Book Review: Harm None, M.R. Sellars

book review, pagan fiction September 21, 2010

Let me preface this post by stating that I write pagan fiction (amongst other things like mystery, thriller, romantic suspense). I write pagan fiction without the use of paranormal elements. As a practicing Wiccan, I’m bothered by the fact that it’s hard to find fiction including paganism that doesn’t bring in some kind of non-realistic magic. The topic of what constitutes real magic is something for another day, but suffice it to say that in all the years I’ve been practicing, I’ve never seen anyone levitate, shoot energy bolts from their hands or turn anyone else into a newt (much to my chagrin… that would be a handy talent). I do believe that some people are more in tune with their environment than others, but the movie magic? Nah.

What I’m trying to do is give a clear picture of what the practice of witchcraft really is, which is the use of energy with intent (some people argue that prayer is actually the same thing). In my thesis, my main character falls under suspicion of murder because she’s a practicing witch who happens to know an awful lot about herbs and poisonous plants. She’s a witch, but she doesn’t ride a broom, doesn’t light candles with her breath or practice mind reading.

That said, I’ve been on a search for a long time now for authors with a similar goal. A few years ago I came across M.R. Sellars. His storytelling abilities impressed me and I grab any of his books I can. Here’s a review I wrote of his first book:

Harm None, the first Rowan Gant book, by M.R. Sellars

The author, M.R. Sellars, commits what may be the biggest faux pas I have ever seen. In the author’s note he explains his lack of proper grammar usage and tells his reader not to email him:

Note also that this book is a first-person narrative. You are seeing this story through the eyes of Rowan Gant. The words you are reading are his thoughts. In first person writing, the narrative should match the dialogue of the character telling the story. Since Rowan, (and anyone else that I know of for that matter,) does not speak in perfect, unblemished English throughout his dialogue, he will not do so throughout his narrative. Therefore, you will notice that some grammatical anomalies have been retained (under protest from editors) in order to support this illusion of reality.
Let me repeat something–I DID IT ON PURPOSE. Do NOT send me an email complaining about my grammar. It is a rude thing to do, and it does nothing more than waste your valuable time.

Okay, first of all, I flipped through the book and the stylistic grammar he’s talking about is the use of such things like “oughta” instead of “ought to.” I believe that a writer should use proper grammar, for the most part, maybe except for emphasizing something or to establish an accent, and allow the reader to “stylize” the dialogue on their own. When I am reading dialogue, if I see “ought to” my mind usually interprets that as “oughta.” Using this kind of stylized grammar will only remove the reader from the story because it makes them think “oh, bad grammar.”
Second, don’t write down to your reader. And don’t offend them in the author’s note by telling them not to be rude and write an email. Oy.

This should be interesting.

…about a week later…

I read it. And I must admit I enjoyed it. The plot is tight, the voice is appropriate for the story, most of the facts about Wicca are accurate and portray practitioners in a fairly objective light.

The plot… Rowan Gant is a practicing Witch. His best friend, Ben Storm, is a cop. Ben is assigned to a murder case in which the victim, a Witch herself, has been ritually mutilated and a pentacle drawn on the wall with her blood. Ben recognizes the symbol on the wall as the same as a pendant that Rowan wears, so he asks Rowan to “consult” on the case. There are other murders committed during the course of the book that cause Rowan to believe that the murderer is a Witch and is trying to summon a demon or something equally evil. Rowan manages to track down the killer through slightly supernatural means (more on that later) and also sets up nice conflict between himself and several people on the police force and a reporter.

It’s a nice, taut storyline. Every scene carefully drives the plot forward. I didn’t feel like this was accomplished at the expense of character development. I felt like I got to know Rowan, Ben and Felicity throughout the story and saw them grow. Well done.

The description is also quite good. He describes the murder scenes in vivid detail and nothing left out of Rowan’s visions. Overall, I liked the story very much.

I do have a few points of contention. (Naturally.)

I still stand by my earlier comment that it’s not necessary to use the stylistic grammar. I did feel as though it was jarring me from the story because I had to think about how to pronounce it. When I read dialogue I don’t automatically assume that each character is speaking in stilted English. I put the style into it on my own, as I imagine most readers do.

Sellars also points out in his author’s note that he knows that the magic is “over the top.” Wow. Yeah, that’s one way to put it. Rowan, through the use of study and meditation, has been able to “train” himself into what basically amount to powers of ESP. He can have visions, premonitions, clairvoyant recollections, etc. He identifies the murderer using dreams and visions that he has at the crime scenes. No Wiccan I know has been able to “train” themselves into these sort of abilities. It’s a little discouraging to me that pagans feel the need to embellish the Craft rather than tell it how it really is.

I already own the second Rowan Gant book and will be reading it. Hopefully Sellars will have toned down the “over the top” magic and the stylistic dialogue to really showcase his talent as a storyteller.

To find out more about Mr. Sellars, you can visit his website at www.mrsellars.com or his blog at mrsellars.com/mrblog.

by

Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

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