First novels present a number of challenges for the reviewer. On the one hand, you want to be encouraging of new talent. On the other, many first novels simply aren’t very good. And when they’re not, there is absolutely no point in making a big deal about it. No one should be trashed for their inaugural effort.
I didn’t read Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” when it was first published, but my editor insisted that I cover its follow-up, “Eldest.” I’m glad I waited, because I didn’t like the second installment and felt no guilt in saying so. (I’m hoping to be spared the task of reviewing Volume Three, but I’m not counting on it.)
And now there’s Drew C. Bowling’s “The Tower of Shadows.” It apparently features at least one dragon. Its author is a photogenic college sophomore. It also has a cover blurb by Terry Brooks, and he’s not an author whose critical judgment is likely to sway me.
Sorry, but I’m not going to read “The Tower of Shadows.”
Perhaps some of you will contend that I’m merely bitter over the fact that I was never a photogenic 19-year-old who managed to sell his first attempt at fiction to a major publisher such as Del Ray. I will aver that I am above such petty considerations, and I will still decline to read “The Tower of Shadows.”
New novelists with a track record of some kind stand a better chance of getting a review from me. I’m more inclined to read a debut novel if I know the author has published at least a handful of stories to professional markets.
Of the last 30 or so books I’ve reviewed for The Chronicle, six were first novels. I’d say that’s a pretty good ratio, one I would like to maintain. In my current reading stack are two more first novels, one from a major publisher, one from a specialty press. It’ll be interesting to see which I prefer.