Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: The Dark Element

The Dark Element (The Elemental Saga Book 1)The Dark Element by Mason J. Torall
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since self-publishing The Dark Element, the first installment in his Elemental Saga series, Mason J. Torall has been running aggressively on the conference circuit including participating as a panelist at MalCon (Myths and Legends Conference) Denver 2017 and KoelbelCon 2016 where he was a special guest along with his writing partner, Colleen Oakes. He’s also a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and, at least up until recently, was a fairly active one at that. In short: over the past few years in addition to writing quite a long book and working on the next installment, he has been working hard on this project. Credit where credit is due: that’s no small feat.

Based on the ratings that other reviewers have given The Dark Element, I feel like I’m about to throw some ice water on the party, and that’s not what I originally set out to do here. I like to support other writers I have met in my travels, and I don’t think I can do that by damning anything they do with faint or insincere praise, so apologies if any of this is crushing, but here we go:

I’ll start with the positives: I think Mr. Torall has an interesting idea here. Damien Vilan (pronounced like violin without the “o,” according to the book--it would have helped to know this before page 200 or so, but maybe I’m just being fussy) is a young man in his 20s living in a compound in Seattle with his adopted brother Von who is an Algaroth. It just so happens that the evil armies trying to conquer Earth happen to be Algaroth as well. Due to this, Von tends to freak-out most other human survivors they encounter during raids on the Avos (enemy) armies throughout the city. An eccentric “Adult” AI named Leo provides important intelligence and codebreaking expertise to the brothers in their efforts to combat the Avos on Earth who happen to be an arm of The Collective, the forces of the evil “Over-Seer” Croll Tan. If you are feeling confused by the almost Eskimo word for snow nature of names for enemy forces, you’re not alone: I felt the same way as I was reading the book. Oh yes, more on that later. During a particularly dangerous raid, the brothers are almost killed, but end up being rescued by unexpected allied forces. Ultimately, Von and Damien are transported to a mysterious subterranean island compound known as Amun Nur where Damien discovers that other Elementals like him are being assembled. Damien’s power is the Dark Element (throughout the book, this is also referred to as Darkness or Night, depending on which 50 page chunk you find yourself in.) Other Elementals include water, fire, earth, and ice. Why are ice and water separate and where does darkness come into this classic mix? I’m not sure, but hey, why not? The water Elemental, Gwen, is female and supposed to be attractive, so maybe women like that just can’t wield ice powers. It’s all good.

My issues with the book came down to clarity and voice. Regarding clarity, it seemed like a lot of technology gets thrown at us at once in the beginning and kind of gets forgotten about until random spots in the book. Also, with some things, like the “aural implant” Damien has that automatically translates alien languages, we encounter some issues of consistency. Torall mentions that Algaroth have an “accent,” but if they speak another language that is translated, why would that translate as an accent? It would have made more sense for their language to be translated in a strange speech pattern like the way Yoda talks or something like that. Presumably, they wouldn’t have an accent speaking their own language.

Speaking of mastery of one’s native language, the manuscript contained a few unfortunate errors that managed to creep into the final book including prenuptial when it should have been practical and conjugated when it should have been conjoined or combined. To err is human; to edit prior to publication is to be expected. Something else that stuck out for me was a part where Von and Damien are reunited on Amun Nur, and Damien thinks to himself, “Von is coming home!” I kept thinking to myself, “But he’s not. Your home was destroyed.” Not only is that just wrong, but it misses the opportunity to explore the full emotional impact of the situation. Trust me, it’s not because Damien never experiences emotions in the book. He is one of the most emo characters I’ve ever encountered. Considering the amount of time Damien spends having a pity party, it’s amazing anything ever gets done.

Also, before I get off the language issues, I have a quibble with a passage at the end of p. 323 and the top of p. 324. I won’t get into the entire bit, but this sentence really captures a lot of it for me, “His lover–wrapped around his body and coursing over even his tongue–came alive at his connection.” Given my understanding of Torall’s life experience up to this point, he should have been able to glide through this scene, but instead, it feels carelessly rammed in, graceless ad almost clinical. What is meant as a metaphor for ultimate physical and spiritual connection comes off as surprisingly isolated while missing even Damien’s internal experience. Where are the real sensations? Where’s the rush? Where’s the feeling of building up to a point where it seems like any further stimulation would split you apart at the core? Maybe I’m just getting carried away. It’s hard not to when thinking about that sort of thing.

Oftentimes, words written between the covers betray more of a writer’s internal struggles than those of the characters. In this case, it is sometimes difficult to discern how much of this is Damien’s journey to understand and harness his powers and how much is the author’s quest for absolution and self-acceptance. Some of this bleeds over into Leo, the “Adult” AI who needs to grow into a larger space to survive, but can’t contain his mercurial demeanor enough to gain Damien’s trust to give him more space to roam.

It could be said that any story about superheroes or beings with magical powers is about being true to who we are and sharing our full potential with the world where our gifts are most needed. In order for that to translate to the page, that self-understanding, awareness and acceptance needs to begin between the chair and the keyboard. Given all of the time Damien spends ruminating over guilt-feelings or coping with general ennui, it seems like some of that has to be an effort to resolve something else.

All of this said, I think that Mason Torall has a good concept here. He clearly knows how to connect with his audience, and he is creative when it comes to integrating technology into his work. I just think he sometimes lets his enthusiasm for gizmos get the best of him. It will be interesting to see what he does as his series develops and as he develops as a writer.
Full disclosure: I did not receive a copy of this book or compensation of any kind, but I do know the person who wrote it, so take that however you need to as you.
Publication date: October 27, 2015
Publisher: Scorpion Ink, LLC, 665 pages
Formats: print retails for $24.99 and Kindle $4.99

Social Media for Mason J. Torall:
Twitter: @masonjtorall
Instagram: @elementaltorall

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