The Haunting Duet
Author: James Stills
Genre(s): Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Publisher: James Stills via CreateSpace
Availability: Paperback and eBook
This book is a well written D&D Campaign synopsis. If you enjoy stories like this, then you will be very pleased with The Haunting Duet. If you cringe at the thought of reading a Campaign Synopsis written in the form of a fantasy story, then stay away. At times this novel felt ADD (squirrel!), there was almost too much going on and it felt like it happened in a really short time. It starts out running and maintains a frenetic pace that left me feeling a bit exhausted, but still, satisfied.
I understood the concept of the cover of this book, but didn’t feel like it really encompassed the epic world changing feel of the story. The illustration is passable, but way too cartoony. With some minor tweaks, this series has the potential to be taken seriously by fans of this style of writing, but if the cover art maintains the same feel then some might mistake this as a young adult novel and that would be a shame as it’s far from it. Minus some violence and demonic possession, this book comes off as PG-13 at the worst.
Reading, I got the distinct impression that the major plot line in this book was influenced by an actual game that was played at some point in Stills’ extensive gaming career, and that several of the characters were once played by him or were involved in past campaigns. I don’t think this is the worst thing an author can do, but anyone who has played role-playing games for a decent amount of time knows the back story of their characters, and trying to translate all of those intimate details that really make that character breathe is tough. Stills does a good job of giving brief, succinct descriptions of the world and the characters that inhabit it, but the lack of foreplay left me feeling not quite ready for the main event. There are many characters and factions involved and it got hard to follow each of them and their relationships and motivations – combine that with rich characters that were not given enough time to marinate, and this book became hard to keep up with at times.
In the end, The Haunting Duet felt like the CliffNotes version of an epic story that needs to be told. James Stills is a good writer, and I think that budget constraints might have kept him from telling the epic story that he wants to tell. This is a trilogy, so I know that there is more in store, but I feel like the foundation was quickly laid and needed just a bit more time to set. To Stills credit, he was able to explain what was going on even if some of those descriptions felt like word rationing was in effect. The fight scenes are well written and some of the characters reactions to extraordinary circumstances felt right.
This is a fast paced epic story stuffed into a svelte 183 pages, and as a first outing Stills shows real promise. I hope that he will be able to slow things down a bit in the next installment in this trilogy, and I hope he will rethink the cover art for the next two novels and rerelease the second printing of this book with a cover that is more worthy of the quality story that is emerging in this series.
If Stills can use past characters as inspiration, and separate those characters from his memories of their past epic accomplishments, he will be a force to be reckoned with. This series needs work, but not so much that you shouldn’t read it. There is some real promise here that shouldn’t be ignored.