Monday, 11 May 2015

Review: Alone (The Girl in the Box #1) by Robert J. Cline


182 pages, April 16th 2012

Goodreads synopsis:

Sienna Nealon was a 17 year-old girl who had been held prisoner in her own house by her mother for twelve years. Then one day her mother vanished, and Sienna woke up to find two strange men in her home. On the run, unsure of who to turn to and discovering she possesses mysterious powers, Sienna finds herself pursued by a shadowy agency known as the Directorate and hunted by a vicious, bloodthirsty psychopath named Wolfe, each of which is determined to capture her for their own purposes...

2.75  stars 

I enjoy reading self-published novels and though sometimes there are grammatical errors (it's not like I never see those in professional published novels), I find them to be fresh and free of the marketing department's interference.

Robert J. Cline is offering his series The Girl in the Box for free online and I have some issues with offering works for free, but I'll get to that later. You can check out the first book in the series, Alone, by following the links above.

I found this book in my travels and read a chapter of it before becoming distracted and moving on to something else. The cool thing about this book is that it stuck with me and I found myself wondering what happened next in the story. That doesn't happen too often once I've moved on from a book I DNF'd. 

The story is quite action-packed as we meet Sienna Nealon, a 17 year old girl who hasn't left her house in 12 years. She's not agoraphobic, she's a "meta" human and has super special powers (but doesn't really know it.) Her mother has oddly abandoned her and she's awakened to find two strangers in the house. What a way to start the day. Sienna gets into it with some serious ass kicking and doesn't even have time for a cup of Joe. 

She meets a mysterious man who tries to help her, but she doesn't know who to trust. Eventually she makes it to the Directorate and the main villain of the book is revealed to be a bazillion year old monster called Wolfe. This thing seems like a cross between the Hulk and the Predator with the mind of sadistic and homicidal fourth grader. Yikes. 

I got a real kick out of the way he talked. He was obsessed with "playing" (torturing, killing) with his "doll" (Sienna) and sometimes I wondered if his origin might have come about when his parents took their then toddler vacationing around some toxic ooze. 

Wolfe is a great character and he basically kicked the tar out of Sienna and anyone else who came near him. Crane constructed an impervious wall of destruction in this monster and I was left wondering how on Earth anyone was going to stop him. 

Back to Sienna. Oh, Sienna. I like her and I don't at the same time. There's so much to really comment on but I'm trying to keep this succinct (not my forte). Sienna is socially awkward which is to be expected. She's also on the selfish side, getting agents killed so she can go back to her house and confront Wolfe, who is waiting for her there. The others at the Directorate look on her angrily and she just doesn't seem to really feel bad about what she has done. This could be because she just has not had enough exposure in the world and lacks empathy to a degree, or it could be because she's a bit of a self centered jerk. The problem is, I'm not sure which one is correct. 

As the main character, of course I want Sienna to be a "good guy" and for the most part I think she is, but it's also a bit hard to really like her. 

Now with comparisons to X-Men. I am not a reader of the comics so I'm going off the movies here (I know, for shame) but I kept thinking of the Juggernaut when Wolfe was on the scene and also thought of Sienna being somewhat similar to Rogue. The Directorate felt a bit like Xavier's school. In the end I'm not super concerned with the comparisons or whether Cline was inspired by the comics or movies. The book is quite good and an enjoyable read and I'm only seeing maybe one thing that REALLY stands out as being lifted from X-Men but it's unfair to say that it could not or should not exist anywhere else just because it was in X-Men. And I'm being vague because I really don't want to give it away. 

The most disappointing part of the book for me was the ending wherein Sienna's major power is revealed and she finds out "what she is." I was really kind of taken aback and left going, "Whaa? Come on!" 

I was on the fence whether or not to start the next book in the series, Untouched, but I did begin it the other night. I'm not sure if it will keep my interest, so we'll see. I'm seriously still feeling let down by the big power reveal...

Alone is an OK book in general. There's nothing horrifyingly bad about it and nothing spectacularly great about it, either. It's well paced with lots of action, does NOT have a drippy romance (for those yearning to get away from love triangles, this is a great choice), and the writing is decent. 

Now I must mention that Cline is giving away this entire series for free. I get that some authors choose to give away a book as a "teaser" to get people's interest piqued. I am not super happy with that strategy, but don't feel overly upset by it. But giving away an entire series? Ouch. Especially a book that's as decently written as Alone. I just feel he's shortchanging himself and the publishing industry already expects books to be free. Writers make pitiful amounts of money especially when just starting out. Not everyone gets the hundreds of thousands of bucks for their first book like Stephen King did. Most romance authors will get about $5000 for a first novel. Compare that with the time it takes to write a book (try it sometime, you'll see) and I just think we need to show some respect and compensate authors fairly.

I brought this up to Cline on Twitter and he basically said not to worry, he's making money off it anyway and I get that, I do. I want him to make money off this, it's a good work and he should get paid. But I'm just looking at it from the perspective of the industry as a whole because this industry has been broken for decades. At least we have a lot more control now with self publishing and e-books, but authors have to not only be creative, and adept at writing, but they have to become editors, designers and marketers, too. That's a massive amount of work. While Cline may be comfortable with his strategy, I just want to see the expectation change across the board for writers in all markets so they don't have to be all things just to make a living. /soapbox

Read Alone, you've got nothing to lose. The first one's free. And the second one. And the third one...