Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Venom and Song Day Two

So what's not to like about Venom and Song? The section on the various training exercises becomes a tad tedious. In the first exercise, Grimwarden places the seven in a pitch black cave beneath Whitehall and asks them to find a clay pot further along the tunnel and return it to the starting point without breaking it. The exercise teaches them to work as a team. Training in fighting and other techniques receive scenes or summaries. Then the authors devote a chapter and a half to dramatizing another exercise in going from one place to another in darkness. Grimwarden also gives the lords some additional restrictions. He tells Jimmy, for example, that he "may only use the words yes and no" (p. 138). They may use their powers in a restricted manner this time but the exercise is very similar to the team-building done in the cave with the clay pot. Grimwarden tells them that if they break the rules, they fail the test. Initially, they adhere to the rules but then Jimmy breaks them repeatedly: "'Quick! What's next?' Jimmy hollered. 'Come on!'" (p. 145); "'Jett, the boulder?' 'I'm on it, Jimmy,' Jett said, annoyed." (p. 147); and "'Three minutes?' Jimmy threw his hands up. 'I canna' believe this!'" (p. 148). Jimmy speaks a few more times on pages 148 and 149. So, do the rules apply or not? The lapse with Jimmy caused me to read the whole section with a hypercritical eye and took me out of the fictional dream. I felt annoyed when I finished that chapter.

I suspect this book was written under some pressure to complete it by a deadline. In the acknowledgments, Batson states that writing Venom and Song was thrilling but "also enormously time consuming" (p. 402). He later thanks his children "for understanding why Dad just had to write sometimes" (p. 402). I found other mistakes. The most glaring (no pun intended) occurs in the first paragraph of chapter 44: A New Dawn.
The entire Elven army stood on the west bank as the morning sun broke through the clouds on the eastern horizon. (p. 394; emphasis mine)
Compare that to the last paragraph in chapter 8: Safety Above.
Outside the flet, the sun had dipped below the eastern horizon. Night had come swiftly. (p. 89; emphasis mine)
Compare to a description from chapter 15: The Scarlet Raptor.
The sun was setting red on the far eastern horizon, and a misty blue shroud was creeping up on the forest below. (p. 160; emphasis mine)
It's neat that Allyra spins in the opposite direction of Earth, but I don't recall the characters remarking on it or being confused about direction because of it. That does not ring true for me. The sun is the most basic source of direction and is most likely ingrained in our thinking by a young age. The mistake at the end of the book drove me nuts and sent me paging backwards to find examples to see if I had read something wrong earlier.

Another bothersome omission occurs during the attack on Vesper Crag. Where are the Gwar women and children? The Spider King's troops are shown slaughtering non-combatants during the sack of Berinfell, but the Elves never contend with the issue of civilian casualties. The Gwar women and children are suspiciously absent. No orders are given as to how to treat them if found and no one asks if there will be any or provides an explanation as to why Gwar non-combatants are not there. Perhaps Vesper Crag is solely a military outpost, but that begs the question of why the Elves do not need to occupy or attack the Gwar's principle city. The Elves once enslaved the Gwar. They are capable of crimes. Why give the Elves a free pass here?

The authors missed a great opportunity with the Johnny-Autumn storyline. In Curse of the Spider King, we learn that Johnny and Autumn have been raised as siblings. Their adoptive parents believed the pair were biological brother and sister. Early in Venom and Song, they learn that they are not biological brother and sister. Their Elvish handlers treat the issue with a combination of gravity and cruel indifference. Grimwarden and Nelly break the news to Johnny in front of Jett, Jimmy, and Tommy then refuse to let Johnny see Autumn.
"We're very sorry to have to tell you like this," Nelly said.
"Does Autumn know?" [asked Jimmy].
"Yes, she knows."
"I really can't see her?"
"No, not now," said Nelly. "She needs time to . . . to come to terms with this in her own way. That's why we didn't allow you to see her earlier. You'll have to wait until the lordship ceremony."
That exchange strikes me as indifferent if not cruel. The Elves provide no guidance to Johnny or Autumn on how to deal with the revelation. Throughout the remainder of the story, Johnny and Autumn share a close relationship. Johnny is extremely protective of Autumn in a brotherly way and we see them playing a chess-like game together. They also bicker like a brother and sister. Unfortunately, the authors do not delve into the resolution Johnny and Autumn come to regarding their relationship. We are not privy to their conversations. It's impossible to believe that they did not discuss the matter during their months at Whitehall. I think the novel would be stronger if the authors cut some of the training material and investigated the nature of siblinghood as Johnny and Autumn discuss their feelings.

The Elves put great stock in blood relationships. There are various races of Elves, some with distinct physical characteristics, and their ancestral bloodlines appear to be integral to their identities. The Elves' beliefs are not unusual, but the lords have all experienced adoptive parents. To what extent are the seven lords' virtues and flaws attributable to their biological versus their adoptive parents.Grimwarden thinks Jimmy's recklessness is a product of his adoptive parents' cruel treatment, but I do not recall converse statements attributing the lords' virtues to their adoptive parents. Why does Jett choose to heal Kiri Lee and not himself? Is this fateful decision derived from his royal bloodline or the values learned from his adoptive parents? Again, I think Venom and Song would be a stronger novel if the authors had explicitly investigated the nature versus nurture theme.

Tomorrow I'll discuss some themes from Venom and Song.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Venom and Song from the publisher.

To learn more about the authors, visit their blogs:

Wayne Thomas Batson  –
Christopher Hopper –

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner

Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson


  1. Some keen insights here, Jeff. You spotted the training exercise error. CH and I spotted it also--AFTER the book went to press. Grrr... Those and some other glaring omissions have troubled us greatly about this book. Hopefully, we'll have a chance to delve into some of them in Book 3.

  2. Great post, Jeff. I was hoping the nature vs. nurture issue and the connection (positive or negative) with the adoptive parents and Earth would be explored further, but it seems not. Perhaps in Book 3.


  3. Jeff, I also noticed many of these errors and mentioned them in my first post, simply because they significantly disrupted the story for me.

    You bring up some interesting points on the nature vs. nurture element of the tale. It would be neat to see that more directly explored in the future, because both certainly play a powerful role in shaping people's lives.