(DNF stands for Did Not Finish, which is not nearly as cool as DTF.) I’ve always been a “finisher” when it comes to books. Or at least I’ve always pretended to be, as a bookshelf full of heavy nonfiction with bookmarks still a quarter of the way through would attest. But life is too short. Why continue to spend time on a book I’m bouncing off of hard when I have ARCs of books I’m super excited about like Emperor of the Eight Islands, The Days of Tao, Children of Earth and Sky, and Central Station waiting to be read? And unfortunately I bounced off of Snakewood hard.
18% in according to my Kindle (after over a month), and I’m out.
Snakewood had a cool enough concept for me to grab an ARC at the last minute. Decades after being disbanded, someone is hunting down the members of Kailen’s Twenty, a famed mercenary group. It’s openly billing itself as “not your typical grimdark fantasy”—the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog is a pretty reliable indicator of exactly what the publisher’s publicity department wants you to think about a book—and that’s probably part of the problem, and a sign that grimdark is limping along on its last legs.
The first problem was the format. It’s setup as a tale told years later, pieced together from scattered letters and first-hand accounts. That sort of thing can work, but can we admit that the epistolary novel was an inferior form that literature has largely evolved beyond? It was neither necessary nor well done here. The second problem was the worldbuilding. Not that it isn’t cool, in the abstract. Fighters poison their belts and blades, fire arrows fitted with spore bags, and get hopped up beforehand on fight brews that leave them with a hangover in the short-term and discolored skin in the long-term. The geography of the story is a rich quilt of states and peoples. But the worldbuilding stand as hurdles to be overcome by the reader rather than adding spice to the sauce or advancing the story. A lot of it is thrown in so fast and frequent as to be incomprehensible, and I spent a lot of time wishing we could just get on with things.
There is a lot of potential there that could have been filled in more skilled hands, and I can see why a publisher as good as Orbit would greenlight it, and maybe it does fill some of that promise eventually, but I’m officially pulling the plug.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Snakewood via NetGalley.