Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Trader Tales 1: Quarter Share

Apologies for the long absence (what you were gone, hadn't noticed). Yeah, well I know I'm not exactly the edge of your seat must reading. I've been applying my creative writing skills to a speech I'll be giving in relation to my day job. If it goes well, I have folks that want me to turn it into a training course and maybe a book. Given that, it's been my main focus for a while.

But I can't let a great book go by without a little recognition to it.

Trader Tales: A Quarter Share - Book One in a series of books set in the "Age of Golden Sail" by Nathan Lowell

The first chapter book I have a conscience memory of reading was Farmer in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein. While almost certainly not my first chapter book, it is the one that left an enduring impression upon me. From that very beginning I've been fascinated with Science Fiction. The first role playing game I really got into was Traveller, a science fiction themed game and I've always had a special love for the "ordinary" of space (which is why Farmer has stayed with me for so long). Some of my favorite parts of Science Fiction novels have been the mundane or "character building" sections of a book. The hero, who would grow to be the Captain of the ship, on her first cruise and all the foibles of learning to be a spacer. These chapters have been as much my favorites as the dramatic battles that saw the fates of whole galaxies change.

I also have a passion for the early nautical life of Earth. From Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada to the Age of Sail and Nelson's gallant battles, I love the sea borne life. The Horatio Hornblower series rates right up with the Honor Harrington series as my all time favorite book series.

So when someone (I'm pretty sure it was Tee Morris) mentioned Trader's Tales with a description of "Hornblower in space," I had to check it out.

Summary: It's About the People
Quarter Share is the first book in a series. Like Hornblower, it starts with the character at the bottom of the pile. He's an eighteen year old orphan with no skills, no money and no clue. And it took an act of kindness to keep his story from ending right there. This books only action is all off screen. No emergencies, no disaster, one off screen mugging and the only death is before the story starts. It's not about dramatic action, but about the simple life aboard a merchant ship plying the deep dark.

And that's what makes it so interesting. Maybe my life is just too filled up these days, but the simplicity of the book was what appealed most.

The Good:
- First person narration: It really works for this book to have the lead character (Ishmael Horatio Juan) tell the story in his own words. It gives it the personal nature that makes the book really work. Had he not done that, it likely would have been too much like Hornblower. As it is, the book stands alone for the narration style.
- Great lines: Good thing I usually listen to this in my car. I found myself laughing often and loudly.
- The "feel": Not sure how to state it any better. The overall fabric of the story makes for a very visual story. I could see the shape of the Lois McKendrick and smell the coffee brewing.
- The hornpipe: He used hornpipe music for transitions and this tied it nicely back to the original Age of Sail.

The Bad:
- No failure: Something that the Hornblower stories have, which Trader's Tales doesn't, is the knock you to the ground and still get back up again determination. Horatio Hornblower scrabbled every step of the way to each of his promotions. Ishmael doesn't face the same challenges. He has the normal getting used to shipboard life, but everything he tackles he achieves. There is no adversity and by the end of the book I was left wondering a little how he could have gone from zero to so competent in five short months. Hopefully the future books will introduce a little more challenge.

The Cymru rating: 8/10
On its own, it rates a strong score. The sequels will have to work hard to keep the same score.

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner

Caveat Emptor- These blogs are written without the protection of an editor. I do proofread them, but I know I'm far from perfect. The ideas are sound and I'm still learning the foundational techniques. Thank you.


  1. Thank you for your kind words, sir!

    Your summary and analysis seems spot on to me and I appreciate your taking the time to share your observations with the world.

    Going forward, as you assess his competence, remember that it's first person. Were I a betting man, I'd bet you find Half Share unsatisfactory, Full Share marginally better, but not until Double Share will you find the kinds of antagonistic failures you seek.

    Thanks once more and I'm so glad you found time to listen, and comment.

    I wish you the best of luck with the speech. Never an easy task at the best of times.

  2. Nathan,

    Thank you for honoring the review with your input. I'm certainly looking forward to reviewing the future books, as that means I get to listen to them first.

    A very good point on the first person narration coloring the view. Ish has a very optimistic outlook, which certainly affects his look on life. Hornblower on the other hand I have to admit I sometimes wanted to reach out and smack him for being so morose.

    All the best,
    Joel BC