Top critical review
Ugh just no
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2019
Despite my enjoyment of this novel being all but a foregone conclusion, and the first couple of chapters being a strongly positive indicator.
The reason all boils down to one thing: Economy of words. The greatly simplified premise of this story is that an Orc becomes dumber when he uses magic, and smarter when he uses his "smartening spell" to increase his intelligence. The "gimmick" is that when he becomes smarter, the actual prose becomes more intelligent, too. Herein lies the problem.
When the Orc is dumb, the story is fast-paced, focused, and interesting. Sorch, the main character, has a strong personality; he speaks with the terse gruffness of a person living under constant hardship to survive, and therefore without the time for superfluous niceties; but he acts with the compassion of a person with a good heart. This combination of elements might call to mind the Dresden Files, when Harry is speaking to the pompous council; it may also remind of Wolverine, who is tough as nails and as caring as a father.
Every action in the first few chapters is colored by this personality. How he acts, how he thinks, how he describes things, are all fascinating because they are all very much a product of a specific character. Furthermore, because the "dumb" writing wastes no time with extraneous details, this actually results in a quick pace, a focused story, and all of the details ensconced comfortably within the personality of the character.
Every bit of praise I've just given can be revoked in totality almost the instant Sorch becomes intelligent enough for the writing style to change. The quick pace is gone, replaced with a meandering series of side-quests, the first of which is almost interesting but goes nowhere, and the second of which never even makes the reader a promise.
The focus on important details is gone. In every scene, the author tells you things you already know, tramples his own subtext, and spews irrelevant details again and again.
The personality, which I lauded so exuberantly before, is replaced with a generic "intelligent nice individual person guy." The text isn't colored with his personality, what little personality he has. When he does something daring, intelligent or surprising, it's just as uninteresting as when he's walking across a street or standing idly.
The biggest offense is the character interactions. These instances are littered with the aforementioned subtext-trampling, obvious tropes with no depth, and embarrassingly exhaustive descriptions of feelings that don't seem congruent with the situation. Case in point: Minor Spoiler: He meets a Minotaur at one point and the entire conversation feels contrived -- That is, it feels forced. -- containing no depth of character, but just shallow platitudes. The Minotaur is jovial, friendly and possessing of no prejudice. If that description was emotionally evocative to you, then you'll be thrilled by the scene, but if it seemed like just a bland list of character traits, then you know exactly how I felt when reading it.
I put the book down, and two or three days later I picked it up again, thinking, "Even if it's not great, I'm still pretty interested in what's happening and, hey, I like a good adventure." I read about one more chapter before I couldn't continue. It's conceptually exactly what I want in a story, but the execution is tedious and meandering.
All of that said, I want to emphasize that this is only my opinion, as both a writer and a reader, and I would not discourage anyone from purchasing the book if nothing I wrote here dissuades you whatsoever. I would, however, question how many persons would have praised this book if it started 80 pages in, rather than at the excellent high point of page 1.
Here's to the author's future projects!