Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bron - Rik Raven

In October I reviewed De Achtste Rune, the latest novel by Dutch author Adrian Stone, which turned out to be an enjoyable read. I ended that review with the conclusion that I really should read more Fantasy originally written in Dutch. This is something I tell myself every year but somehow I never manage to do it. After posting a link to the Stone review on the Pure Fantasy forum, a place where a lot of fantasy writers, aspiring writers and fans hang out, I was promptly offered a review copy of Bron (literally: source, but in this case wellspring is a more fitting translation) by Rik Raven. After mailing back and forth with the author for a bit, I decided to put my money where my mouth was an accept the review copy.

Rolf Dorint is in serious trouble. His writing career has ground to a halt and he is struggling with writers block. His last publishable material has been delivered two years ago and his publisher is getting impatient. Trying to find inspiration in the bottle doesn't help either and puts a serious strain on the already stormy relationship with his wife Harriƫtte. Rolf is desperately looking for a new story. Discarded manuscripts litter the shelves in this office and the feeling that there is a new story waiting to be written practically tortures him. If only he could get that first line written. When he does, the story he is about to embark on, will change his life forever.

Bron is clearly influenced by the work of Stephen King. From very early on in the novel it is clear that Raven is an admirer of his novels. A writer as the main character is something that shows up in King's novels frequently. The author has made the writing process central to the plot, supporting the plot with two central issues. The first is the question successful authors have been asked ad nauseam: where do you get your inspiration/ideas form? Rolf's source of inspiration has dried up and his attempt to get it flowing again turns from a quest of personal salvation to one that will decide the fate of worlds.

The second is the axiom that all characters in a novel are the writer. As with the wellspring of inspiration, Raven takes this quite literally, intertwining the writing of Dorint, in which he describes the adventures of his alter ego Baxan Kanter in a real metaphysically linked to our own world. As Dorint struggles to get Kanter's story written, it becomes clear that events in Kanter's world influence our own. It gets to the point where other people are dragged into the tale, with portions of the story being written by the neighbour's son Luuk.

Conceptually it is not a bad idea. It leans on King's Dark Tower considerably though. Besides the connection between the two worlds, there is Kanter, who is the Gunslinger on steroids basically. The novel includes a scene reminiscent of the challenge faced by Roland in the town of Tull, and the climax of the novel made me think of Roland's relationship with Jake as well. It's been a while since I read The Dark Tower series. There are probably more connections between the two works that I've missed.

Where Raven runs into trouble is the execution of these ideas really. In her way she is her own worst critic:
"Nee, serieus, Rolf, als je denkt hiermee weg te komen... Het is de natte droom van een meisje van dertien en een bijna volmaakte kopie van die, je weet wel, die van die serie boeken waarvan ik alleen het eerste deel van heb gelezen, die premiejager, scherpschutter of zoiets."

My translation:

"No, seriously Rolf, if you think you can get away with this... It is the wet dream of a thirteen year old girl, and an almost perfect copy of that, you know, that guy from the series I only read the first book of, that bounty hunter, gunslinger, something like that."

Harriƫtte's criticism of Dorint's writing - chapter 1
Apart from the rambling prose, Raven struggles with a character that is something of a caricature. The man barely shows emotion, intimidates everyone he meets and if that doesn't work, simply shoots the the person foolish enough to be uncooperative. The temptation to make yourself larger than life must be there for Dorint but Raven has made him portray Kanter in a way that makes him less than human. No emotion is not the same as, say, the iron self control and determination of the Gunslinger.

Besides being unnecessarily heavy on violence, I wasn't too impressed with Raven's prose either. It is uneven I guess. Most of it is fairly direct but once in a while Raven overreaches and uses vocabulary that doesn't fit (when is the last time you used 'inborst' (disposition) in a heated conversation?) or end up writing rambling sentences. She also relies quite heavily on rhetorical questions in some sections. My issues with Raven's style aren't helped by the impressive number of typos and other errors that have slipped through during the final copy edit. A few are to be expected but this many strikes me as sloppy work. It doesn't do the novel any favours.

The structure of the plot also shows a few problems. The connection between Dorint and Kanter is physically demanding on Dorint. Most authors would have built up these symptoms so both the reader and the character get some time to figure out what is going on and build the tension necessary later on in the novel. Dorint ends up in hospital early on in the novel and the revelation that the fates of these two worlds are linked are dumped on the reader rather ungraciously. A little more attention to foreshadowing would have done the novel a world of good. To name one example, climate change on Earth is revealed to be one of the symptoms of impending doom by the evil genius in Kantar's world. None of the characters in Dorint's reality show even the slightest hint that they are even aware of this problem. In fact, Dorint is mostly busy with his own private struggle with his source of inspiration. Raven passes up a good opportunity to raise the stakes in the story there.

Bron is a well intentioned novel, but also an ultimately unsatisfying read. What could have been an interesting story, simply collapses under the combined weight of uneven prose, problems with the plot and editing that leaves a lot to be desired. I would like to say that this novel is an uncut diamond but the truth is that the diamond hasn't even been freed of the matrix yet. This novel was simply not ready for publication.

Book Details
Title: Bron
Author: Rik Raven
Publisher: Books of Fantasy
Pages: 302
Year: 2011
Language: Dutch
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-94-608-6023-2
First published: 2011


  1. Thanks, Rob, thanks very much. You warned me and indeed, you're not that positive but I truly respect your opinion. I'll try to have my next novel better directed, but I can't promise that it would be improved to live up to your high standards.
    But I'm still learning and hoping it never stops.

    Maybe this novel leans a bit on the Dark Tower written by Stephen King, but that's difficult to avoid because it is nothing less than a tribute. Further, I had no intention to make a copy gunslinger of Kanter the whole book through. In fact, there's practically no humanity to find in Kanter early in the book, that's why the violence is a bit strong, you're right. I must say your comment lets me think I did make a good job of it. Later on, he will be the only one of his kind that gets his emotions back, more or less.
    And you're right, there are a few references, also to other books of King, that you've missed. ;-)

    But I'm not going to defend myself, my writing and the “the impressive number of typos and other errors that have slipped through during the final copy edit”.
    I still thank you for your opinion and I hope that my next novel at least lets you say that it is a diamond, uncut or not.
    This is when reading Bron didn't discourage you to much...

    Last but no least, because it is a tribute to Stephen King, it was very gratifying to see that the Stephen Kingfanclub Nederland had rewarded the novel with 9 points over 10.

  2. I'm not that easily discouraged, if anything it will be interesting to see the direction your writing is taking.

    I can certainly see the appeal of this novel for King fans. I must admit that I didn't enjoy everything of his I've read but the Dark Tower is certainly something special.

    I understand there is going to be a new Dark Tower book next year. Perhaps a good excuse to reread then. I think it has been at least 10 years since I read The Gunslinger.

  3. Certainly, it's the best excuse ever, I think. If only I had the time...
    And, yes, I'm a Kingfan, but I certainly don't like everything he wrote.
    It's just that the Dark Tower had braught me back on writing, back on track so to say, and I am planning to get better... with a little help from my friends en everyone that reads my novels and my shortsories and have something to say about it.

    ;-) sorry about my english, I've got just the few years at school en life-experience, but it is so very wonderfull to be mentioned on a international blog like this.


  4. Don't worry about your English. I rarely fool anyone into believing I'm a native speaker either ;)

    I know of at least two more English language sites with reviewers who can read Dutch. I've always wondered why nobody has tried to get Mieneke or >The Ranting Dragon to review Dutch language works. Especially for authors who are trying to get their work sold to international markets that might be usefull.

  5. Thanks very much, noted. I didn't know about them.