Skip to main content

L. S. Burton: This Land – review

I promised ages ago to regularly review books on my blog, but I’ve been somewhat remiss of that. I’ll remedy that this week with a review of This Land: That Ribbon of Highway. It’s the new book by my editor Lee Burton, the first book in his sci-fi series of four books.


I reviewed Lee’s book Ella on this blog earlier. It’s a short story of a young girl growing up and losing her childhood imagination; a wistful, beautiful book. Lee’s strengths are his ability to create believable, real characters and his beautiful language, both of which make This Land special too.

This Land is listed as science fiction, but perhaps more correct definition would be speculative fiction. The concept is intriguing; a planet that is terraformed with humans on it, unable to fight back. How will they react, what will they do to survive?

I gave This Land five stars on Amazon and Goodreads. It is a great book, and I warmly recommed it to everyone. Take a look.

***

What if your planet were being terraformed by an outside entity, and there was nothing you could do?  

On the surface, This Land is a simple story. A remote fishing community is faced with an alien threat so deadly that the inhabitants have no other option than to shelter inside the thick walls of an ancient monastery with no contact with the outside world. 

The story begins with the characters already in the middle of action, reacting to the destruction of their village. No backstory is given, no introductions are made. The reader is only gradually given more information about the community and, indeed, the whole world. We don’t know anything more than the characters do. The tagline is the only clue a reader has for what is happening, but the origin and purpose of the annihilation of humans remain a mystery. 

This Land is a sci-fi novel, but that isn’t immediately obvious, nor is it terribly important. The community is very earth-like and only little details like multiple moons, strange religion, and fauna that don’t exist on earth give a reader to understand the novel is set on another planet. Why the place is so earth-like – more specifically like earth in about 1930s – isn’t explained. Perhaps that mystery will be solved in later books. The strange star in the sky and monsters bent on annihilating humans remain, therefore, the main sci-fi elements. 

This Land is, first and foremost, a study in human character. Burton has enviable ability to create flesh and blood characters with a seeming ease. He brings together a bunch of very ordinary, simple people that are bound by a common threat, and proceeds to show how they’ll react in such a situation. His characters aren’t heroes or villains, just humans with their weaknesses and a very few strengths. No one leader rises among them, nor do they automatically turn into a coherent group working towards a common goal. To the end of the first book, they remain scared and confused, reacting only when they absolutely must.

The main character, Stephen, through whose eyes most of the story is told, is an especially wonderful character. He is a cowardly, indecisive, and selfish man who is difficult to like at first – mostly, I presume, because he reacts exactly like most of us would when faced with such an overwhelming situation. As the story evolves, he finds some backbone and becomes, if not likeable, at least vindicated in the eyes of the reader. It’s rare to find such a human character in a genre novel. 

This Land is, in the end, a small novel. Nothing much happens in it. People are afraid, they react stupidly, and they die. If there is one thing to criticise, it is that some of them die too fast before a reader has grown attached to them enough to mourn for them. The story is very universal, however, and larger than it seems.

I recommend This Land to anyone interested in character-led novels, whether they like sci-fi or not. The concept is unique, the world intriguing, and Burton’s beautiful language alone is a good reason to read it. Moreover, despite the destruction, the end is hopeful, giving readers a cause to return for the next book too.

***

 You can find the book on Amazon if you would like to read more. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My #worldcon75 experience

Here’s the long overdue report from my day at the WorldCon 75, my first ever time attending. The event was held on August 9-13 in my home country, Finland, so it was a once in a life-time chance to experience it with a minimum trouble. I originally thought to attend the entire five days, but life intervened in the form of work, and so I could only attend on Saturday. I tried to make the most of it by planning a full day.

I arrived at the conference centre about fifteen minutes after the doors opened at nine in the morning, and the queue was already at least fifty metres long. It caused me a few palpitations until I figured it was the line for people who hadn’t purchased their day passes in advance. I had, so I just walked past, trying not to look gleeful. Half an hour later I felt bad for all those people when it was announced that the day was sold out, which left most of them outside. The queue for pre-purchased passes was three persons long, the shortest line for me the entire day. I…

Reading recap: August

August was my worst reading month so far and I only managed to finish two books. I have no excuses other than that I was busy working. I did start two more books, but I didn’t manage to finish them in August. And even though I read eight books in July, I’m now two books behind the schedule in my reading challenge of fifty-five books. I’ll have to step up. As has been my habit throughout the year, one book was from my reading list and the other wasn’t.
First book was Ride the Storm by Karen Chance, the long-awaited next chapter in her Cassandra Palmer urban fantasy series of time-travelling Pythia and her entourage of vampires, demons and mages. One vampire and one mage in particular. As always, it was a wild romp through space and time – at times a bit too wild. The first part of the book was constant tumbling from crisis to battle and back with no breathers or plot development in between, as if the author was afraid that the reader will get bored if something earth-shattering isn’t co…

Working with the editor: a case study

Editing has been on my mind lately, as I’ve been preparing Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye for publishing. As a happy coincidence, Delilah S. Dawson had a lengthytweet chain about the topic too, prompted by her annoyance with aspiring authors unwilling to make changes that editors suggest to their books. Her response, in short, was that no author escapes the changes, so you’d better get used to them from the start. Her notes are useful to read in full.

She was speaking from the point of view of a traditionally published author who has more than one set of editors making suggestions and demands, all of which strive to make the book as good as possible. She doesn’t claim it’s easy to let other people to have their say, but that it’s necessary.
Listening to one’s editor is even more crucial for self-publishing authors, as we lack the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. If you’re lucky, you find one who understands your writing, and who isn’t afraid to tell you how you can improve it. If …