Companion – Building a Sequel

Before I start, I need to point out something about how I read books in order for this review to make sense. I’m not a very visual reader, I see words and they echo in my head. Sometimes pictures come if I concentrate hard enough, but that slows down my ability to read. Intricate descriptions of an object’s physical properties do very little to paint a picture in my mind. Action scenes often have to ride on emotional momentum. For me, words inform the mood of a book and suck me in through intensity, atmosphere, and emotion. I think it’s why I tend to gravitate towards a large vocabulary; fine-tuned wording is more effective at enhancing my personal reading experience. So take the following review with a grain of salt as this inclination very much tailored my experience with Companion by Luke Matthews. Companion, also a self published novel, is a risky follow up to Construct. It bets on high characterization over the strong plotting seen previously, leaving me with mixed emotions. However, while I adored the introspective elements, the sometimes overly detailed stage dampened my enjoyment of the book.

Companion picks up a little while after the end of Construct. Jacob splits off from Eriane and Samuel, his plan is to close up some loose ends so they do not hinder the group in their ultimate quest. Samuel follows Eriane on her own separate quest to find the fabled Gunsmith. Eriane had broken her gun in their climatic fight in Construct, and direly needs it fixed. Unfortunately, in this world, even owning a gun, let alone using one, is grounds for execution. Then there is Dal, a man who has lost his memories and returns to his old crew by accident. Despite his former crew’s misgivings and suspicions about him coming back, he tags along for an escort mission through some of the most dangerous territory in the land. He doesn’t quite know what he’s looking for, but he feels he’s in the right place anyway, even though his life is very much on the line.

Alright, let’s dive in. I had trouble with Companion. While some areas of the book reduced my enjoyment, Matthews made some choices I particularly liked. I enjoyed Matthews’ switch to a more introspective story, especially given the ending of Construct. The characters each had their own journey, all of which feel earned and in some ways necessary for future installments. They each had their own pasts to resolve with their perceived futures and wanted to prepare for the fights ahead. There was a solid theme of identity portrayed through each character as they tried to reconcile who they were and who they are. I also appreciated that the introspection did not require fighting through bodies to come to their respective ends within the book. Dal was a wonderful addition to the cast that helped increase the weirdness within the world of The Chronicler Saga. He added some grit even though he was bewildered most of the time, trying to catch up with the madness of his previous life.

Their individual travels also allowed for a further realization of the world. Not a whole lot, but there were the beginnings of a larger place with small towns scattered about. It’s not as fleshed out as I normally would like, but the glimpse was nice and added to the dark western feel I got from the previous book. Matthews took a slower route this time, and it was scenic enough. But I think this was where I had some trouble. Where Construct hooked me with its driving plot and thick atmosphere, Companion had to rely mostly on the characters and a curiosity of the world. Both were handled, and in some cases handled well, I just didn’t particularly jive with some of the choices made throughout the book. Especially the decision to backseat Samuel’s own role within the story, but I digress.

Part of it comes back to the issue I described in the introduction. Companion seemed to be filled with more character and object description than I remembered from the first book. I don’t have the distinct feeling that it was as prevalent in Construct as it was here. There were intricate details of things in places that I didn’t really care about. People covered in trinkets, dusty tables covered in books, and other fantasy paraphernalia that didn’t add too much to the flavor for me. So I tried to ignore that by really ramping up my attention to the characters. The problem I ran into here wasn’t so much the development as much as there were no foils. The characters were different enough, I just didn’t get the distinct feeling that their journeys were very different from each other. Construct benefitted from the back and forth between the perceived good and bad guys, giving you a different taste of story beats. But Companion has three protagonists that are all on similar internal quests that lead to similar outcomes. The lack of variety made it feel slower and more of a trudge than the previous book, which was frustrating for me.

Ultimately I had a very middling experience with Companion. I didn’t hate it at the end nor did I feel betrayed, but in some ways I did feel appreciative. Appreciative that Matthews took some interesting risks that for me paid off two-thirds of the time. In part my particular reading style got in the way, but also because of those same risks. If you liked Construct, I think you’ll like this one and your mileage may vary depending on the kind of reader you are. The characters are better and more interesting, and the world just has a little more to it. I’m still interested in the world, and I really want to see Samuel’s and his friends’ journeys to the end and unveil the revelations of the Chroniclers. I didn’t like it as much as Construct, but don’t let that deter you if you’re curious. Matthews has certainly put in the work, and I hope he continues to do so in the next book.

Rating: Companion– 6.5/10
-Alex

Construct – The Foundations Have Been Laid

23365568I’ve never had the inclination to read self-published titles. I’m always worried I’ll read into it too deeply or be overly critical, because I can so rarely turn off that portion of my brain. So when Luke Matthews reached out to me and requested an honest review of his self-published book Construct, I was a little hesitant. After thinking about it though, I decided to give it a shot. Construct ended up being something unexpected, and though it certainly has some flaws, the work Matthews put into his world and characters shows a lot of potential.

Construct follows Samuel, an artificial being that has awakened from a terrible memory as the building he is in is burning down around him. He recognizes he is not human, doesn’t know his own name, but feels hunted nonetheless. Deep down he feels his memory is important and puts him in further danger, and so he hides from nearby voices searching the wreckage. He sets off on a journey to find out who and what he is, and why someone would want to kill him. It is a streamlined and clean concept that works for the book.

I want to start off by highlighting my favorite part about this book: Matthews’ writing. He is incredibly thorough with his descriptions, allowing the reader to feel the world. I immediately felt as if I was in some sort of dark fantasy western, where small towns and large cities were miles from each other, and the populace mostly tried to keep out of trouble. People knew each other by their dealings and less by reputation, which was something I rarely notice in other books. Matthews’ descriptions built a good sense of rhythm too, allowing the pace to slow down a little and take stock with more vivid descriptions. Meanwhile, the action scenes and tension heavy dialogues were focused on the characters and their emotions. While Matthew’s prose is his greatest strength, it also shows some weaknesses. Especially when it comes to the emotional range of the characters, they often felt like anime characters, where the most extreme forms of emotion were always on display. It wasn’t bad – especially since he uses a large vocabulary – but once I noticed it, I could not unsee it.

The characters, in general, were enjoyable.. Samuel as the ever-curious and ever-surprising construct was delightful. He has a childlike curiosity that was heightened, not hampered, by the danger he felt. However, this felt like one of the only aspects of his personality and he rarely ever made any character-defining decisions for himself. There often was a lot of telling about how he was different from “other” constructs, without too many comparisons showing how others operate. It became stale fairly quickly as even Samuel began to finish other character’s sentences pointing it out. I do want to point out though that for a decent amount of the book, Samuel did feel out of place, in a good way. The beginning of the book highlighted this the most with his interior narration being distanced even from himself, as he tried to work out who or what he was. It was an excellent beginning to his character that really showed off Matthews’ style.

A lot of the intrigue was dictated by a fairly solid supporting cast. The people Samuel meets along the way, felt like they had their own little lives that were interrupted by his presence. Conversations between Samuel and others were more often revealing of the supporting cast, highlighting their motivations and concerns. They never felt insightful of Samuel himself however, beyond the aforementioned curiosity. There were a few unexplained moments where characters seemed overly reactive to others’ choices, but I think some of that is supposed to be left for another book. The villains felt pretty typical– overly caricatured as headhunters who really loved to headhunt. I enjoyed the dynamic between the villainous duo, their banter being something I looked forward to, but it didn’t really give me too much insight into who they were. Since they are about thirty percent of the book’s point of view, it felt like more could have been made of them.

As far as the plot goes, while it didn’t reinvent the genre it was also clean and direct. In particular, Matthews excelled in his pacing. The book moves fast, but gives some time for the plot and characters to breathe. There wasn’t a single moment that felt wasted, and it felt pretty good to read a plot-heavy book that did not dilly dally. Each stop along Samuel’s path gave him something to consider, and his presence altered characters he encountered in some fashion. The constant feeling of the chase saturated every page once the reader and Samuel were made aware of it. There were a few contrived moments, especially when there were some out of left field point of view switches, but overall I enjoyed the story. It was a fairly typical story of lost memory but executed well in an entertaining way.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Construct. It is not a heavy read, and it’s fun despite some of its issues. The world is intriguing though I feel like it has not been fully revealed. The characters went through a lot and not everyone comes out okay in the end. Matthews clearly left room for more to be told as there is a lot of character tension left unresolved. I want to thank the author for both the opportunity and the free copy of his book in exchange for an honest review. And In the spirit of that, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to more of Matthews’ work.

Rating: Construct – 7.0/10
Alex