Three: As a novel, it’s a heck of a video game

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThree by Jay PoseyThree by Jay Posey

Three is Jay Posey’s first novel and Book One of the LEGENDS OF THE DUSKWALKER series. “Three” is also the name of the main character, which made reading the book a little confusing, and will probably make this review confusing, too.

I enjoyed Three up until the last forty pages, where Posey tried to wrap everything up, and filling in the things he hadn’t seeded earlier in the book, creating the effect of a deus ex machina. More seriously, I have to say the Main Villain was a big stereotypical disappointment.

In a post-apocalyptic world, the man named Three is a Mysterious Drifter who connects with a Hot Chick in Trouble (her name is Cass) and her Magical Child, Wren. She is being chased by the Big Villain and his team of secondary villains. Three agrees to help her as they head toward a city called Morningside, one of several fortified towns that exist after the big whatever-it-was that took down most technology (except for the cloud) and apparently killed off a big chunk of the population. High-tech still works, though, and almost everyone has a brain implant connected to the cloud, allowing both for personal access to data and messaging. The implants mean that people, like our three main characters, can be tracked by other people, like the Villains.

On the way toward Morningside, Three, Cass and Wren run from Monsters, fight Monsters and, once in a while, sneak by Monsters. Sometimes they are rewarded for success and Get Stuff, Stuff they can use later in the book to fight other Monsters. They also run from, and fight, the Villains. Hot Chick in Trouble morphs into Kick-Ass Fighter whenever it is needed. When she is threatened with rape (which only happens twice, really) she usually uses her Sexual Wiles to distract and defeat the Bad Guys.

Let’s meet the Villains. There is the Big Villain, Asher. His team includes the Twin Brother Villains, the Sexy Female Villain, the Villain-the-Hero-Could-Have-Been-if-He’d-Made-Different-Choices, and the Conflicted Villain. The villain Three could have been, Dagon, is an interesting character. He is the only one on the Bad Guy team who is, while Asher is so stereotypically villainous that I kept waiting for him to say, “Mwahahahahaha!” He never did, and that was a disappointment too.

There are also Monsters, the Weir, and they are slam-bang cool. I visualized them as high-tech werewolf-zombies. Apparently (I’m guessing here), the weir are victims of some sort of nanovirus. They have electric blue eyes, speak in static-y voices, and tear apart anyone unlucky enough to be caught by them after dark. Some weir are completely animal-like, as if the virus colonized a body that had been dead for a while, but those who infect people who are freshly dead, or even, maybe, still alive, retain some human impulses. As the book continues, it seems that the weir are getting more sophisticated in their attacks on human settlements. (Bear in mind that there is no talk in the book about any nanovirus; that’s just what I think happened.)

You’re beginning to get the picture. As a novel, Three makes one hell of a video game. This is no surprise, since Posey comes out of the gaming culture. Three, however, came to me with words on pages and a cover, not via a gaming console, so I am reviewing it as a book. As a game, it’s neat. As a book, it has a way to go.

One thing game developers do quite well is plot, if by plot we mean steadily increasing tension based on the outcomes of previous fights or choices, and by this measure, the plot of Three, which is simple, (get to Morningside, keep Magical Child out of the grasp of the Villains) is pretty good. There isn’t really any world-building here, but there is kick-ass set-building; evocative descriptions of dead cities, bleak desert, underground fortresses and walled towns. For the most part, the dialogue is clever. Three is a laconic man and that serves the book well most of the time. The growing relationship between Wren and Three is touching and adds emotional suspense to the book.

The pacing of the book is nearly perfect until the end. In one sense, I like that there is very little backstory. It creates a sense of immediacy. Cass, Wren and Three grew up in this world. They have busy lives running from the bad guys and probably don’t have much time to spend ruminating on how things could be different if that Big Bad Thing hadn’t happened a Long Time Ago. This does create problems for Posey at the end, however, when he has to have Asher monologue for us the stuff that has gone on lately, which our main characters don’t know about and which has in impact on them. Posey doesn’t yet have a good handle on how to release information to the reader in a controlled but naturalistic way, and he missed some real opportunities here, especially since he didn’t tie himself to one point of view. He traded information for suspense, and since he is a good enough story-teller to have both, I think this was a mistake. It would have made the ending smoother, for instance, if the reader had known a tiny bit more about the weir, and Morningside, before the last thirty pages. The failure to plant enough information up front leads to one personal transformation that looks downright magical — that pesky god popping out of the machine — with absolutely no foundation.

Posey also doesn’t know yet how to create a good villain from the inside out, if Asher is any indication. Asher could have evolved into a compelling, powerful adversary with just a bit more work, but it feels like Posey took the easy way out. I imagine him thinking, “Hmm, what’s really offensive to people? Okay, we all agree that’s bad, so I’ll use it,” instead of spending some time imagining the story from Asher’s point of view. This is disappointing because I could see the potential here, and it was wasted.

My last problem with the book is harder to put into words. The first two thirds of the story carried a sense of sacrifice and redemption. That actually caught my interest and made the book seem out of the ordinary. At the end one character does seem to make a sacrifice, but the sacrifice isn’t necessary, and the character doesn’t need redemption, so I’m not sure quite what the author was trying to do there.

It sounds like I didn’t like Three, and that’s not true. I’m giving it three stars. I think Posey attempted the leap from game-narrative to novels, and he almost cleared the creek, but he got one foot wet. There is enough good, compelling material here, enough interesting prose, to make me think the next book out will be better. Even with its flaws, Three is an entertaining read.


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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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