The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison


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Post August 04, 2013, 01:07:06 AM

The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison

I thought this was a fascinating story of political intrigue. It took me two readings to come to this conclusion though. During the first read thru I felt buffeted by all the character names, and what at first felt like excessive description in the opening scene. By the end of the first read thru I couldn't figure out why the Emperor had ordered Peter's death. But a second, more careful reading revealed a very well written story, a well developed and intricate character in the Emperor, and a fascinating political world that I really would like to see more of.

And the second read thru revealed what I had missed: "Peter had cultivated an indifferent expression, but his eyes had darkened with triumph nonetheless as the Watch was divided and the Guard surrendered." This was the reason the Emperor had ordered his death. He had recognized in the subtle expression of Peter's eyes his true motive, to weaken the Emperor's protection so that he could be attacked.

Unfortunately, even after rereading the first three paragraphs several times, I'm confused as to where/when in relation to the rest of the story it is taking place. It seems like there may be a break in time between the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. If this is the case, then I think there should be something extra to indicate the break, such as an extra line break or three asterisks. Otherwise I found it confusing as to how Gregor and the Emperor can be walking together and then the Emperor is sitting in a different location while Gregor is entering the room. Unfortunately this kind of confusion at the very beginning of the story can really throw a reader off track.

I really think this story is setting up a very interesting conflict between the Emperor's forces and Peter's and I would like to read about how it is resolved. :)

John
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Post August 04, 2013, 11:48:40 AM

Re: The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison

John, you had the same problem with this story that I did. The story is also posted at Creator & the Catalyst, and I left a substantial commentary there:

http://www.creatorandthecatalyst.com/di ... &t=27#p792

The more I think about it, the more I think that Owen knows this story really well in his own head, but just hasn't yet learned how to gracefully present it. The setting, characters and plot have a well-developed feel about them; it's just a struggle to figure it out.
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Post August 04, 2013, 04:49:03 PM

Re: The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison

Except for the first few paragraphs, the story was really much clearer on the second read thru for me. I didn't have any trouble keeping track of who was speaking the second time. I think I just had to familiarize myself with the author's style, and make sure I was fully focused on what I was reading. I've come across professional authors with styles that required a lot more concentration on my part to read in the past. Michael Moorcock, for instance, of Elric of Melniboné fame comes to mind as a personal example. I found his work difficult to get into, but Moorcock is/has been a very successful writer. So I don't want to too quickly dismiss Owen Harrison's style here necessarily as a problem. I don't subscribe to the idea that the only style that works is a simple one, a la Hemingway, immediately accessible to every reader. If an author wants to use complex syntax and sentence structure, it's not wrong, it's a choice. And in this case the style does seem to contribute to the feel of high fantasy/political intrigue that this story is about.

Lester, you make good points though about the confusion with attribution and I do think that if others have the same problems with the story the author should take note.

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Post August 06, 2013, 11:24:15 PM

Re: The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison

Hello. I'm Owen. Both of your comments are invaluable, and I'm very glad the story was posted here and at Creator and the Catalyst. I knew that my prose was a bit dense (too much academic writing), but I hadn't realized quite how much I failed to convey. To be elucidated in the rewrite:

The Emperor and Captain Gregor begin in the map-room. Then they walk south through a set of doors into the north end of the throne room. That set of doors is left (west) of the throne. Gregor pauses to close those doors, while the Emperor turns and walks east up to the throne. Then Gregor goes south down the throne room (which stretches north-south) to the main entry doors, where Lord Ashling enters and proceeds north to the throne. So, in sum: I must effectively describe spaces and movements without breaking the narration. Other little things: Don is meant be a title of respect, but this only becomes clear when his full Spanish name is revealed at the end. Obviously that's much too late. The Regentsmen are the Emperor's closest counsel, so they've earned the privilege to be frank and even rude with him. I suspect that having the narrator address him primarily as Emperor distances him from the audience, and by association, the Regentsmen. Perhaps primarily using the given names of the Emperor and the Regentsmen would emphasize their solidarity, and convey Peter Ashling's 'outsider' status.

Anyway, thanks again. I'm encouraged.

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Post August 08, 2013, 09:41:50 PM

Re: The Emperor's Servant by Owen Harrison

davidsonhero wrote:So I don't want to too quickly dismiss Owen Harrison's style here necessarily as a problem. I don't subscribe to the idea that the only style that works is a simple one, a la Hemingway, immediately accessible to every reader. If an author wants to use complex syntax and sentence structure, it's not wrong, it's a choice. And in this case the style does seem to contribute to the feel of high fantasy/political intrigue that this story is about.


Some days I get a little grumpy at parts of modern trends to "force" a "simple" prose style. Certain sentence structures just read at a certain pace, and that's part of the effect. I do particularly think that Classical High Fantasy can often use a "heavy prose" just fine. (There are just pitfalls to avoid, but the style itself has a history behind it!"

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