Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks
Final Verdict: 2.0 out of 4.0
2 – Plot/Story could work with better development.
Mike Wilks’ Mirrorscape is a young-adult fantasy novel with a promising premise: what would the world be like if artists could actually travel into their paintings? The imagination roars with the idea and, I for one, was drawn in just by the possibilities; sadly, the execution leaves much to be desired. While much leeway can and should be given, as fantasy worlds are imaginary and, to a degree, largely impossible, the world of Mirrorscape is so passively developed that one has to really try to believe in it. There is no ease or engagement. The problem also exists on two levels: 1) the “real” world which Wilks develops is meant to resemble Earth; however, the villages, towns, political systems, etc. are so weakly and off-handedly described, that the reader is left having to guess about what these places might really be like, how people might really interact – because the author does not show us. 2) the “fantasy” world inside the paintings is so fantastical – the energy is ramped up and progresses at a nearly whiplash pace. This is a world in which absolutely anything can happen – and it does. It is almost as if Wilks sat down for days on end, imagining everything he possibly could, and then cramming it into sentence after sentence of this book. But, where is the plot development? Where is the natural story progression? The wild, “anything goes” attitude of the mirrorscape is so at odds with the underdeveloped, under-described natural world, it was impossible to reconcile the two into one co-existing world. With a softer hand, I think, the story could have worked. If Wilks had slowed down a bit, eased up on the creative throttle and allowed the places and the characters to grow and enchant us, rather than bombard us, a truly magical story could have ensued – but it did not. Perhaps the raging energy and non-stop action would be better suited to the movie format.
2 – Characters slightly developed.
While the plot was a slight disappointment, the characters were heartbreakingly underdeveloped. Wilks provides very little history or motivation for his characters; they interact in the most superficial ways with one another, yet the reader is meant to believe that, somehow (in a matter of days, really) these deep friendships and deeper animosities manage to develop – so that good and evil comes to fight a battle to end all battles at the climax of the novel, and yet, the reader couldn’t really care less who prevails or who falls along the way. It is also disappointing that every character remains flat and static. The characters we meet in the beginning who are “bad” remain bad through to the end. The characters who are “good” are, of course, the “heroes” of the novel. Wilks attempts to throw a curveball in the character of Dirk Tot, the eminent artist’s right-hand man, but it fails disastrously (where there could have been potential) because the sub-story goes absolutely nowhere. When Mel, our main character, reveals his misgivings about Tot to the master artists, they can only laugh and the reader is unable to do anything but laugh at the absurdity of the whole scene.
2 – Prose/Style in need of Development but works.
Aside from an acceptable amount of grammar errors and oversights in dialogical breaks (the copy I read is an uncorrected proof), the prose is generally clean and the style is simple; however, therein lies the problem. The clean and easy prose is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes the story easily accessible for many reading levels (though rather a bore for me, personally) and, on the other hand, it lacks any ingenuity or creative flair. This is typical, I suppose, for the general young adult fantasy novel but, for what could be such an enchanting idea, one would expect the prose and style to be equally magical and enticing. Sadly, again, the promise of the novel and its idea far outshine the execution. The dialogue is a shining characteristic, but only in comparison to other aspects of the author’s style. Sentences are short and choppy. The writer incessantly “tells” the reader about everything, moment after moment, without really showing, implying, guiding, or inspiring anything at all. This left an incredibly bland taste in my metaphorical mouth and left me rushing through the pages just to get it done with. Again, this might be okay for younger readers, who would perhaps be kept entertained by the action-packed pace, and for readers who would prefer not to get bogged down by things like sub-plots, intrigue, themes, and motifs. Essentially, the style is conducive for a reader who might be new to the trade, who needs to be kept “busy” but does not hope to gain anything meaningful from the story.
2 – Additional elements are present but do not develop the Story.
There are a few elements present throughout, which the author clearly wants the reader to identify and support. The main theme, “owning” color, is one which, for artists in particular, is rather appealing. Who owns creativity, after all, and what would we do if a government or religious entity suddenly demanded that only they had the rights to all creative outlets? The novel fell short, though, of one such as The Giver which manages to weave the idea of a dangerous “oneness” within a realistic world and characters the reader can truly champion along toward success and realization. Also, two very simplistic binaries (teacher/student and good/evil) are toyed with – but neither is executed well enough to be impactful. The story’s final resolution does bring the reader to a sense of “conclusion” and, somehow, a positive one at that – but, at least for this reader, it did not do nearly enough to enhance the rest of the story, nor to encourage me to pick up the second book in the trilogy. I will stop here.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult
Interest: Art, Fantasy, Easy Reads
>Thanks for a well-written review. Sounds like the story had a lot of potential on many fronts, but fell short in realizing it's potential. I've just gotten interested in exploring "fantasy" lit. I clicked your link on "fantasy" and got some good ideas of places to start… like Rick Riordan and Lev Grossman. I'm going to scroll down some of your other recommendations and see what's there. Any good places you might recommend to start? Michael
>The Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan, which starts with The Lightning Thief is a great place for Young Adult fantasy, particularly if you have some interest in Greek mythology. Harry Potter is my favorite fantasy series, obviously, but if you are looking for more traditional, adult fantasy – I would highly recommend The Crimson Shadow trilogy by R.A. Salvatore. It begins with The Sword of Bedwyr. Also, if you're interested in the "Sci-Fi" aspect of fantasy, the novel Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is one of the best books I've ever read, of any genre.
>The premise of the story reminds me of a short story I read not long ago (and for the life of me I cannot remember the title and can't seem to find it on my short story review journal), where an artist creates a painting to escape into to avoid Death, and then gets lost in his own paintings-within-paintings. From your review, I think I'll be skipping Mirrorscape, though.I agree with your assessment of the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter books, and of course of Ender's Game. Have you read Card's "Lost Boys?"