Dark Brew Press asked me to read this book and review it and sent me a copy. I'm happy to do that today for you, my friends. Today I am giving my honest take on a book by J.D Kellner called "The Cranes of Blackwell." This is a dystopian novel with some action and adventure elements, along with political intrigue and all the good things you find in anything dystopian novel.
Let me start with some critiques.
This is a structure issue related to the genre, and I know I'm not the only one who gets caught up in this kind of thing. I write reviews for readers and consumers, so here is why this is a critique. Most dystopian novels have a formula to them. "Such and such happens at 25%. Something else happens at 30%. Somewhere around 60%, this occurs," etc.
"The Cranes of Blackwell" well, that didn't happen here. There was a lot of setup and reasoning behind the choice, but it did not make it formulaic to the general scheme of how this lays typically out. If you love dystopian fiction, you will notice the cadence change.
The only reason I have this as a critique is that I know there are readers out there who expect the formula. Suppose it's not at certain times, well, gross. That said, for those of you in camp "Formula," please open your mind. I struggled with this myself but have some patience.
Yes, that first 48% is a dark wild ride, but be patient. That's my most significant piece of advice. And yes, to those of you who are mentally saying, "I'm not going to invest in a book if I have to wait past the 25% mark for a nugget of hope in a dystopian setting," okay, I hear you. I do. But, by limiting yourself to these formulas, you may miss out on a good book, and that's my point in this critique.
I'm not sure if, in structuring the book, the protagonist was changed at some point. It starts as one center point and shifts to another somewhere around 42%. I liked this personally, but it made some of the earlier establishments in the novel somewhat conflicting to the end. Again, open your mind. Have some patience here.
That said, let me go into what I liked. Firstly, back to the structure. Okay, remember I said that it wasn't formulaic and the establishment of the protagonist shifted? Well, the reason that I like both things has to do with how perfectly well this book is edited. Oh my gosh. Not one single plothole. Not one. No threads that went awry. The overall story was so elegantly and flawlessly pieced together with a loving hand that there was no way I could get lost down a rabbit hole. I don't know what the first versions of this book looked like, but whoever was the editor on this and did proofreading and beta reading all need hugs and probably candy.
Next, can we talk about how fantastic the female protagonist is in this novel? She is amazing. She's a strong mama with all the grizzly in her to be a proud mama bear, and she saved the literal day. And no, she didn't set out to do that. To be clear, she didn't like what happened, but at the same time, that is the kind of woman I want to hang out with.
The female empowerment in this novel, despite all the opposition and oppression, is very well done. I'm just giddy over it. This is to be a highlighted darling of what feminism should be in dystopian novels. And I refuse to spoil it, so I'm not saying who she is because I want you to journey down this same road I did. But, WOW. She blew me away. As a side note, can we please get more robust, empowered, willing to face oppression, and come up with their thoughts even if people are trying to manipulate women. Some of her moments of greatness diminished slightly because other forces manipulated her into them. But that doesn't take away the fact she was great. Despite these manipulations, she concluded and did her own thing to stop the wrong things. I love it when the proud mama bear wins; I couldn't be happier.
As another aside, the villain was a spineless monster, and there were several antagonists as well. I liked it. It was more like a collaboration of things being fought against than any single villain, and I found that delightful.
Another structure element of the story I truly enjoyed was the pacing and tension. The character tension was incredible. The dynamic tension was on point. There were reasonable releases to things, and the tension was built up very well in points. The pacing was good (again, ignore the formula bit) for this story. In my opinion, it had the pacing of a spy novel thriller, not a dystopian political thriller.
The last bit that I loved was the world-building and political world-building. The reason I love this is how stable things are working in the world. It's so well done, right down to the way the politics and double-dealing works and all of it, that it leaves this perfectly bitter-sweet note to the overall politics. Now, if you love dark chocolate, this political system is delicious to you. If you love that in your dystopian fiction, this is yummy. This is so yummy.
If you do not like that kind of bitter-sweet thing and you like your dystopian to be black and white, either good or bad, no in-betweens, well, this might be tough for you. The ending, I won't spoil, did not have any cliffhanger, and I adored it for what it was. I found this fantastic. Like a bitter orange and chocolate dessert. Just yummy. I was so relieved it ended like this because I initially thought it would end way darker.
That all in mind, with all of my notes and math, I'm scoring "The Cranes of Blackwell" with 82/100, which is a 4-star-review on Goodreads, my blog, and Amazon.