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Book one of the World of Dirt by C.C. Hogan

Book Review: Dirt

What a great story.  This is all about the “little man” being thrown unexpectedly into a world entirely outside his sphere of recognition in a quest to save his little sister.  What’s not to like?  And in the process he meets lots of interesting characters, and of course, discovers lots that he didn’t know about himself.  He is unrecognisable, and yet entirely recognisable, by the end of the story.

And it is not only the key character who is intriguing.  His “friend” – though they certainly didn’t start out that way; just ask Weasel’s face – is a very interesting character, full of complexity which you only begin to scratch the surface of.  So that leads you to think about what will happen further down the line, which is effective.  There are lots of other close companions, but I think these are the standout “humanoid” characters, though there is a suggestion that others will show their vivid colours in the future.

But alas, this is not just a story of character definition.  It is, I must say, remarkably well researched, and rich as a consequence.  Much of the research is, one might suggest, rather mundane and “operational” – one aspect that particularly resonated with me is the detail with which CC (I’m not entirely convinced this is the author’s true name) explains the requirements for driving a wagon across vast open spaces (and indeed through mountains).  This is introduced rather late into the fray, but the author takes the time to furnish the reader with the detail required to properly understand the circumstances, and this is nice.  The entire book is littered with such embellishment, and I think this gives the story much improved depth.

But more than these ‘ordinary’ aspects, it is the author’s consideration of his world that is really quite impressive.  As you may have gathered, dragons feature rather prominently in this book, but they are not dragons as I have seen them before.  CC has taken a rather simple observation – that dragons fly – and concluded that the concept of territory is therefore rather meaningless for them.  This is utterly obvious and simple when you think about it, but it completely changes the nature of these creatures that we covet in the fantasy genre so absolutely, and brings a really fresh feel to proceedings.  You get the sense that CC has researched every aspect of his imagined world through this sort of lens, and this is a fabulous sensation as a reader.  You feel secure in the “logic” of this world, and revel in the articulated strangeness.

Now, despite this, I did have some shortcomings with this title.  The book starts very slowly (an absolute no-no as far as I have gathered from my attempts to break out as an author), but even though the story does develop at a sensible pace in the context of the novel overall, the sheer length of the book means that the pace stays low.  This also jarred somewhat with the delightful details I discuss above, because those details only serve to slow the pace further.  In a well-paced novel these details would enrich the text, but in places here, it fought against my concentration.  To highlight, an average chapter (at my reading pace which is ironically rather slow) is 30-45 minutes long, and I think this is quite long – especially when in some of these chapters, not a huge amount happens (not nothing, just not a lot).  I would suggest that a reasonable proportion of the text could be removed without undue harm being done to the story.

The second thing that stuck out was the editing.  I gather from my research online that this book has gone through another editorial recently, but I suspect that this has been done by the author rather than an independent and specialist editor.  There are still a lot of mistakes, and some of them rather elementary.  A particular favourite of mine was the referral to the beautiful “desert dragon” as the rather less authoritative (but possibly more tasty) “dessert dragon”.  There is not enough here to be a complete turn-off, but they are noticeable to the reader, and when these simple errors creep up, they slow the flow further.

However, so as not to sound one-sidedly critical, the text in general is sound enough, and there are flourishes of delightful prose in here which make you smile for the right reasons.  Nice work.

I think that my third key comment may be one of taste rather than a strict obsevation, but I found that the text, and particularly speech, was at times, just out of context.  Perhaps it is that CC sees this as a YA novel and that such lapses would in fact be welcomed by that readership, but despite the world smelling and tasting medieval, the protagonists have just an edge of the twenty-first century teen about them.  Of course, they are teens, and so could be excused to a degree, but it tastes just a little strange when it crops up.  Having said that, Weasel (who is most definitely not a teen) doesn’t, to my memory, suffer from the same afflictions, so perhaps this is an intentional mechanism of the author that is simply not to my taste.

And anyway, despite my obsevations, I am certainly glad to have read this book, and would definitely add future volumes to my reading list.  This is a wonderfully fresh story in a conceptual sense, and with some tightening in the prose space, could be a really great novel.  Certainly the depth of the world of Dirt (which is demonstrated by CC Hogan’s remarkable website dedicated to the world) is sufficient to offer ripe stories in the future, and I look forward to sampling the fruits of that labour.  Thanks mr Hogan.