Review: Freehold: The Protector – ed. Armand Rosamilia

Freehold: The ProtectorMonroi Pass – Book II, edited by Armand Rosamila

Before I start the formal review, please indulge me a few moments while I share my observations of self-published works. Most reviewers stay away from reviewing self-published or vanity press works. The reasons cited vary but the most common one is that these works tend not to be on par with work selected by an editor that has no stake in publishing a particular story other than to choose the best of those submitted. I had convinced myself that I was above that argument, and that I could and should review any self-published work that I read. Yet…

Yet, as I was reading, I found myself dreading writing this review. It got to the point where I was thinking of abandoning doing a review at all. The thought that kept me from this wasn’t a concern about handing out a bad review, it was about a fear of pissing off an editor. It was about the thought of burning bridges with a publisher and how that could impact the future sales of my own stories. I was shocked to realize that as a struggling, aspiring writer I was considering taking actions to prop up my own desire to become an author that is published with some regularity. I considered writing a humorous review that would cover up the real problems. I considered writing a synopsis that did not provide a review at all. I even considered writing a fluff review that ignored any issues or problems I had with the work. I realized that I could not sidestep the truth. My choices were narrowed to only two. Do not do a review at all, or be honest.

There are a few very good stories in this anthology. The authors of these other stories will likely see very few reviews of these works because one of the authors happens to be the editor and the publisher of the anthology, and because of this the entire book rightly falls into the category of self-published work. These other stories compelled me to take this path and do an honest review. My goal is to not burn any bridges or piss off anyone. My goal with any review I do is to learn. This review has been a very large learning experience.

  • The Protector – by Armand Rosamilia
  • I struggled to finish this story. I was persistent, but it still took me ten times longer to finish this one novella than it did to finish the rest of the short stories in the book. Given the fact that this novella represents half of the words in the book, one can see why I bother to mention this. I kept setting the novella down for many reasons. The first is that I felt repeatedly as if I was only being told half of what I should be. Freehold as presented in “The Protector” is an empty-drum of a world. There are hints that there is much more to the world; that it is vast and complex. Yet, as new peoples and places and dangers presented themselves, I felt as if I was expected to already know about them. I hazard to guess that Mr. Rosamilia knows his world so well that at times he forgets that his readers do not.
    The second reason I kept setting the book down was the quality of the writing. The theme is solid. The writing itself could be much better. There were a few spots were I can honestly say that the author really captured a moment, or a characterization. Unfortunately most of these were isolated bits of prose that either were not supported or did not support the rest of the story. As an example, one of the characters is shown to be a callous sociopath. The set up is perfect for him to be a major player in the plot and the climax–to be the antagonist or at least a major foil. But after this excellent scene, we do not see this character again. At all. Ever. All of the lead up to show us the struggle for perceived power, the hatred, the unfeeling callousness of this character is completely wasted. Perhaps the author meant to use the character as the person behind the scenes pulling strings to make life difficult for our hero in the last half of the story, but if that was the intent it was unsupported and fell utterly short. I could go on at length about other problems I had with the story, but I feel I have said enough already.
    Mr. Rosamilia is the editor of this anthology and is also the publisher, Carnifex Press. It is his vision that created the Freehold shared world anthologies. I have come to feel that he is doing a great disservice to himself by being his own editor and publisher. He needs a fresh eye to look at his story content, to point out where there are holes. He needs an honest accounting of his writing skill, to point out improper word choice and grammar. He needs an editor, that can be honest with him, to take over this anthology series. And then he needs to listen to and trust that editor, even if it means several rewrites of his future Freehold novellas that are the necessary backbone of this anthology series.

    .

  • The Thorn Key – by SC Bryce
  • This is one of the stories that compelled me to do this review despite all other concerns. I got a real feel for the poorer side of Monroi Pass. The characterization was well done. The banter between the two main characters flowed naturally; the tempo was perfect and kept my interest throughout. Despite being a tale about grim events, it remained somewhat lighthearted and humorous. I found myself wanting to follow the continuing tales of Jul.

    .

  • The Long Haul – by Keith Gouveia
  • Coming of age stories are common in fiction, especially fantasy. It is nice to see one with a different perspective. The main character is not your typical cocky youth with a chip on his shoulder that has an epiphany. This story takes a subtler approach, and even manages to include a bit of excitement and mayhem along the way.

    .

  • Blue Pearls – by Cynthia Rodiana
  • This story had me laughing. I don’t think that it was meant to be humorous, but I know people like the secondary character, Alik. I even started thinking of him as smart-Alik (aleck). Perhaps it was because I could identify with the main character that helped me escape into this story. I am glad that some authors can find room for kindness in a slash and chop sword and sorcery story, not that I think that kindness is a requirement for this genre. It was just nice to encounter. I was engrossed in the story telling enough that I did not see the end of the story coming, and I was very happy that I had not guessed the ending.

    .

  • Fools Treasure – by Bruce Durham
  • While this story kept me entertained, it did feel a little disjointed. Other aspects of the story telling were very well done. The descriptions of the terrain were clear enough that I could follow the movement of the characters in my mind’s eye easily. I was a little disappointed that a trade using money, instead of durable goods or weapons, was used to solve a problem. Of the entire story, only this one scene felt wrong or out of place for me, and nearly spoiled an otherwise enjoyable tale.

    .

  • Shedding Skin – by Steve Goble
  • Disclosure up front: I have known Steve for over 30 years. I know him well enough to know that I can give an honest review.

    “Shedding Skin” gives us more of the character Hissu. By more, I mean personal growth, expanding insight, political understanding and moral leanings that drive Hissu’s understanding of civic duty. The Vipers as a people are real to me. Mr. Goble presents them in such a way that a conversation between two of them, while perched in the branches of a tree, seems natural and usual. The words to not shout, “Hey, look! They are in a tree.”; but rather convey the ease of the characters, as if they were you or I sitting in conversation on a sofa or front porch. I think that this is what I like best about his writing. The flowing depth of his descriptions, be it character or setting.

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4 Responses

  1. Deven: I thought the thing you liked best about my writing was the fact that I have more hair than you …

    In other words, thanks.

    — Steve

  2. The good news is that Mr Rosamilia does have an editor, or rather many editors. All the authors in the Freehold series edit each others’ works. As someone involved in the project, I can tell you that Mr Rosamilia is open to criticism and doesn’t censure his authors just because they say something negative about his writing. He’s done extensive rewriting on the basis of suggestions made in the anthology I worked on and I can honestly say that his writing has improved by leaps and bounds since Monroi Pass. My only fear is that these works will never see print, since the project has been stalled for over three months now.

  3. J.: Thanks so much for your comments.
    It is good news that Mr. Rosamilia’s work has improved, and I can say that his prose in “The Protector” was better than in “Southern Storm”. My fear is that poor sales of future anthologies could be the result because of what has seen print thus far, and that is what I was discussing. I personally may not buy the next one base only on his work in the first two. I don’t want to see any short fiction anthology or publisher fail.
    Did any of the author/editors tell him that “Southern Storm” should not have seen print as is? If so then they are not really editors because they could not impact (stop) it’s publication (as is). If they did not tell him then perhaps they are not good editors, or perhaps were afraid to say anything even though he is open to criticism. Having one person be author, editor and publisher is a dangerous thing, even if that person has the best of intentions. “Southern Storm” in particular, and “The Protector” to a slightly lesser extent should not have seen print in their ‘as published’ versions, in my opinion. (And my opinions do not have much street credit, btw. I have only two non-fiction and one flash fiction publications to date. I know that I need to dig my Strunk & White out of that box in the attic.)
    I like the idea of shared world anthologies in general, and I like the depth of his shared Freehold world. I have had another one of the authors tell me about the Freehold critiquing methodology, and I think it can be a good thing. But was it good enough?

  4. Hello Deven,

    A friend of mine just found this review and sent me the link. Yes, you were supposed to be amused in places and in others, perhaps laugh or smirk at Alik’s foibles and wrong thinking that eventually caught up with him. “What an idiot” I thought many times in writing him. I’m glad that for the most part you enjoyed the story.

    I am giving you my web link, however, there is nothing there at the moment–long story–but soon. I wrote many more pieces for the Freehold anthologies that won’t see the light of day, but perhaps folks might enjoy reading them anyway once they are posted.

    As you know from reading the Freehold series, there is no gunpowder or magic and yet ships are regularly sunk by pirates. I asked Armand once how he thought this was accomplished. He said he didn’t know and I could come up with whatever I wanted. In the novella I wrote detailing Brogan’s history, I figured out something plausible–at least it seems so to those who have read it. As it will never be published now, feel free to stop by the website in several weeks and check it out if you are interested. It is chapter 3 in the novella, “Rascal’s Edge”.

    Best Regards,
    Cynthia

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