by Rosemary Van Deuren
This is the first self-published novel I've read and reviewed (at least, for the purposes of this blog). I am kind of conflicted about how to proceed. On the one hand, I don't want to discourage people from writing and putting their work out there. On the other hand, I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to read this book.
(There will be spoilers in this review. I can't very well talk about the things I hated if I can't talk about the ending...)
On the plus side, the cover is great. Unlike a lot of self-published book covers, this one looks very professional. If I saw it sitting on the shelf in a bookstore, I wouldn't automatically assume it hadn't come from a traditional publisher. The author had to design and make the cover herself. She's apparently got a visual arts background, and it's evident here. Unfortunately, the lack of a background in writing really shows on the inside of the book.
According to the back cover, this is what Basajaun is about:
In the world of the rabbits, she is hailed as a savior.
In the world of men, a holy man wants her dead.
She is twelve years old.
In an isolated European farm town in 1906, a Pastor known as 'the rabbit killer' is preaching that the overrun of rabbits is a parallel for sin and corruption. But when Cora - a farmer's daughter - befriends a rogue rabbit named Basajaun, she becomes enmeshed in a hierarchy of sentient rabbit armies and ceremony. Soon the secret behind the rabbits' plight is unraveling, and Cora is fighting to save the lives of those she loves - as well as her own.
But that description is misleading. If that had really been the plot of the story, I might not have been as disappointed as I was. Here's my quick synopsis:
In an isolated farm town in 1906, a 12-year-old girl named Cora runs afoul of an unhinged misogynist who wants to kill rabbits. He became insane after being seduced by a 16-year-old girl named Nellie who wanted to have a baby that she could sacrifice to complete a spell, finally rendering the rabbit she'd fallen in love with into a man (who'd been stuck as a 6-foot-tall talking rabbit since the spell went awry back in Australia).
No, I am not kidding. Unfortunately.
I originally thought that the fantasy element of this book was just that there were talking rabbits. The first time the eponymous rabbit Basajaun spoke to Cora, she didn't seem at all surprised. (My reaction probably would have been, "Holy crap! A talking rabbit!") Fine... I'll suspend disbelief and imagine that rabbits who can talk (and smile, apparently) aren't something to call the newspaper about. But then in the last half of the book, all that magic and spell stuff started to creep in, and it just didn't feel right. It felt forced. Actually, everything felt forced. I didn't understand for a long time why the townspeople went along with the Pastor, since he was obviously crazy. His metaphor about the parallel between the rabbits and sin might have worked... if we'd been shown a town that was obviously sinful. But we're not shown much about the town at all, other than in one scene where all the farm hands are whooping it up with a bunch of whores in a farmhouse. That didn't seem that unusual to me. Cora also mentions something about the town not being a very good place for women; but again, we're not really shown that. (It's also a bit confusing as to why the author says this story takes place in Europe. The human characters have names like Wayne, Cora, Henry, and Sam. There seems to be no reason why this couldn't have been set in England or the U.S.A., so the names have me a bit confused.)
And, since this is young adult fiction, we've got to have a bit of pedophilia in there. Never mind that Cora is twelve. She's obviously old enough to make the decision to turn into a rabbit and become Basajaun's mate (and I got the feeling she only did so because she'd already lost everything in the human world; her decision seemed a bit defeatist to me). Let's set aside the furry fandom aspect for a moment and just mention again that Cora is twelve. Not twenty-two. Twelve. Why, oh, why do young adult books always have to have old men (or rabbits) lusting after young girls? Yes, Cora takes the place of the baby so that Nellie can complete the spell and turn her rabbit boyfriend into a human. There had to be a balance, you see. (As far as I know, rabbits only live for about 10 years. So if Cora turned into a rabbit, shouldn't she have instantly died of old age? And if Nellie's boyfriend was a fully mature rabbit, why did he end up being a handsome young man? Shouldn't he have been at least middle-aged?)
Let's also not forget the marmot ex machina (don't ask). With all these talking animals (and the age of the main character), I wasn't sure if I was reading a young adult novel or a middle grade one. The speech was all very juvenile, and at times I really felt like I was reading fan fiction written by a pre-teen. People (even adults) kept saying "yup" instead of "yes". (Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- "yup" entered our language in 1906.) But then I hit the part about the human girls developing romantic feelings for rabbits and I wondered if I'd stumbled onto some sort of kinky adult book...
But my biggest complaint with this book was the writing itself. It was absolutely dismal. I felt embarrassed at first, as though I was reading someone's first draft that they didn't want the public to see. It was that bad. I could never quite get a handle on the point of view. It started out as limited omniscient, but then you'd suddenly get a glimpse into another character's thoughts for a couple of sentences. It was quite odd and completely disrupted the flow.
Then there were all the outright mistakes. Despite what Fantasy Book Review claims, this book is not "well-written and for a self-published book, very precise." The assertion that "the sentence structure is firm and there are amazingly few typos" is just ridiculous. I can think of a number of typos and mistakes off the top of my head: the author wrote chose instead of choose; loose instead of lose; they instead of the; got instead of go; rabbits instead of rabbits'; and Nellie eye's instead of Nellie's eyes. There were plenty more small mistakes, too, as well as a number of silly "said bookisms". There were also some problems with the visual breaks. A couple of them were placed at the bottoms of pages, and I tended to miss them... which led to confusion when the scene subsequently changed. There were also a number of breaks that seemed to be missing altogether.
However, the biggest single mistake was that the author didn't seem to know how to properly punctuate dialogue. I encountered this to a lesser degree in Helen Stringer's Spellbinder. The author would write a bit of dialogue and then, instead of a speech attribution, would tack on the next sentence with a comma. I encountered this in the first few pages of Basajaun and my heart sank. Little did I know how bad it would be. This is done on nearly every page of the book (or at least every page where there is dialogue).
The thing is, this probably would have been caught if Van Deuren had published through a traditional publisher. The problem with self-publishing is that you have to do everything yourself... and that includes editing. The author claims that she wrote the first draft in nine months and then revised on and off for eight months. I find that a little difficult to believe, considering all the mistakes in the book (if you went through it with a red pen, you'd have more red text than the New Testament!). But if it is true then she really needed to hire a copy-editor. If you don't have the skills to do something, then you should hire someone who does.
So, all in all, I'm left with more questions than answers (Why did European characters all have Anglo names? Why are these girls sexually attracted to rabbits? How did a six-foot-tall rabbit make his way from Australia to Europe without being noticed?) and a bit of a sour taste in my mouth with regards to self-published books. Do not listen to the glowing blurbs and reviews; you'll regret having done so. Rosemary Van Deuren is a good visual artist... but she should probably stick to cover design and leave the actual writing to someone else.
(When I read Spellbinder, I honestly didn't think I would come across another book that had worse writing. I don't really like having to give negative values, but since I gave the writing in Spellbinder a -2, it's only fair that I continue with that system here and give the writing in Basajaun what it deserves. Hence the -4.)
Overall: 0.4 out of 5
(so bad it killed the ladybug!)