4-Point Review – Compile: Quest by Ronel van Tonder

There’s a fledgling website out there known as BlogTour.com, where writers and bloggers (and people who do both) can meet and help one another promote their works. A couple months ago I met a fellow spec fic writer there named Ronel van Tonder, who is working on a self-published series called Corrupted SUN Script. Below is my 4-Point Review of the first novel in that series, Compile: Quest.

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Synopsis: In the year 2036, solar storms batter Earth. The world’s electrical infrastructure is crippled. Night falls and the ensuing pandemonium claims millions of lives, catapulting mankind into chaos. In the midst of this global turmoil a hero emerges. The altruistic SUN Council intercedes. They construct enormous domes on each continent to protect the world’s population from the radioactive CMEs of the incessant solar storms. But not everyone makes it to the domes. In an attempt to survive the deadly radiation, hundreds of thousands of people burrow into the earth, living in squalor under an oppressive dictatorship. Now centuries later, the final stage of the SUN Council’s plan to decimate the world’s population approaches. But as victory glimmers on the horizon, two women from discordant halves of this new world start to unravel the conspiracy.

1. An Effective Premise: In Compile: Quest, the bulk of humanity lives in dome cities constructed by a corporation called SUN, in order to safeguard the human race from a global calamity; the novel takes place for the most part in Africa Dome and the nearby fringe settlements that continue to survive. The unique setting is compelling in the way that it echoes characteristics of our society; for example, today’s reliance on social networking has evolved to a real-time cybernetic interface called Cerberus, where young people waste their time live-chatting, earning badges through games, and so on. The parallel with today’s seeming addiction to Twitter and Candy Crush makes it all the more disturbing as SUN’s desire to keep people distracted and compliant becomes clear. One could argue that it takes today’s social networking to an extreme, but van Tonder incorporates this particular plot element convincingly; it’s not difficult to imagine a powerful corporation like SUN using something like Twitter for nefarious purposes – in fiction, of course.

2. Compelling Characters: The thing that really makes the novel for me is the characters. Compile: Quest focuses primarily on two young women: Peppermint, a denizen of Africa Dome, and Jinx, a soldier in the Rooivalk Digger Colony. Their disparate adventures are equally compelling because of how real the characters seem. Peppermint is interesting and believable as a teenager desperate to just be herself, but drawn in by the discovery that she has the powers of a “psi” – essentially a telepath or telekinetic. Jinx is a much stronger character, in the literal sense; she’s a soldier on a mission, determined to do whatever is necessary to find the truth she seeks. The characters that surround them and those that lead their own distinct subplots are equally real and distinctive, contributing to a world that is very believable. My only criticism here is that it takes a while for the disparate stories of these characters to begin linking together, making it feel at times that you’re reading totally isolated narratives.

3. There’s a Lot to It: Some people like complicated plots with a variety of characters and stories, a la Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, and many authors can manage it quite effectively. There’s a lot incorporated into Compile: Quest, almost to the point of becoming too much: post-apocalyptic themes, psychic powers, government conspiracy, military conflict, prophecies, AI evolution, bodily rejuvenation, advance of social media, etc. You could probably draw parallels between this novel and Brave New WorldWoolThe Hunger Games, I, Robot, and even The Golden Compass. Van Tonder balances it well, but if you’re not a fan of complicated stories you might want to steer clear of this one.

4. An Unsatisfactory Ending: My biggest criticism of Compile: Quest is the ending, since there are too many undeveloped elements to the story by the last page. Peppermint’s journey is brought to a suitable cliffhanger; however, Jinx’s story seems to be on the threshold of its climax, and then the novel never returns to it. I’m a huge fan of leaving the reader with a cliffhanger leading into the next novel (as much as a lot of writers argue against it) but one of the cardinal rules is that each novel in a series has to be able to stand on its own in some way, so that the next novel can move the story in a new direction. With Compile: Quest, picking up the sequel is going to be essential just to find out how the major conflicts from the first book are resolved.

Final Thought: There is a lot of self-published material out there that is essentially crap. Ronel van Tonder is one of the few self-published authors I’ve met through the blogosphere who actually knows how to write. The issues I mentioned above aside, there is a lot to enjoy in Compile: Quest, and I recommend checking it out to see if it’s up your alley.

Compile: Quest is available from the following sources:

For more info about Ronel van Tonder, visit her website: http://ronelvantonder.co.za

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