Review of Fragment
Fragment by Alvin Atwater is an epic fantasy. Though the promotions for the book don’t suggest young adult, this material, its pacing and clean nature strike me as being for a young adult audience. The topic, the interaction with mythology, and the setup all are reminiscent of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus books. The casting of deities as teenagers rather than the teens being the children of deities is the primary difference. Teen deities is something seen in several mangas and animes and there is lot to plumb from examining the possibilities. While the story takes place in Olympus, the story alludes to a super-pantheon that includes at least Asgard and the Olympian gods (Graco & Roman).
Author Atwater wastes no time. Five paragraphs in we already have strange goings on as the story protagonist Jonas Ariel stomps out of an argument with his father and trips over a sword in the forest that draws him into another dimension. A voice issuing from a miasma gives him an imperative to go to Olympus and compete in a game for Zeus’ power. Of course, there is the tiny consequence of a ‘calamity’ that cannot be stopped without his cooperation.
Protagonist Jonas is a predictably reluctant hero, disbelieving the whole thing until immediately confronted again by the Altimias who with Jonas’ mother as witness, reiterates and reinforces Jonas’ date with destiny. It all moves a tad quickly as we haven’t yet even gotten one visual detail about Jonas yet. To be truthful, I would rather this over ten chapters of throat clearing and fruitless back-history before getting to the plot!
Turning his back on his father’s arrangements to marry Veronica, Jonas portals to Olympus. Soon after, he interrupts an attack on woman that ends up being Athena, the daughter of Zeus. After the rescue, they are almost immediately tight with the titan woman coming onto him shortly after he’s oriented for the game. As it turns out, Jonas is the only mortal in the competition, yet something of a special dark horse set in motion with Zeus’ foreknowledge.
Jonas is a friendly sort and tries to befriend the less than benevolent titans arrayed for the contest. He immediately becomes the rival of Thor. However, his innocent and straight-forward demeanor earns the favors of Sif, Medusa, and the continuing support of Athena. Through the course of the narrative he uncovers the power of the sword, which he learns is a holy sword that he eventually names Fragment.
Zeus’ game is not all that’s afoot. Cursed and imprisoned Abaddon plots revenge against Olympus and seeks to get at Jonas and the sword. Mysterious Riley who is powerful enough to fight gods on his own, supports the downfall of lightning god Zeus.
If this isn’t enough, a bit of Jonas’ past catches up with him. The narrative does not end in this volume, and I assume a sequel is planned although there’s no mention in the endnotes. This is something I would add to a revision.
Execution : 3.3-3.6 — The execution of Fragment is something of a mixed bag for me, with varying from 3rd person narrative to 3rd person omniscient. Make no mistake, the narrative screams along with things happening one after another. Indeed, I think slowing down a bit was in order. The viewpoint narrator is at times too colloquial and relaxed to keep me hooked into the story. Further, Jonas’ inner narrative and indeed the situations at times seem flippant (I can’t think of a better word). Sometimes it is just an errant (and obvious) clause like “He’d really die.” that injects the wrong emphasis into the moment. I wanted Jonas to feel more wonder, awe, and respect in the realm of the gods. I also felt that it needed more detail and immediacy.
Note on anachronistic idioms: as a purist fantasy reader, modern idioms in speculative prose yank me out of the story, phrases like a ‘walk in the park’ can disrupt a reader’s suspension of disbelief. This is also true of dialogue and particular words that are modern-sounding or colloquial. Author Atwater’s prose is very straight-forward without a lot of adornment so these faux pas really stood out to me. Now, caveat, if deliberately done for humor this doesn’t apply, however, here I don’t think humor was the intention. Lastly, I notice many authors overlook time references like hours and minutes as being modern Earthly terms. In my own work I use ‘bells’ in place of hours, or avoid it by using general times like dawn, morning, noon, dusk, and so on.
Setting : 3.5 — Setting details in Fragment are sparse. I get the sense the work was whittled down to just the essentials but lost some of the texture in the translation. The word count and the pacing could certainly withstand a little filler. Don’t get the wrong idea, there is a sense of place, but in my mind it’s the realm of the gods and to me that should be a constant source of new wonders.
Character : 3.65 — There’s a lot of good nuance in the characters. The colloquial mannerisms, dialogue, and interaction hampered the suspension of disbelief in places. I wanted characters like Thor, Loki, and Sif to act and verbalize with a bit more decorum. I understand that the titans would have some disdain for a human. To me that would simply be to ignore Jonas. To treat him with open hostility is to give him a higher level of acknowledgement. My biggest thing is that I think the diction for the Asgardians should have been differentiated from the Olympians. On the note of diction, the issue of language is never addressed. I can see the gods understanding Jonas, but would he understand them without some magical assistance or something? Lastly, is the issue of Jonas himself. There’s some vague notion of him receiving training. However, in the first few chapters he’s disarmed three times. Is he trained or not? Lack of experience I understand but surely… Anyways, I found Jonas needing more depth in emotional context. He never wonders about his parents or looks back on what plans he might have had before stumbling over the sword. What is he going to do if he somehow succeeds in his endeavor?
Overall : 4.0 — This is quick light reading without bad language, gore, or overtly sexual stuff. It’s good natured and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, I think a bit more gravity and a bit darker mood would suit this story well. Gods, especially death gods, should inspire fear. I think that Jonas needs to work more to acquire the strength of will to look immortals in the eye and treat them as friend and peer. My quibbling aside, this is a popcorn read and worth the short time it takes to enjoy it.