Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: Smith

Book Review: Smith by Sam B Miller II 

Goodreads Description: Jake’s Father is an archeologist who is in Israel to complete a dig on King Solomon’s Temple. As an eighteen-year-old American, Jake is unwelcome by the people in the territory. Defending himself against the townspeople is a constant torment. Through a map Jake finds on his Father’s desk, he and his friend Avner decide to explore a newly discovered chamber. At the end of a dark and deserted tunnel, Jake uncovers the treasure of King Solomon’s Power ring. He puts it on his finger and feels his life changing. 

Jake passes off the ring as a replica, but he starts to hear a voice that belongs to Smith. Smith provides him guidance on how to deal with his newfound powers. Jake wants to learn all he can about his new secret ring. Smith encourages him to sharpen his fighting skills by joining the Army. Is Smith leading Jake to a newfound life where he can become a hero? Or will the decision to join the military endanger his life? Will Jake find out the ring he wears is good or will it be of evil intent? And who keeps trying to steal the ring? 

My Review: I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

For an American living in Israel, life isn’t easy for Jake Goddard. Between the street gangs that eye him as easy prey or his archeologist father who can barely look at him, Jake just tries to get through the days by kicking it back by the fire with his friend, Avner, or playing video games. When Avner wants to explore some nearby archeological sites in search for treasure, Jake tags along for something to do. But when Jake discovers a ring in a leather pouch, his whole life flips upside down. As soon as he puts it on, a commanding voice named Smith appears in his head with a single mission: to make Jake as great as King Soloman, the original owner of the ring. Jake’s path to world domination seems straightforward: join the army, get the girl, rule the world. Unfortunately, commanding a magical ring that gives Jake control over demons, the weather, and animals is not easy to hide, and before long people are lining up to take it from him. When Smith starts to see everything as a threat, Jake has to decide for himself: is being ruler really what he wants? And who’s really the one in control? 

Let’s start with the characters. There’s a relatively small cast of characters in the book, primarily because when a character is introduced, they’re almost immediately killed off. Jake and Nava are the main characters, and though they have more page time, they were arguably no more developed than background characters. They were very underdeveloped in the sense that they had no motivations, wants, or desires (I still don’t know what Jake actually wanted out of this whole experience), there’s no real personality that I can definitely attribute to the characters, and there was not a lot of consistency (Avner wanted to search for treasure and Jake tags along, but later in the scene it’s Jake who’s really motivated by treasure.) More so, as a main character, Jake was really underwhelming. Throughout the entire book, he makes only a handful of his own decisions. All his other actions throughout the book are him following orders, whether from Smith or other authority figures. Even the decision to go to the dig at the beginning of the book is Avner’s. Jake does not shape the story; he is shaped by it, which makes him a very boring main character. Even at the climax, after he’s been taught how to control the powers of the ring, Jake chooses not to, and lets Smith take over, simply because he’s “better at it.” The lack of agency makes it really difficult to cheer for Jake. He never makes any hard decisions, so he never has to take responsibility for his actions. 

As for the female characters, every single one was a misogynistic caricature. The first female characters to actually make it onto the page, which didn’t occur until 30% in, were a bunch of nameless pregnant women who are saved from a burning building by Jake. They do little more than faun over Jake in the process. The next female to appear is Sauerbrum, a female colonel who is rude to an exaggerated extent that doesn’t make sense for her character or her position. Then we see her continually shut down by the other males in the scene and eventually dismissed for insulting the main character. Not that there aren’t awful women out there, but Sauerbrum’s character was stretched to an extreme, where it didn’t feel natural in the scene. Finally, we are introduced to Nava, who is supposed to be a “strong female character,” because she’s a solider, knows how to handle a weapon, and is apparently higher up and well-respected. Despite all of this being told to the reader, we are never shown any of this. In every fight, Nava plays the role of a damsel in distress and never shows us that she’s a capable fighter. As further proof that Nava is little more than a sex object in a soldier’s uniform, the scene where Nava and Jake first meet ends with: “Smith remained silent as Jake watched [Nava] walk away. “I wonder what she would look like in high heels instead of the regulation flats.” Smothering a grin, he returned to inspecting handbags.” Nava as a sex object is further reinforced when her only major plot influence can be summed up as her saving Jake with her love. At another point, she tries to run away from Jake after seeing him literally murder people in front of her, and Smith uses his powers to physically stop her, which had such heavy rape tones that it made me uncomfortable. As well, Smith is constantly sexualizing women all around him, reducing them to possible “concubines” or “queens,” and then belittles Jake for not going along with it by assuming he must be gay (and let’s not even go into unpacking that homophobic comment). I understand that was intended to be part of his character, as others tended to admonish him at times, but it was so overdone that by the end of the book the comments just became annoyingly repetitive. 

As for the plot events, much of the story felt forced and really unrealistic. There was no organic flow to the story, and much of the events actually didn’t make sense. For example, the Prime Minister has Jake come with him to New York as part of his security detail, where they are attacked by assassins. After the assassination attempt, the PM decides that Jake should have time off to “see the sights.” I can’t fathom any situation in which after an assassination attempt, a prime minister would reduce their security. The book is full of questionable content like this. Characters made unrealistic or unexplainable decisions that served to push the plot forward, but made no sense in the context of the scene. It’s like all the characters were on train tracks that moved them to where they needed to be. On top of that, many events just couldn’t happen without some sort of explanation-- a man is electrocuted but the dog biting him is fine, PM is shot and dying then a minute later is up and running like nothing is wrong, one minute they’re in New York and then they’re in Israel with no explanation, during a ceremony a man runs away and dies screaming for no reason with no explanation of what happened. I could go on. My favorite inaccuracy was a scene where Nava is shot in the arm with an AR15, and though it’s described as a little gunshot wound that’s quickly bandaged up and never mentioned again, an actual hit from an AR15 would have probably taken her whole arm off, and at the very least it would have required reconstructive surgery. These unrealistic incidents are unfortunately not easy to overlook, as they are everywhere and embedded deep into the plot, and I found myself continually pulled out of the story by things that didn’t make sense or weren’t properly explained. 

 The nail in the proverbial coffin had to be the over-the-top violence that didn’t actually have consequences. Smith, as the ‘interface’ of the ring, has incredible powers which included reality-bending magic. Smith can turn gunpowder into sand, break through walls-- there’s no defined limit on Smith’s powers, which makes his murdering sprees all the more frustrating. Smith decides that all ‘threats’ need to be handled through violence, so faceless henchmen are killed like it’s going out of style. In most cases, Smith ‘explodes’ the threat by popping them like a bloody, fleshy water balloon. Admittedly, I thought that imagery was cool at first, but it quickly loses its power. Moreso, the killing in this book is indiscriminate. Anyone who appears to be a slight threat risks just exploding. More so, Smith kills innocent people too-- like the cops who happen to notice Smith murdering someone in an alleyway-- and Jake doesn’t express any disgust or horror-- or any kind of revulsion. Instead he’s completely complacent with the killings until near the end of the book, where Smith is just massacring people left, right, and centre. Only then does Jake start to protest, though those protests don’t go much further than telling him to stop, nor does he express any sort of emotions or thoughts about it. Jake just changes his mind, probably because by this point in the book the violence is so outlandish that the reader can’t even support it anymore, but by then it’s too late. At about 60% in, I began rooting for the villains because I felt so bad for them. Ultimately, Smith can bend reality, which means he could stop these people in a million different ways, and still chooses to kill them. Even when Jake takes control of the powers, he still chooses methods to stop the bad guys that will kill them, i.e., their guns appear inside their own bodies, or he makes their bones disappear, etc. These methods are even more horrifying than Smith’s, because Jake is literally torturing these henchmen to death in the worst possible way, and yet it’s portrayed as somehow him doing the “right” thing. More so, all these deaths come without consequence. Jake can kill people and nothing really happens to him or the plot. 

When it comes to the writing itself, the book was at times hard to understand, and I found myself re-reading several passages because they didn’t make sense. There’s an obvious lack of editing to the book, which shows through passages such as, “A fellow soldier, Dave Fischel, fell out of an upper bunk screaming epitaphs,” and: “The woman with a name tag ‘A. Sauerbrum’, a winced expression and wearing the insignia of Colonel was first to speak.” There are a lot of punctuation errors that caused confusion at times, as well as little to no description which made it hard to get a sense of setting. There were no stakes, aside from some hastily thrown in stakes at the climax, and no real tension or mystery to keep the reader engaged, other than the confusion of random assassination attempts coming every other page. There is switching of point of view character mid-scene, and the villains and their motives are not explained well, which leads to a lot of confusion. There was even an instance where a character’s name was spelled wrong, which showed a complete lack of care for the book as a whole. 

All in all, I would have recommended this book to guys who enjoy self-insert violence fantasies, but because of the difficulty I had reading it, I don’t see that many could stick with the book long enough to get invested. 

TL;DR: 1/5 stars. Three words: misogynistic gore porn. 

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