character and I suspect many will, but they still won’t know why their reading about this person in the first place.

4.      Author Interest
Score: 1
The author of this story is actively involved in promoting it and reading other works.

5.      Believable Main Characters
Score: 1
Most psychological thrillers/ character studies I’ve read or seen, concentrate on an individual with exaggerated and obvious problems. Such individuals are hard to believe as walking among the normal population with no one ever questioning them. Constance has a few of the same traits as people like this, she sees odd things, hears voices, talks to herself and acts wierd. But there’s a few twists.

Really the pair of “voices” Constance hears are not direct references to insanity clechies and could easily be taken as a conscience and inner voice of reason. The odd things Constance sees are often given rational explanations by her mind until a meditation class she takes forces her to take them seriously. Finally the self-talking and unusual behavior is simply her reasoning things out and having simple personality traits. This story takes an interesting spin on things, instead of taking an obviously unstable person and making us question if they could possibly be the only sane person left, the story takes what appears to be a sane person with human personality traits, and causes the reader to throw doubt on the normal.

6.      Likable Main Characters
Score: 1
+1 bonus
I completely identified with the main character. I talk to reason out problems, often act goofy and have a hard time relating to other people my age. She essentially feels like an outcast individual nonetheless moving through life just like everyone else. She’s not crazy, she’s just “not normal”. Which is exactly how I’ve always felt. I guess in this case I began to see myself in a character that was actually very specific rather than having broad traits. This is a risk as many will not relate to her, however many will and I applaud the effort to make a character that feels like a person, rather than a stage of existence or political archetype. Constance isn’t “a girl at 20” she’s Constance.

7.      Likable Side Characters
Score: 1
Most of the side characters in this story had their own stories to tell, as well as their own feelings. Perhaps not a paranormal story, but the story could have been written about any of them and still could have held an audience. The writer never does delve into trying to write out the “typical stages of life”. (To be honest, I actually usually feel that “stages of life” based characters are a cop out for writers who want to have deep characters, but not work at it enough to also create unique ones that actually feel like their own person. The question is not, “do I believe your character at nine?”, it’s “do I believe your character named Jason who happens to be nine?”.)

8.      Good Scene Descriptions
Score: 1
The scene description in this story is actually pretty good and very detailed, without ever feeling like it’s taking a detour to explain something unnecessary. Essentially you get a feel for where the characters are and what their interacting with. But also you get enough of a feel to recognize places when they start showing up in dreams and the author starts to play with our perception of reality. This is always something that is hard to write I suppose, since the writer wants the reader to second guess which is the real world, however not necessarily be confused as to which world we’re reading about at any given time. Kudos on pulling this off, I’ve rarely seen it done on this level.

9.      Targeting
Score: 0
This is well targeted for suspense and character study. However I do find a slight problem. The story itself is promoted as sci-fi, however the first four chapters that are currently up of this story never really touch on any sci-fi themes in any depth. If this is meant to be a sci-fi story, I would strongly recommend at least introducing something of a sci-fi theme faster than four chapters.

10.  Broad Appeal
Score: 1
Really, even if you don’t directly relate to the character of Constance, you can be brought to understand her, which is refreshing as many character studies focus very much on trying to confuse the reader in order to appear deep. (Really, if the reader has no idea what you wrote, I don’t call it deep, I call it a failure to communicate.) The language is simple but the story itself will have you questioning your reality. If films like the Truman Show and the Matrix are any indication, making people doubt the real world, is often considered fun by the audience.

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