The Telmaj

The Telmaj is a juvenile science fiction novel, aimed at 8-12 year-olds, just recently self-published by Catholic blogger Erin Manning. I’ve been reading Erin’s blog for years (though I comment only very occasionally), and I’ve got a novel in the works that I’m planning on self-publishing, and all things taken together I thought I should take a look at Erin’s.

Usually I read things that trusted readers have recommended, or that I happened to run into that look interesting. When I read a novel for any other reason, whether because someone pushes a review copy on me or because I’m however tangentially acquainted with the other, there’s this little voice I hear in my head as I open the first page:

This is probably crap. Gosh, I hope I’m mistaken.

In short, I don’t approach such books with enthusiasm, and I tend to read them much more critically than I might be inclined to do otherwise.

For the sake of Erin’s future readers, let me cut to the chase; it ain’t crap. The Telmaj strikes me as very much a first book, and I think it would have benefitted from the services of an experienced editor—not, I hasten to say, because of the prose, but because I ran into a number of events and explanations that struck me as a little too improbable, where just a little bit of lamp-shading would have smoothed it over. Also, while I’m being brutally honest, I thought the first couple of paragraphs of the book were klunky, and I found a typo on the first page of the e-book. This is really unfortunate, because I didn’t notice any typos or particularly klunky prose after that. If you get a copy, don’t let the first page put you off. (Erin assures me that the typo has been fixed.)

But let me talk about the story. The Telmaj concerns a young street thief named Smijj, who’s been living hand-to-mouth in the corridors of Celef Station for almost as long as he can remember. He’s a thief by necessity, rather than desire; he’ll do paid work if he can get it, even though it’s boring, but Celef is a rather hand-to-mouth kind of place for everyone who lives there, and good jobs are hard to come by. Smijj knows nothing about his parents, or where his family came from. Celef is all he knows.

Smijj also has this little quirk: sometimes when he thinks about a place, he finds himself there. He can’t control it (or he’d be much more successful as a thief); and since he doesn’t want people to know, he doesn’t have many friends.

One day, desperate for work, he manages to snag some under-the-table work unloading a small freighter…and shortly thereafter—shortly, in fact, after the freighter has actually left the station—he finds himself back on board. Smijj has got some ‘splainin’ to do….

On the whole, I enjoyed the book. There were a number of surprises, as well as some serious moral conflicts; and the last half kept me turning pages until I got to the end, where, to my satisfaction, Erin stuck the dismount.

Here’s the most important point, given Erin’s target audience: she doesn’t write down to the kids. The book is not without problems, but that’s absolutely not one of them. (If it was, I’ve have judged it one of those books not to be put down lightly, but rather to be hurled with great force, and no one would ever have known that I’d looked at it.)

So…not a masterpiece; not crap; kept me reading; worth watching. I’ve certainly read worse in the recent past.

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