Friday, July 15, 2011

Quarter Square by David Bridger

TITLE: Quarter Square
AUTHOR: David Bridger
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 47k)
GENRE: Urban fantasy
COST: $3.59

Carpenter Joe Walker walks in on his wife and best friend having sex, and finds his life thrown into chaos. He makes a deal with them. In exchange for not giving them a hard time by being together, he’ll take a rundown theater his friend owns and keep it as his own. His motives are selfish. The night he discovered the affair, he also discovered a secret magical door within the theater that leads to an idyllic place where magic reigns. But finding Quarter Square will change his life far more than losing the two people he trusted most…

I was fascinated by the blurb for this story on the publisher’s website. I have a soft spot for alternate worlds and an even softer spot for theatrical settings, so this seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, the execution left quite a lot to be desired.

When Joe Walker discovers that his wife and best friend are sleeping together – by walking in on them – he runs off to lick his wounds by spending the night in the rundown theater his friend has recently acquired. There, he sees three young men go through a magical door. He follows, convinced he’s dreaming, and meets a group of street performers who live in an idyllic world cut off from the rest of Plymouth called Quarter Square. After confronting his wife and friend the next day, he agrees to let them go off and be together without a fuss if the friend gives Joe the theater. A deal is made, and Joe returns, hoping to find Quarter Square again. He soon realizes that it’s actually a real place, kind of a halfway house between the mortal world and the wild magical one. It’s populated by a vast variety of people, most of them street performers. One in particular, a singer named Min, enchants him, and when he discovers that their hideaway is in danger of disappearing forever because it’s losing its anchors to the real world, he decides to rebuild the theater and make it more permanent in order to save the square.

This is only the beginning of what turns out to be a very convoluted, almost schizophrenic fantasy tale. I call it schizophrenic because I could never figure out what exactly it was trying to be. Every time I thought I had it, something would twist the story off into a new direction, and I was left floundering all over again. At turns, it’s magical realism, pure fantasy, shapeshifter horror, and romance, and while I admire writers who try to blend genres, it’s just not done very well here. Each time the story shifted gears, the voice itself changes, with the pace and style changing with it, so that there was no sense of flow or build. The most interesting section occurs just about the middle of the story, but then it veers off again into a whole new direction that left it scattered in its dust.

As a result of trying to put too much into the story, characterizations falter. The story is told in 1st POV from Joe’s perspective, and because he has no idea what’s going on – and because other characters are actively keeping him in the dark a good part of the time – neither does the reader. Min is presented as this feminine ideal almost from the start, but she lacks any kind of personality for the first half, instead becoming this icon for Joe to admire. He tells us he’s falling in love with her, but I never understood why or what the real appeal was. Then, when she does start getting a personality, it’s not even a likable one. She’s manipulative and bossy, withholding information that would make their situation better and treating Joe like a child. Since so much hinges on her, both the action and caring about what’s going on, I was distanced from what was going on for almost the entire story. I mostly just finished it because I was curious about what else could get stirred into the pot, and I can honestly say I have no desire to keep on reading with the series, especially with how unresolved everything was at the end. There’s some sense of inner closure for Joe as he reaches a better and more true understanding of his self and purpose (and makes choices based on that), but in light of the emphasis placed on the action, the fact that it remains unresolved is frustrating enough to deter me from investing more time in the series.


6/10 – Technically clean, but with so much packed into it, it never flowed well or really engaged me


6/10 – Characters blend into each other for too much of the story, and motivations given little depth


7/10 – A lot of original ideas going on in this, but it’s too much for the size of the story and none of them get developed well enough

Entertainment value

5/10 – I only finished it because I was curious about what else could get thrown into it, not because I cared/liked about any of the characters

World building

6/10 – Some great ideas that never get the space to bring them to life



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