Book Review: Drowning Demons: A Raven James Novel by Ben Wydeven
Let me begin this review by saying that any criticisms I have about the books I review are not what I consider negatives. All writers have purpose. Any issues with formatting, style, or grammar can be resolved with an editor's help. I 100% advocate supporting each other as writers and am always up for writer's groups to help other indie authors hone their craft. With that being said, though entirely fixable for future editions, the current state of the books I read will be honestly conveyed in my reviews so that you as a reader can make the decision for yourself whether this novel is a journey you'd like to take.
Drowning Demons: A Raven James Novel by Ben Wydeven turned out to not be what I originally expected, in a good way! I saw a promotion for the novel posted in a writer's Facebook forum I am a member of and did not read the book's blurb ahead of time. Going off of the title alone, I thought I was about to read a story about what else, demons. However, Wydeven incorporates a clever word play to describe using alcohol consumption for mental escape as "drowning demons".
The story follows Raven James and his friend Benny on a quest to rid The Fillmor, a local nightclub slash former movie theater and speak easy, of its angry ghostly inhabitants. Different characters are introduced along the way: Stefan, a boyish budding historian who accompanies them to The Fillmor despite his adamant refusal to admit that ghosts are real, Mr. Geideman, the owner of The Fillmor who hires Raven and Benny to rid his establishment of any lingering spirits, and then the ghosts, their histories, and past acquaintances of the main characters.
I'm going to first speak towards some of the novels weaknesses and will end this book review on Wydeven's strengths. The novel did have some formatting errors. Paragraphs were indented double, sometimes triple, and entire passages of the novel were unaligned. I also struggled with being able to tell where breaks in the texts took place. For instance, flashbacks or changes in the time frame within the novel were not set apart from the rest of the text. I definitely felt like this slowed the pace of the novel for me as a reader because I needed to reread to make sure I understood the shifts. I also found multiple instances throughout the work where descriptions were repeated, both a few sparse words and entire pages. For instance, in Chapter 29 - Awakening, Anna, Benny's girlfriend, is described in one paragraph as:
"The way her hair glowed in the sunlight pulsed through the window..."
Precisely four lines down, Anna is again described as:
"The whole moment, beautiful Anna glowing in the sunlight..."
In Chapter 32 - Silence Screams, Wydeven focuses on Stefan's time in the basement of The Fillmor. The setting is dark and Stefan has a small penlight. Wydeven describes this as: "...he found his penlight and panned the weak light around the room."
In the next paragraph, he then says: "...as he panned the room with his puny flashlight." Again on that same page, he said: "...he swung his tiny pen light in every direction."
The Fillmor's blue neon lights along the top shelf of the bar were also mentioned throughout multiple chapters, but I found no way that this repeated description furthered the plot in any way.
Wydeven seemed to struggle with word choice in the novel, more so towards the beginning. I found that a few times throughout the first few chapters, words were used that seemed misplaced. Though the author's intention was clear, the content read awkwardly. For instance, in the prologue, Wydeven said that "his son's eyes glanced impulsively around...like a hawk quietly stalking its evening meal." Impulsively doesn't match the following descriptor. A hawk quietly stalking its evening meal is not impulsive. Other examples of this are "deviant memories" and "house was airtight".
Despite these examples that, again, an editor could resolve, I felt like Wydeven has a strong second novel in Drowning Demons. I felt like he had very strong character development. Raven was a very likable alcoholic. You almost wanted to dislike him, but found him endearing through Wydeven's interjection of childhood memories and trauma throughout the novel. He was a believable character with a healthy balance of everyday and unlikely struggles that gave him and the plot depth and interest. I found Benny to be built much the same way, although laced with a bit more desperation. He was a great accompaniment to Raven and I hope to see more of him in future novels. The only character I struggled with in the novel is Stefan. Wydeven portrays Stefan as weak, nerdy, incapable. There are also hints of ill intent before the story line picks up with the Valentino brothers. I don't know if this was intentional or if Wydeven's description of Stefan's reasons for being in The Fillmor were slightly off the mark. Either way, he was an easily unlikable character and did not change for me throughout the course of the novel.
I found the plots and subplots to be detailed and entertaining. I was worried that Stefan's conflict would not be resolved, but Wydeven worked it in within the books last pages. I did have some concerns that it may have been an afterthought because of additional information that comes out once the main action of the story is over. It seemed as if that information was added merely as a way to help wrap up that plot. It would have flowed better, I believe, and not stood out so much if Wydeven had worked in hints or suggestions throughout the story line.
Would I suggest the book? Yes, after the needed editorial changes were made. I think that this series can be engaging. Wydeven's word use is phenomenal. Some of his descriptions are genius: "The sun was incredibly bright and Raven, incredibly hung over, pinched his eyes shut,
giving his brain a moment away from the intensity."
"...scar of cheap whiskey..."
"...trembling like a scared animal and breathing as if he couldn't..."
I'll be looking forward to what Mr. Wydeven creates in the next book!
You can see Ben Wydeven's complete works, including Drowning Demons, on his Amazon author page here.