** spoiler alert **
Note: This review has also been posted at On Starships And Dragonwings
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M. R. Merrick's "Exiled" (The Protector, Book One) is a gem in the rough, in need of the kind of polish that good editors would provide. After slogging through a painfully-presented first chapter, I couldn't read any further without first exorcising my inner editor. This is a shame, because readers who share my initial reaction may lack the patience to read the rest of the fantastic story Merrick is building in The Protector series. Exiled should merit four or five stars, but poor editing will present a barrier to many readers.
Setting: the modern city of Stonewall, New York, in the Earth dimension
Premise: Seventeen-year-old Chase Williams is a hunter of Underworld demons, but Chase never developed the elemental magic that should be his by hunter birthright, and he and his mother are therefore exiled from the Circle of hunters. As they struggle to earn a living, Chase is in turn hunted by demons. But through a chance encounter with a legend, Chase learns that there may be innocent demons, and corrupt hunters: the lines of good and evil are blurred, and Chase must choose
* A well-planned story arc spanning multiple novels, some to be written.
* Colorful, interesting characters with depth and good development.
* Good use of conflict and emotional response to engage readers.
* Good pacing. Good momentum to the climax.
* Great imagination.
* Some scenes — fight scenes in particular — are stilted and hard to read.
* Much of the dialog is unconvincing and forced.
* Some characters lack depth, some are two-dimensional, and some — well, they lack character. Many opportunities are missed here, as these characters are potentially very interesting.
* Some character development is infeasible, with powers suddenly acquired, and unexpected skill used as deus ex machina.
* In short, the writing quality is uneven. Critical editing stages seem skipped.
(Heh. Irony: "Critical editing stages of editing seem skipped" said "editing" twice. Edited.)
I'm told that many new authors shoot themselves in the foot by not hiring skilled and professional editors for each stage of editing. That may be the case with Exiled. I respect Merrick's work ethic and skill: the basis of a great story is present in Exiled, but the novel as it stands feels like an early draft. Merrick appears to have learned storycraft by writing this novel. I'm pleased to see that Exiled is well-received by many of its readers, and I hope that Shift, the second Protector novel, and Release, the work-in-progress third novel, are more polished. This is a series people will enjoy, as long as the series is readable.