“If you pick up a viper and it bites you, it’s not the viper’s fault, is it?”
Novels are a bit like jokes. There’s some good ones. There’s some bad ones. Every now and then, one comes along that makes your stomach hurt because you can’t stop laughing. Then there are the groaners. Alex Bledsoe’s He Drank, And Saw The Spider, is a good humored laugh that kinda trails off into awkward silence. Yeah.
Before I start, I’d like to note that this is my first Eddie LaCrosse novel. There are some problems that might be fixed by reading the rest of the series beforehand. I’m of the thought that every book, especially stories that feel self-contained, (as this book does) should be able to stand on its own. I’ll leave that reminder up here for fans of the previous four books.
Anyway, Alex Bledsoe’s fifth Eddie LaCrosse book starts off strong. The narrator of which the series is named is out in the woods, minding his own business, relieving himself. Out of nowhere, a man runs for his life, pursued by a giant bear. Being the righteous hero and mystery-whore, LaCrosse decides to chase after them and kill the monster. He succeeds with just a sword, but doesn’t save the man’s life. Surprisingly, the man repays LaCrosse with a baby girl. The soldier doesn’t want an infant; doesn’t know how to take care of an infant. So…he travels to the closest town, gets in a few scrapes, has a fling with a country girl, and somehow manages to give her the child.
Almost two decades pass, and LaCrosse is on vacation, traveling with his fiance. (Or wife. Or girlfriend. I was never quite sure.) Because of his love for adventure and mysteries, the man shambles back into the small village to see what happened to the squirt. He doesn’t find the easy road he was hoping for.
“‘You can’t understand life, Miss Dumont,’ Opulora said, ‘until you know death. Would you appreciate the light without the dark?’”
The highest compliment I can give Bledsoe is toward his narrator. Eddie LaCrosse is a well-realised person whose motives are complex and show a maturity that only age, experience, and a damn good writer can create. Not to be outdone, the remainder of the cast is well rounded and magnificent. In fact, the characters are Bledsoe’s strong point. I’ve yet to read the other four books, but Liz, the heroine of this tale, has just as much depth as Beatrice and Jack. That tells me that Bledsoe can make strong characters in not just many books, but in standalones as well.
On that thought of characterization, the dialogue was strange. It teetered on jarring, to okay, to gut-wrenching brilliant. I think it may be the modern slang in a Middle Ages-esque novel. I’m not sure.
That brings me to my next point: the setting felt tacked on there. That’s not to say the swords, dragons, and magical woodlands felt out of place; it’s just the landscape was never elaborated on. I love me some verisimilitude. Bledsoe gave us little to none, aside from the fertility festivals and exploration of sheep villages. I would have loved more. More talk of the outlying neighborhoods would’ve been great. Or a sub-plot about the two kings that didn’t relate to the mystery. Anything that wasn’t just meat. (The fat does give flavor, right?)
Moving on, the plot is nothing really. A slow moving detective case that’s not assigned to LaCrosse. There’s intrigue, betrayal, and chases. At times, it can be a tale of convenience and incompetence, especially towards the end. The ending tapers off. The climax is resolved with a bit of hazy magic, or deus ex machina, if you will. There are a few sub-plots and questions that are discarded. I don’t need everything told, but in this instance, it felt cheap and lazy. Nevertheless,it’s all extremely fun, but like the setting, it doesn’t really do much besides stand there.
“‘A man who’s come so far in the world might do a lot of bad things to stay there.’”
However, my biggest complaint is with the prose.
Simple prose is different from simplistic prose. The latter, if done well, is universally praised, most of the time. No word is wasted. No description is too little. Simple prose is the bare bones of what the story takes, but written in layman’s terms. There’s no pop. There’s no clever turn of phrase, no poignant brushstroke or simile to delight the mind. It’s just there, lifeless but necessary for the medium.
Unfortunately, Bledsoe’s falls into simple prose. The narrator does, at times, make up for this with his good cheer and genuine humor. But I need some brilliant writing, seeing as this is a book. There’s glimmers here and there at opposite sides of the canyon, but nothing more. It disappointed me, considering this is a 1st person novel; they usually always excel in that department for me.
Worse than that, Bledsoe falls into the trap of telling, not showing, and then repeating the information a paragraph later. It happened quite a bit, which annoyed me.
“The plethora of freshly cut stems and carefully shaped branches told me it had been recently spruced up, no doubt for the festival.”
Now, contrary to all my negativity, I actually enjoyed this novel, up until the end, at least. Then it nosedived into ridiculousness. Hopefully Bledsoe improves this in his latter installments, or maybe this was just a dip in quality. Doesn’t matter. I’ll be reading a few more to see. But if he could inject a little flavor into the overall quality, I’d be happy. Because He Drank, And Saw The Spider is an amusing ride through the woods, but at the end, it is just an above average Urban Fantasy set in the Middle Ages. If anything, it’s a bland piece of literature that has more potential than most of the aforementioned genre.
“‘You can waste a lot of your life watching the horizon for bad things, you know.’”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*