Book Description per Author: The Rules of the Mine, a novel of about 59,000 words, is a story in which a teenage boy named Benjin must learn the true meaning of sacrifice. After losing his parents, being betrayed by his uncle, and locked up in a mine to be forgotten, Benjin must collaborate with the other prisoners and a magic that threatens to consume him. Buried deep in the earth with time running out, will he and his fellow prisoners, a rag-tag family bound together by necessity and shared tribulation, be able to escape before they expend their usefulness?
Book Review: The concept of this novel sounded a bit like a cross between “The Great Escape” and young adult fantasy, so when Alex Rushmer approached me about reading her novel, I agreed.
And it was a fun read. There weren’t as many escape attempts as I’d expected–the plot mostly revolves around two attempts with two separate sets of prisoners–but it had drama, action, and pathos. So here’s a closer look at the Narration, Content, Characters, World-Building and my Overall Response.
Narration: Three out of Five. This was one of the weaker elements of the story. The story is told almost entirely from Benjin’s point of view, but it is still third-person omniscient narrator, and I think it’d have been stronger if the writer had either used the omniscient narrator to tell us things about how characters other than Benjin were feeling and interacting with the mine, or to make the story first person. (But then, I’m not a big fan of third-person omniscient narrator unless you’re going to use the narrator as a character with his or her own voice; otherwise, I feel you might as well let us get closer to the characters through first person.)
Content: Four out of Five. I felt that the content was well balanced and generally appropriate for a young adult fantasy novel. There were fights, betrayal, and romance as Benjin grew from a young, inexperienced boy into a man who knew his world and what was worth fighting for. It was definitely gritty at moments (there were parts I skimmed due to gore and violence), but it was balanced with lighter, more carefree times.
Characters: Three out of Five. Overall, I felt like the characters weren’t finished. There was some great potential, and the author really understood that there’s more to a person than one facet or one side, but they didn’t feel human enough. I think the story might’ve been too focused on Benjin and the escape attempts to really show the other characters–to let them live and inhabit the story and not just “fill it up” with other names and faces.
World-Building: Three out of Five. This was another problem area for the story. The mine was believable, but the world outside the mine was sketchy. The dialogue didn’t seem to match the technology available at the time, and I never really felt like I knew what made the world work. We heard that the people became poorer after Benjin’s uncle came to power, but how that happened is unclear. Were they a farming community? A market is mentioned, but what do they sell? Was it purely a case of overtaxation (which seems like short-sighted management on the part of Benjin’s uncle) or was there other reasons for the economic depression.
Also, the “gods” come up as an expletive of sorts, but we never hear more about them. There seemed to be no attempt to pray to the gods for mercy, for a miracle, for release from the mine, even though one would think that in all those prisoners, one must believe in the gods. So, like the characters, it felt begun but not finished.
Overall Response: Thirteen out of Twenty, or an average of 3.25. The story was enjoyable and I really liked the way the magic of the world worked–how it required self-sacrifice and wasn’t some kind of “willy-nilly” extra power. There was drama and symbolism, hope and eucatastrophe, and I felt it featured a sampling of what truly makes fantasy “work” as a novel, and I look forward to reading more works by Alex Rushmer in the future.
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Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by pedrojperez, Creative Commons