7th Son: Descent, the novel by J.C. Hutchins, has a whole backstory and life of its own, most of which I won’t try to document for you. Go to jchutchins.net, ask around the Podiobooks scene, see what his fans are saying, and you’ll get a better version of it than I can give. Basically, as I recall it (ie: without going back and re-reading stories I’ve heard dozens of times in the last couple years), he wrote a book that was too long and which he couldn’t find a publisher for (both are common problems, and not necessarily a measure of quality), and decided to join the few people (at the time) who were podcasting audio versions of their books for free, breaking his book into a trilogy and putting it online. J.C. Hutchins is excellent at marketing and self-promotion and, over several years, built a very large following and used that platform to get a publishing deal with St. Martin’s Press, which has so far put out two of his books, this one and Personal Effects: Dark Art.
In 2008 I tried listening to 7th Son, as read by J.C. Hutchins for Podiobooks.com, and couldn’t even finish the first episode. This was partially because I was trying, for the first time, to listen to podcasts while working at home – when working at my last day job, I could listen literally all day without trouble; I found in 2008 that my current work mostly doesn’t allow for it. (I’ve recently been changing my working conditions somewhat, and have listened to a podcast audiobook or two while painting, so maybe I’ll get back to all the podcasts & audiobooks I paused in March, 2008.) It was partially because J.C. Hutchins’ voice is difficult for me to listen to. It was partially because the hook (4-year-old psychopath assassinates the president & uses swears!) didn’t hook me (actually, it was almost silly enough I quit in the first few minutes). It was partially because of the writing quality & tone of the next 25 minutes of the first episode. Anyway, I didn’t finish it and never managed to go back to it.
When Personal Effects: Dark Art was about to come out, in summer 2009, buying into the hype and all the rave reviews from the army of adoring fans that J.C. Hutchins was a good writer, not to mention that I’ve been following ARGs since I was a Cloudmaker from day 1 of The Beast, I pre-ordered a copy of PE:DA. I listened to the episodes of the Personal Effects: Sword of Blood prequel podcast story which were available at the time of PE:DA’s release with my wife, then read PE:DA aloud to her and went through the materials and websites with her, then asked J.C. Hutchins whether he would prefer me to avoid writing a 2-star review, since I didn’t want to hurt the sales of a fellow podcast author (or damage my standing in the very clique-ish podcasting community). Then I didn’t write a review.
Based on my experience with PE:DA, I decided not to pay for 7th Son: Descent until/unless I’d read and/or listened to it. So I requested that my library buy a copy, and I checked it out. And I let it sit on my shelf for a couple of months, renewing it without picking it up until someone else in town placed a request for it & I couldn’t renew it any more. It’s due back tomorrow, so, today I read the whole book. As I read it, I updated my progress on Goodreads. (warning: spoilers) Here are my updates:
- @ page 1/356: Trying to keep my expectations super-low, to avoid nigh-inevitable disappointment & frustration
- @ page 62/356: Time to stop for breakfast.
- (on twitter, probably on page 62): Have I mentioned I don’t like thrillers?
- @ page 106/356: As a fan of Dollhouse, it’s hard to like this, even knowing it came first.
- (on twitter, page 184/356): @rkalajian Note: It is distracting to see names of people I know, like yours, peppering the book.
- @ page 216/356: Lunch break.
- @ page 261/356: I feel like I’ve finally gotten past the prologue & into Act 1. Or into Act 2 of a 5-Act, if you like. Yet almost finished… 🙁
- @ page 279/356: Literally *just* got the stakes, ie: so far we didn’t know more than “villain is probably planning something.” This is ridiculous.
- @ page 319/356: Really? A Nazi? Sigh.
- @ page 356/356: Well, that was something. Most of the writing was better than expected & better than PE:DA, but I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.
As I stated, aside from the Prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 18, the writing of 7th Son: Descent was -overall- better than my entire PE:DA experience. There were still the annoying italicized asides/thoughts/sounds, the J.C. Hutchins-coined slang, and a couple of characters that just reminded me of the ones that most annoyed me in PE:DA (and of Hutchins’ cloying voice, to boot). Oh, and have I mentioned I don’t particularly like thrillers? So the fact that the 7th Son trilogy is a thriller doesn’t thrill me. Last year, as part of my research before writing Cheating, Death, I ended up reading quite a few thrillers (& other commercial fiction), and I believe that J.C. Hutchins’ writing is on par with writers like Brad Meltzer and Jonathan Maberry, and is a better writer than the “Richard Castle” we were given in print.
Structurally I had some trouble with 7th Son: Descent, but I have a feeling that this is related to the entire trilogy having been intended to be a single story. This book doesn’t have a whole story. The majority of the 7th Son: Descent is setup, background, and exposition. What Maberry has over Hutchins is structure; the climactic showdown battle in 7th Son: Descent would have been early in a Maberry thriller, and would have been followed up by at least a couple of bigger, more thrilling, and higher-stakes situations. Oh, and then Maberry would give a resolution to the story, even if he were intending to follow it up with a sequel/series. 7th Son simply stopped, just as things were beginning to build momentum. Yes, thrillers are very formulaic, and yes, 7th Son: Descent follows the formula… as far as it goes; it just doesn’t make it all the way to the end.
And while most of what I don’t like about Hutchins’ books is in the characterizations and trying-too-hard-to-be-hip dialogue, it wasn’t as bad as what I’ve seen in other thrillers. Also, something Hutchins has over writers like Meltzer & Dan Brown (at least in 7th Son: Descent — PE:DA fell into this trap) is an avoidance of having characters (who are presented as smart) who, despite their best efforts, couldn’t solve their way out of a wet sack, only to have them save the day accidentally, by coincidence, and/or by failing altogether to act. So that’s a plus.
My family is making fun of me for writing book reviews over 1k words (I’m already over 1160), so I’m going to try to wrap up some of my other thoughts quickly: I’m not a fan of Kilroy. Period. I think putting a Nazi in the book was like terrible icing on a cake built from layer after layer of preposterous premises. I’m generally pretty ready to suspend disbelief, but that sort of thing makes it difficult. Chapter 1 is the weakest chapter in the entire book, and is a big part of why it took me 2+ years to get into 7th Son. It feels almost as though two totally different writers worked on this; one who wrote PE:DA, PE:SoB, and 7th Son: Descent’s Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 18, and an occasional line of thought/dialogue, and a second writer who wrote the rest of 7th Son: Descent. I found myself semi-frequently groaning at the writing, and (sitting alone in my room) verbally describing the book as “terrible” as I worked through it.
Have I mentioned I don’t like thrillers, or most mainstream commercial fiction? By the standards of thrillers and commercial fiction I’ve read, this book is reasonably-well-written, and represents a good Volume I of a three-volume book. If/when I hear the rest of the book won’t be making it to print, I may someday listen to the whole thing in audio form, but right now the story is not compelling enough and (to my ear) J.C. Hutchins’ voice is grating enough that I do not expect to experience the rest of this story soon. Just my preferences. (To be fair, I get a fair amount of complaints about my voice(s) on my podiobooks, myself. Different people’s ears experience narration differently, just as different people like different genres.) If you like thrillers and/or commercial fiction, and/or if you don’t mind J.C. Hutchins’ voice, you may be in for a treat. A lot of people like it, and you can always try it for free.