The Wizard’s Wife, by Becky Gauger

the-wizards-wife-by-becky-gauger coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: 1st Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: half star
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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The Wizard’s Wife is published by 1st Books Library, a Print on Demand outfit. I’ve ranted before about POD books, but that’s not going to stop me from ranting again.

As computer and print technology continues to advance, it becomes easier and easier for small companies, or even individuals, to produce professional-looking printed books. But let’s not confuse professional-looking with professionally written.

At a recent writing convention, I heard several authors espousing the benefits of POD publishing. One, they claimed, was that the author had complete control over the content of the book. This means that the person who wrote it must also perform the functions of editor and proofreader (and marketer, but let’s not get into that here), things very different in nature from writing. All of the self- or subsidy-published POD books I’ve read have had some grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors. Some more than others, but all more than books done by companies in business to publish books.

Despite the evils of Big Publishing (or any company that actually pays writers), they do have one big thing that separates them from most POD outfits: quality control. Most publishing companies aren’t going to publish a book that they don’t think they can sell and make money on. They have editors who review and select manuscripts based on the goals and standards of the company. Usually, a poorly written book won’t make the cut. I’m sure the selection process isn’t nearly as arbitrary as aspiring writers make it out to be. But with POD, anyone willing to pony up the dough can get his or her book in print. Herein likes both its strength… and its weakness.

Beck Gauger is ahead of 90 precent of her contemporaries; she’s actually finished writing a book. Unfortunately, The Wizard’s Wife is a book that never would have been picked up by a traditional publishing company. It’s just not very good.

Ms. Gauger has set out to write a romantic adventure fantasy and has ended up with a book that is neither romantic, nor adventurous, and, it could be argued, not even a fantasy.

Marela is a cast-off, a woman who has passed from caretaker to caretaker for most of her life. When her latest benefactor dies, she sets out on a journey to distant relatives, traveling with a group of traders. One night she goes to sleep and wakes up alone, apparently abandoned by her companions. Stranded in the forest, she wanders until she comes up a keep inhabited by the wizard Aerin. Aerin takes her in and, in such close quarters, Marela learns there’s much more to the ‘old’ wizard than she thought. Romance blossoms and they declare their vows as man and wife. When spring comes, they embark on a journey to a distant kingdom, half pursuing the mystery of the disappearance of the group Marela had been traveling with. Various uninteresting and unconvincing adventures ensue, including a dragon slaying, a kidnapping, and a war.

Ms. Gauger writes with a distinctly colloquial voice and the story is rife with words such as ‘okay’, ‘shellshocked’, ‘sexy’, ‘commando’ and more. Such modern words (shellshocked for example didn’t even come into creation until after WWI) destroy any illusion of the medievalism she’s striving for.

The romantic element is cloying and overdone at best, and forced and artificial at worst. After dancing around their feelings for some time (seemingly a prerequisite in any romance) they ‘hook up’. After that, every other page has Marela and Aerin calling each other ‘Love’ a half dozen times, or kissing passionately so their ‘hearts pound’ and their ‘blood thickens in their veins’ or their ‘blood runs hot’, or their ‘breath grows short’, etc., etc. Wearying.

Ms. Gauger remarks that her story was inspired by Gandalf in Lord of the rings, when she wondered ‘how come the wizard never gets the girl?’ But where Gandalf is a figure of mystery and power, Aerin’s ‘magic’ is nothing more than sleight of hand and primitive chemistry. He’s a charlatan, not a powerful mage, and accomplishes nothing anyone else couldn’t accomplish, given the education and the materials.

All of the above is wrapped in a package that pretty much lacks any dramatic tension or sense of jeopardy, two must-have elements for any adventure to be successful.

I hope Ms. Gauger continues to write. Marela (one of the main characters) is a well-done in the sense that she goes through convincing personal growth. The sparks of talent and craft are there, but I doubt they will grow if Ms. Gauger keeps them in the vacuum of self-publication. I highly encourage her to keep writing, and, even more importantly, pursue publication through traditional means. Doing so will expose her to the possibility of receiving the constructive feedback she so desperately needs.

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