I read a lot, and I’ve been reading for a long time, especially in the fantasy genre, but something I’ve noticed since I began to make a deliberate study of writing in order to improve my own storytelling is that I’ve become much more critical of what I read, especially in the genres in which I write. It is rather, I suspect, like a magician watching a magic show – I can see too clearly what is happening ‘behind the curtain’ in these stories, so I know how they will go, what will happen, and find the end product flat. That is not to say that such books are bad, and non-writers will likely not have these same struggles, but it is to explain why I struggled to engage with The Naming.
In too many respects, I found The Naming to be a pretty conventional fantasy following a hero’s journey plot archetype. Again, that doesn’t make it bad – a great many excellent stories follow that format – but it did mean that I found the twists unsurprising and the plot predictable. The framing conceit that Croggon employs, attempting to convince us that this is an interpretation of a real ‘historic work’ from a lost, pre-Ice Age civilization, was also off putting for me. It combined with a very poorly defined magic system to provide a context that was not as immersive as I desired.
Speaking of which, have you noticed a certain fascination recently (in the past handful of years) with extra-ancient civilizations? It seems to me that I’ve encountered an inordinate uptick in the number of people who are interesting in discussing the serious possibility of highly advanced civilizations rising and vanishing before ten thousand years ago. Anyway, back the book review.
Perhaps all of my critiques – the predictable plot, the shallow world-building, the unconvincing characters – are really because I was not the intended audience for this book, which I believe is officially considered a young adult book. This isn’t a factor which I consider often, as most of the books that I enjoyed in my youth I still enjoy today, like The Lord of the Rings or Terry Pratchett novels, and I don’t think of myself as someone who seeks out ‘adult’ books. In this case, I could see this simply being a book that is better if you haven’t already read hundreds of fantasy books in your life.
As you can probably tell, I am therefore struggling to give the book a fair review, because I don’t want to turn off readers to what is probably a good story just because I’m old and jaded and study writing. Aside from my issues with the magic system, which I stand by as objectively weak and poorly defined, my opinions on the characters and the plot are not necessarily going to be yours, and I think would be quite enjoyable for someone new to the genre.
Even so, I don’t know that I’ll read the rest of the series. For me, personally, I found the characters, especially the protagonist, to be rather shallow and unconvincing in their reactions and motivations (and highly anachronistic). Since I never seem to have a lack of books on my reading list these days, I’d rather spend my reading time on something I will enjoy more. That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t think you should consider reading it. So, while this might be the most confused book review I’ve written, I will still end by saying that I hope you give The Naming a try soon. Or, better yet, have your kids try it.