The Wrong Way Down by Jake Elliot [Review]
One could say that I have a soft spot for the fantasy genre. My two Legionwood games are traditional epic fantasies and, like all self-proclaimed geeks, the works of Tolkien and R.A Salvatore rank among some of my favourite books of all time. That said, I have to admit that, for me, the fantasy genre feels a bit stale these days, with the likes of Game of Thrones and its clones reusing the same old dark fantasy tropes over and over.
When I received a free PDF of Jake Elliot’s debut novel The Wrong Way Down (published by Damnation Books), I wasn’t really expecting anything different out of the genre. On first glance, The Wrong Way Down doesn’t appear to be anything other than a typical fantasy adventure full of swords, sorcery, elven mages and slippery rogues. However, despite this, I found that The Wrong Way Down actually manages to be an enjoyable read. Although Elliot’s debut novel won’t hold much appeal for those who aren’t already fans of the oft-used conventions of traditional fantasy, it’s still an exciting, fast paced action adventure story with lots of plot twists, well written action scenes and a slight hint of horror that those tired of the epic scale and slow paced, sweeping plotlines of modern fantasy will enjoy.
The Wrong Way Down tells the story of a young priestess, Popalia, who must embark on a quest after a religious artifact protected by her order (The Blessed Mystery) is stolen by a pair of hired thieves. Although one of the thieves is apprehended during the heist, the second thief escapes, and its up to Popalia (along with two hired mercenaries and a naive elven magician) to go out into the world and bring them, and the stolen artifact, back. What follows isn’t an epic quest to the edge of the world, and nor is it a complex story of political intrigue. The Wrong Way Down is a fast paced chase story, and Elliot does a great job of keeping his readers entertained while also keeping the scope of his novel simple and manageable for those who just want to be swept away on a fun adventure (The Wrong Way Down is only 80,000 words long – much shorter than the typical 1000 page fantasy tome).
For the most part, Elliot’s writing in The Wrong Way Down is pretty solid, and the book is a very strong effort as far as debut novels go, but there are some aspects of the writing that could do with some tighter editing. The novel is written in a third person, present tense style, which helps to keep the writing fast paced and exciting, and this style is used masterfully in the action scenes. However, I did notice a considerable number of passages scattered throughout the book where this was spoiled by overwriting. Elliot uses description well at certain points of the book to establish atmosphere, and I enjoyed his skill with constructing imagery, but there are a lot of otherwise mundane sentences padded out with needless adjectives. This doesn’t detract from the story, but it does make the pace of the novel seem inconsistent, and it would have been a lot better if these parts were written a little more tightly.
In terms of story and dialogue, Elliot also does a decent job, with the adventure remaining engaging through the entire book (if a little short lived) and there are a few plot twists that may catch the reader by surprise. Unfortunately, The Wrong Way Down does suffer from a few issues with characterisation, and the characters don’t seem to have very interesting character arcs (Wynkkur the elven mage, for example, becomes a stronger character over the course of the novel but then retreats to a similar position to where he began), though they are well written, and the dialogue is never boring. It would’ve also been nice if the book’s antagonists were fleshed out more, as we never quite learn what their motives are, or their perspective on the book’s events, which would have made them more interesting foils for the protagonist. As it stands now, we’re made to dislike them simply because we’re told to, but we never really know why. This may be forgiven because, as I understand, The Wrong Way Down is the first book in a planned series, which may resolve these loose ends in a later volume, but looking at this book as a stand-alone story, it’s disappointing that there are things that still feel unresolved at the end.
Bottom line: the best part about this book is its fast paced action. If you’re a fantasy fan who wants a quick, exciting adventure to see you through the weekend, this book is for you. I did enjoy it, despite the fact that it doesn’t make much of an attempt to buck the typical fantasy tropes. If you’re looking for something that does something you’ve never seen before with the genre, or a Game of Thrones-esque novel with chapters of backstory, deep political drama or grand battles between nations for the fate of the world, Jake Elliot’s debut novel isn’t it. The Wrong Way Down is a book that seeks to take its reader on a quick thrill ride, and nothing more. If you want lots of fighting, a quick pace that doesn’t let up and simply to be entertained, you definitely can’t go wrong with this one.