The Rose of Heaven, by Michael Hemmingson

The Rose of Heaven, by Michael Hemmingson book coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Wildside Press
Published: 2005
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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In “The Rose of Heaven”, Rosinda, a young girl who lives in a poor community in California, has the ability to perform miracles; she can heal and even raise the dead. The only one who knows about it is her cousin Pablo. Yet circumstances end up with her demonstrating her power by bringing a man back to life in front of witnesses, and this sets in motion a chain of events.

The local Catholic priest shows up, determined to protect her. Another priest, sent by the Vatican, arrives to document the authenticity of her powers. The desperate and needy congregate outside her home, begging for her to heal them. Even the government has plans for her abilities. Rosinda, Pablo, Rosinda’s mother (and Pablo’s aunt) and the Vatican priest, O’Hannon, who renounces his vows and has intentions that are obviously not spiritual in nature, are forced to flee. With the help of a wealthy patron, they hide out in the desert.

Events soon conspire to bring them out of hiding, and ultimately Pablo is forced to to go on the run and leave Rosinda behind, with the promise that he’ll come back for her. Up to that point, the story had pretty much been about Rosinda, told in first person by Pablo. Once he leaves, however, it becomes Pablo’s story and pretty much stays that way through the rest of the book. Too, the writing changes to a summary form of narrative, in contrast to the descriptive writing that captured my attention and drew me into the first part of the book. Pablo has various adventures, including joining the Canadian Army to fight in World War I, all the time determined to stay alive so that he might reunite with his cousin and save her from the men who are using her for their own gain.

It’s a fertile premise that ultimately fails in execution. Although the writing smoothed out about 50 pages in, ‘The Rose of Heaven’ got off to a rocky start. On page 2 of the book, we read:

‘The girl’s bawling was frantic; her thin body convulsed like a victim who’d been poisoned by something dreadful.’

Is it possible to be poisoned by something NOT dreadful?

Later on the same page we encounter the first lines of dialog, dialog delivered without benefit of quotation marks… as is all subsequent dialog. To me, this came across as the writer putting on airs. ‘Look at me, I’m not going to use quotation marks. Quotation marks for dialog are for conformists. I’m going to be different. I’m artsy.’ All he accomplished was to make it difficult to distinguish dialog from narrative.

More:

‘I was in a state of panic and breathing so hard it felt like my chest might explode. The man started to rapidly blink his eyes…’

Try ‘as though’ or ‘as if’ vs ‘like’. ‘Like’ should be used for comparisons, i.e. ‘He had a head LIKE a balloon.’ And blinking his eyes…. those of you who have read my previous reviews know my dislike of locating body parts that don’t need to be located. ‘The man started to rapidly blink…’.

A few more pages in:

‘Rosinda kept her eyes on the ground like a guilty criminal waiting to trot to the gallows.’

In this case, the use of LIKE is correct – making a comparison. But being the anal retentive, OCD person I am, ‘eyes on the ground’ would be much better as ‘gaze on the ground. Too, the author is trying to hard here. This happens a lot. Nitpicking, I know, but we all have our peeves.

One more:

‘She will talk, despite what I told her, he said, and sighed the sigh of many weary men.’

There’s nothing wrong here, but it perhaps best illustrates the main problem — and one I mentioned above — I had with the story: Hemmingson is too obviously concerned with writing the writing and not with writing the story. In many places, his writing comes across forced and pretentious and not keeping in character of Pablo, the one who is telling the story. Thankfully, this becomes much less pronounced as the story advances and Hemmingson finds his groove.

I mentioned above about how how writing changed after Pablo left Rosinda. Following this pivotal event, the story lost much of its energy and immediacy. Hemmingson steps back and goes into a narrative format that seems more of a summary of a story than a story itself. I felt more as though I were reading a report or synopsis. He recovers somewhat for the final few chapters, but at that point we are treated to some emotional reactions and events that didn’t feel authentic and organic to me.

Lastly, despite the title, the book is primarily about Pablo, not Rosinda, who is the ‘Rose of Heaven’. It’s his story, not hers; for a large section of the book Rosinda is well off stage.

A story is the sum of all of its parts, and there are many, many parts. In some cases, a single part can be so flawed as to make the whole book flawed. In other cases, it’s a conglomeration of smaller flaws and poor choices that ultimately does the book in. While there were some sections of The Rose of Heaven that were well and powerfully written, in others is was almost painful to read. I though the plot too obviously scripted and not organic enough to the events of the story or the way the characters had been developed.

If you enjoy reading new books by new authors, I can recommend this. Hopefully, Hemmingson will continue to write and develop his skills; he shows enough promise that I would try another book by him. The first step I’d like to see him take is to start focusing more on the story and less on how he writes it.

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