The Eye of the Crystal Ball
Kidlit / Fantasy
Ms. Boje reached out to me soon after I rebooted this blog and asked if I’d be willing to read and review her novelette, which is a term you don’t often see these days. The premise sounded intriguing, so I gladly accepted her offer. Then between traveling, Comic Con and other obligations, it took me two months to get to it. When I finally picked it up, I found an underdeveloped story that had a lot of really good, imaginative fun ideas hidden within. This really shouldn’t have been a novelette. There is so much crammed into the 130 pages that isn’t fully explored, making the story a mish-mash of quick scenes and rushed actions that is hard to get immersed in as the reader.
The Eye of the Crystal Ball is the story of Sara, a Romani gypsy (which I know is a bit redundant), who goes on a quest to find something that will cure her baby brother from the illness from which he’s dying. It’s a pretty simple idea, but Boje adds in scary monsters, a speed talking giant snail, spells, witches, telekinesis, hollow elves, and so many other things that this could easily become an epic children’s story if only Boje had slowed down and explored the potential of her ideas.
It’s implied by her writing that Boje is not a native English speaker. The text is stilted, wrong words are used, sentence structure is not good, and often times I had to read a sentence multiple times before I could figure out its meaning. It felt as though Boje had written the story in her native language and then plugged it into Google Translate or Babelfish to translate it into English. If you’ve ever done that before, you can understand how the meaning of a sentence could become muddled. Now imagine 100+ pages of that.
I also didn’t understand the purpose of the beginning of the story. It starts with a newborn child being left on a doorstep during WWII in Germany. The child, who we learn is Sara, is raised by these German parents for 10 years before her gypsy parents return for her. Other than a few small references to her previous obsession with stories and wanting the comforts of a stable home, this entire plot device disappears after the first 25 pages or so. I didn’t really see the point of it.
It also caused a problem that remained under the surface for the rest of the story – it told us what time period we were in. If Sara was left on the door step at the beginning of WWII because her gypsy parents feared for her safety, then a decade or so later, we would have been in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Knowing this, it made the modern slang and phrases that Sara and her friend Manolo used very out of place. Had Boje not bothered with setting the story up with a plot device that didn’t really make any difference to the story as a whole, the reader could assume that this was all taking place in more modern times. While the Romani might not be as prevalent in modern times, particularly in the EU, they do still exist. I wouldn’t have had this constant niggling feeling in the back of my head that this just wasn’t right.
Mostly The Eye of the Crystal Ball reads like a first draft of a new writer, who needs guidance and assistance from outside eyes. It needs more development, both of plot and character. Boje needs assistance with the writing to make it feel more like a fantasy story instead of as though I’m being told this happened and then this and then this and finally this, as though someone was telling me a summarized version of a much longer story. I felt as though I was reading a story-long prologue, where events are often told in a stand-offish manner to be developed later on, than an immersive story where I can get lost in the adventure and excitement along with the characters.
Overall I was incredibly disappointed and it was a chore to finish due to the writing though with a lot of work and a really good editor, I could see this becoming a great children’s story.
For Story Concept
Which gives this book a:
Imaginative ideas that are underdeveloped; plot points that don’t make sense; bad writing that needs a lot of heavy editing
A copy of The Eye of the Crystal Ball was provided to me by the author