Welcome, one and all, to my first attempt at a book review here on this cozy little corner of the internet. I’ve never tackled critiquing a book before, so let’s see how we get along, shall we?
The first book I will be looking at is one that means something personal to me, for it was written by my good friend and editor over at http://www.thewellredmage.com, Moses Norton. I’d always wanted to get into writing but never had the confidence until seeing a recruitment tweet for his site on Twitter. Before I knew it I had passed the tests and become a contributor, or Mage, on the site. That was about this time last year and since then I’ve written a fair few reviews and taken part in a handful of great collabs over there.
If not for Moses (seems weird not referring to him as “Red” as we all do in the Discord group!) I’d still be dreaming of writing for a gaming site, yet here I am!
I feel that it’s worth mentioning first that my paperback copy was sent to me by the author himself as a gift, though the words I write are in no way skewed by this act of generosity and I will be as honest as I can with my thoughts on this book.
Anyway, enough about me! Let me tell you about Mr Norton’s first published work, The Last Stitch Goes Through the Nose…
It’s pretty obvious to state that any work of fiction lives or dies by its plot, unless you buy them for the cover art or something. Last Stitch follows the story of a young boy named Orasi, who lives in a calm, picturesque town by the sea called Reicbough. The story opens with Orasi spying out of his window on a cold winter’s night, hoping to spy the shambling, mysterious creature known as the Scissor Man, the town’s de facto undertaker and grave digger. All of the local children are terrified of him, for he resembles more beast than man.
I was expecting, from this first section of the book, the Scissor Man to be the villain of the piece, Orasi the hero as is so common in more formulaic stories. Yet the plot takes a different turn instead, veering away from a potential horror story and more into an exploration of family, upbringing and not judging a book by its cover (hur hur).
The rest of the story is more an insight into Orasis’ life and how he comes to terms with the absence of his father than a pursuit of the Scissor Man, though by the time the story’s rather bleak ending comes around we do go back to studying the mysterious, shambling creature that all of the children fear so badly.
All in all, Last Stitch tells a surprisingly personal tale which looks at the fears and insecurities of a young boy growing up in the aftermath of war and how he sees the world around him.
Writing Style: 9/10
I found myself quite at home upon starting to read Last Stitch, for Norton’s writing style immediately made me think of the works of the late, great Terry Pratchett. His style, much like the great Discworld muso, is irreverent and, instead of clinically setting the scene, will often come across as quite informal, almost as if the author is talking to you directly, telling you the story around the campfire almost. Instead of wasting pages describing characters that don’t matter, Orisis’ sister for example, Norton simply waves them away, straight up telling the reader that she bears no mark on the story and is therefore unimportant and won’t get a description. I found this a brilliant touch, allowing me to keep my eye on the plot and, at the same time, allow my imagination to design the character as it sees fit.
Something that often annoys me in books is when the author overly describes their characters. Sometimes my image of what a character should look and sound like is so jarring compared to the author’s vision that I will unconsciously throw away details that are canon and go with my own. Thankfully, Norton strikes a good balance, describing the basics of his characters’ appearances without going full Tolkien and all but describing their blackheads and how many eyelashes they have. Giving the reader a basic description and allowing them to fill in the blanks is the best gift an author can give, in my humble opinion.
Also worth a mention is how the author paints his scene. Be it a snowy street, an old church or a picturesque town square, overlooking the sea at sunset, Norton manages to really make you feel like you’re there. I could feel the cold of the forest at night and smell the ocean through the streets of the town of Reicbough. When I write, I often find describing the setting to be the hardest part, maybe I will take a few pointers from The Last Stitch from now on!
The Last Stitch took me in some very surprising directions. As I mentioned back at the beginning of this review, all signs led to it being a tale about a curious boy getting into a fix due to his mounting involvement in the creepy and mysterious affairs of the Scissor Man. But things don’t transpire that way at all.
Instead, we learn about such things as growing up in a small, insular village, complete with its own folklore and taboos. We explore loss and anguish and take a long, unflinching look at what happens to those who come from from war, and what the scars of conflict can do to the human psyche. I know Moses Norton pretty well and, after reading his debut work, I wonder if he’s ever experienced any of these things personally, such is the confidence and aplomb with which he writes about them.
Without spoiling the story for anybody I’ll finish with a little lesson that this book drills home: Never judge anybody by appearance alone and, if they are aloof or strange in any way, there just may be a very valid reason why.
The Last Stitch is a novella and, as such, isn’t very long. I read from cover to cover in three hours and, as I am such a spoiled brat when it comes to a good yarn, I wanted another three hours of this story!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s too short. A novella is just that, a short story. But it left me hungry for more stories from this universe, perhaps even a prequel following the story of the Bishop and his comrades during the war.
Come on Moses, throw me a bone here!
Moses Norton’s first published book was a great read for me. It reminded me of Discworld, in both style and setting, something that made me very happy as I’m a huge fan of that series. The story is tightly written, with little fluff and it’s successful in conveying its themes, some of which are quite surprising. The characters are well written and described in such a way that allows your imagination to make them your own, to cast them as whomever you like.
Would I recommend this title? Definitely. Moses Norton may be “The Well Red Mage”, but if you read The Last Stitch, then maybe you will be the most well read mage of all.
Final Score: 8.5