It took author Duane Simolke over twenty years to turn his short story idea into a novel. Let us hope that it does not take that long for it to evolve into a good novel. The Return of Innocence is desperately in need of an editor.
The story told in the book is fairly simple and has all the elements of a decent fantasy novel. Sasha Varov and her family are exiled from their home country of Jaan because her father tried to stop an evil wizard from doing what evil wizards do. Several years later, Sasha sneaks into Jaan on a simple mission of buying seeds. While there, she winds up killing the evil wizard and then returning home.
Unbeknownst to her, that act has made her a hero among the general populace of Jaan, although it opened the way for the evil wizard’s even more evil brother to step in and take his place. One year later, Sasha must return to Jaan for more seeds, but on the way her plans are altered and instead she decides to assist a group of rebels seeking to rid Jaan of the wizard.
There are dragons, demons, and plenty of sword fights to make a fantasy reader happy, but in the end it’s still too much work to get past the stilted writing and abrupt scene changes. In addition, the author’s attempts at humor are incongruous and uncomfortable. Take this exchange on pages 25-26:
“I—” Her fear and confusion increased when she finally recognized her captor as Wuhrlock’s brother, Tay-lii. She had seen him once, during their journey to the Tarran Isles. He was sitting on his horse, surrounded by his soldiers and staring at the exiles. But now he stood right in front of her. “Why don’t you kill him?” she finally asked.
Men can’t kill sorcerers. I learned that fact years ago. It must be a woman, and she must have been born within the territory that the sorcerer has claimed. Women are naturally rooted in the powers of Theln’s ground, because the ground absorbed Erran’s powers when she fell into it and became the first human.”
“Sounds kind of far-fetched, like a convenient plot device in a book,” Sasha stated, but then realized she probably shouldn’t start a debate during such a time.
It is a convenient plot device, and one of many that are not used well. The author is too busy throwing in a dash of mysticism here and a smattering of romance there to really develop anything fully, or even explain what is there. When it is apparent that a scene was added in order to flesh out the story into a book, one almost wishes that it had been left as it was because all it does is detract from what could be an engaging story.
The author frequently has the character tell the reader what the character is thinking or feeling, rather than giving that role to a non-entity narrator. It is usually jarring and throws off the flow of the prose. This is yet another element of the book that could be improved with editing and refinement.
The ending of the book is anti-climactic and contrived. All along the reader can anticipate the eventual outcome, and the tools for that outcome appear six scenes prior. Despite all that, certain plot points are never fully explained. The whole thing is wrapped up with a little too much “and they lived happily ever after.”
The Return of Innocence might be worth reading once it has been put through the ministrations of a reputable editor and publisher, but until then it is best left on the shelf, unless the reader is a masochist.