Oracle: Sunken Earth
Trisef Books LLC, 2011
Also available as a trade paperback
Ret has been adopted after being washed ashore following a hurricane 10 months previously. He’s not quite like other boys his age. He has no idea of his past or what those strange markings on his hands mean. In fact, despite extensive tests, no one quite knows who or what Ret is. Only one thing is certain, people are after him and they’ll stop at nothing to unlock his powers.
Sounds good huh? And that’s what makes this book all the more disappointing. Oracle: Sunken Earth does contain a good story, even a great story but it’s being buried under clunky writing and poorly developed characters. I was apprehensive when halfway down the first page I rolled my eyes for the first of many times, but after all, when you’re asked to review a book, it’s only fair that you read to the last page. I sincerely wish I hadn’t for its hours of my life that I will never get back.
What I found to be most off-putting was the language. I don’t mean to imply that it was written in Klingon but equally absurdly, it appeared that the writer made no attempt whatsoever to research his target audience, teenagers. The writing was overly flowery and unnecessarily advanced for the average teen. It ended up sounding like a college text written by a nutty professor. For example, the line, ‘The whole class vocalized their disfavor’ was typical of the writing throughout the entire book and the equally atrocious ‘vocalizing their amazement in like manner’ quickly followed. You’re writing about teenagers! Teenagers don’t sound like that. Yes, they vocalize but they do it by groaning, chatting, yelling and sniggering. And when you want teenagers to read your book, you have to write in a way that’s engaging not off-putting. But the author likes the word vocalizing….a LOT, so he uses it…a LOT.
As for character development, it was often haphazard, shallow and downright confusing. The title character Ret isn’t developed enough to make you care about what happens to him. He seems more concerned with being as brave as a dead man he’s never met than anything else. Ana’s character, who is supposed to be 14 or 15 speaks like she’s from the 1950’s using phrases like ‘my boy’ and ‘inconceivable’. The Russian butler slips from a bad lisp to a stereotypical Germanic villain. Eez zis bad? Yeth! Mr. Coy ended up sounding like The Riddler and was just as deranged and Mr. Quirk was equally annoying. In fact, none of the adult characters came out of it looking well. They were either extremely annoying, willfully naïve or mentally incompetent.
On a more serious note, the book contains numerous examples of extremely bad science. When I explained the author’s concept of ‘black light’ to my husband, his inner science geek went apocalyptic with rage. And that’s as far as I’ll go since I really don’t want to relive that ‘episode’. Needless to say, you cannot emit ‘black light’ like the author would want you to believe. You also cannot put silly putty into a locked lock, wait for it to harden and then turn to unlock a door. Locks do not work that way. If they did, no one would ever qualify for home insurance. Granted, this is a fantasy title so anything’s possible. But, the story is set in modern day earth so you could expect any science to be at least plausible. Or if you really want to continue in this way, it might be better to make it very obvious that what you’re saying is fantasy, or magic or powers from another world. Making out that ‘black light’ cancelling out white light to make things invisible is wrong and quite frankly dangerous. It also does a great disservice to genuine science, which is often more interesting and wonderfully exciting than what’s written in this book.
Ultimately, Oracle: Sunken Earth is enormously frustrating. With better writing, better research and a good editor, the great story that’s buried deep could be pulled out, lovingly caressed and skillfully guided into the literary world and would have the potential to become a marvelous YA series. At the moment that’s just not possible, no matter how much the author would vocalize otherwise.
Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, October 2012.