The Death Mark, by Buster Shadwick Jr.

Authored by Buster Shadwick Jr.

When an ominous symbol starts to appear at the scenes of “accidents” around the world, an equally large investigation is needed to solve the mystery.

Who is responsible? How do they do it?

Caught in the middle, we find Mr. Paul Lambert, a pragmatic, often cynical, computer technician, working behind the scenes at a terrorist watch center.

Through Paul’s jaded eyes, we see the world turn upside down, as the impossible meets reality.

Is he ready for the responsibility? For the changes? Are any of us ever ready… really?

A Note for the Author of this book, should you be about to read this review:

Take everything here with the understanding that I am not a professional editor, just a reader of books giving their opinion. Keep writing. Don’t let anything I say stop you from that. Read what I have to say, think on it, take from its criticisms what you can and try to improve your writing for the next book. You wrote a book, that’s so much more than most people manage, so you’re already off to a good start. Keep doing it. If you’re the type who doesn’t handle criticism well (like myself), perhaps have a close friend or family read this and relay the major points to you from someone who knows how to make the barbs not sting. Best of luck and keep writing!

Overall Impression: Negative

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Unfortunately, I did not really enjoy this book, and it was a struggle for me to finish it. This was largely because the story felt like it progressed very slowly, with few major events occurring that pushed the plot forward and I didn’t feel particularly invested in the main characters.                         

The plot mainly felt like a short story that was made longer in an attempt to make it into a full-length novel, and the attempt did not work well. It had an interesting premise, but most of that premise was relayed to the reader through narrative telling, rather than being shown through the actions and decisions of the characters. This is most notable by the fact that the majority of the substance of the plot occurred in the epilogue of the book, in a deus ex machina type of fashion. The majority of the plot prior to that was thin and consisted largely of watching Paul do almost the same thing day to day and occasionally being told he’d discovered a new power or ability he had. There were some developments in his interaction with the detectives investigating the cases, but all of that could have been left out of the book and it would not have affected the understanding of the revelations told to the reader in the epilogue.

Some improvements to the plot I would suggest would be that it need the events leading up to revelations about the death mark to actually have some meaning or consequences, either to the world, to the characters, or to the beings causing all this chaos. Those aspects need to be explored in the book itself and not left to the reader to interpret based on the epilogue alone. I’ll try not to leave too many spoilers here, but some questions the author should try to address would be: Why do the beings behind this care? Why are they doing what they’re doing? And chaos for chaos’s sake is not usually a good motive unless you’ve already strongly established a character as being a chaos-creator and shown their history and backstory as to why they’re like that. People (or any intelligent being) don’t just do things just because. Something in their past, sometimes many, many small things, led them to be that way. If they’re intelligent, they learn. If they learn, they evolve and change their personalities with time. Even immortal or godly beings follow this, it may just be on a much slower scale, or may take much more drastic events to make it occur, but all of this needs to be explored within the story, being shown through actions, reminiscings and retellings (only when appropriate!), or through their observations and interactions with the world around them.

Other questions to think about: Do the events being described in the story matter to the plot? If the scene were removed, would the reader still be able to understand the story? If the answer to that question is yes, then does the scene give the reader deeper understanding of one of the characters, enabling them to better sympathize with them, or better understand their motives for doing what they do? No? Then the scene likely isn’t necessary and the space would be much better used showing the reader something else.

As for the characters, I generally just found them uninteresting. Initially I thought Paul might be an interesting characters, a socially anxious introvert who we were viewing the world through his eyes, but he rapidly turned into a very self-aware/self-centered person that bordered on feeling like a bit of a creep, especially with the randomly interjected comments from him about the appearance and attractiveness of women around him, or the awkwardly described sex encounters. There was also the strange “perfection” of his abilities. Name something that a twenty-something year old man would want to do (be super athletic, attractive, have great sexual prowess, etc.) and Paul eventually ends up having them, which jars badly with his supposed lack of self-confidence as he seems to randomly vacillate between being an social awkward introvert and an overly confident jerk (best work I could think of for how he comes across).

 Likewise, I was uninterested in Paul’s girlfriend, Kate. Her presence in the story seemed to offer little other than being the force that coerced and almost forced Paul into helping with the investigation against his will by guilting him into it. She also seemed unsympathetic to any of Paul’s struggles, and the relationship between them developed rapidly, unrealistically so in my opinion, with little real trust connection being built up between them that I would expect for the type of sensitive and important situation going on in the story.

Overall, there was a lot of filler dialog between the characters that could have been put to much better use giving insights into stronger character motives, character building in general, event foreshadowing or mood setting, and general world building. If what the character is saying or thinking doesn’t offer one of these things, or isn’t directly necessary for the reader to understand some aspect of the plot, then it shouldn’t be included, as it just bogs down the story. As a final comment, mundane characters in and of themselves can be okay to include in a story, but their thoughts and their insights into the world around them must be interesting to the reader by themselves.

One thing I did really like about the book was the styling of how the internal and external thoughts were written and formatted, and how they intertwined with observations of the outside world, though I was not thrilled with the substances of those internal thoughts. The writing style itself did suffer from the dialogue and word usage being repetitive. Paul said “wow” so many times… The actions of the characters themselves were also repetitive, such as the appearance of Paul’s turtle dream-friend every time he fell asleep and his daily morning routine repeatedly being described in unnecessary detail. Same rules apply for this as for a character’s internal thoughts. If it doesn’t offer the reader something new, it probably doesn’t need to be included.

Overall, while I had a lot of negative things to say about this book, I want to encourage the author to keep writing. The epilogue offered an interesting concept for a subsequent book. If this story had been written as a short story, a teaser to a longer series, or even as the opening prologue to a book that explored the motives, meddling and machinations of the beings behind all of this, I think it would have served it’s purpose well. Weaving the view of a mundane human man in between the actions of more powerful beings would be a nice contrast, and even doing so with a human with unnaturally powerful abilities, if done right, could be remarkably interesting. I hope the author continues writing, and I will be curious to see how they grow through their stories.

– written by Whim Shifter (Book reviewer @TheNovelMarket)

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