Fallen from potential – J.D. Netto’s “The Whispers of the Fallen”

Description by the author / blurb:

Ever since the dawn of days, rumors about the Diary of Lucifer echoed throughout Elysium. Hidden from all human knowledge, the Diary was kept a secret, locked away in the small village of Agalmath. Isaac and Demetre find themselves in a dangerous journey as they uncover the truth about the Diary and its guardians. However, for Isaac and Demetre, danger lies at every step, hidden in the most unexpected places. Hunted by the Nephilins and the Fallen Stars, they must find others who will join them in the battle against the coming darkness.
whispers of the fallen

Ever since the dawn of days, rumours about the Diary of Lucifer echoed throughout Elysium. Hidden from all human knowledge, the Diary was kept a secret, locked away in the small village of Agalmath. Isaac and Demetre find themselves in a dangerous journey as they uncover the truth about the Diary and its guardians. However, for Isaac and Demetre, danger lies at every step, hidden in the most unexpected places. Hunted by the Nephilins and the Fallen Stars, they must find others who will join them in the battle against the coming darkness.

One star, Lucifer, rebelled against the Creator. He and the stars he deceived fell from grace. Lucifer was banished to the Abyss. But before, as a precaution, he left a Diary behind for his followers. With this Diary, he can be reawakened and return from the Abyss, to defy the Creator once more. When the novel starts, the dispersed and battered forces of Lucifer have regained dominance and openly claim their rule over the world again. They are at the point of getting hold of the Diary and its power, to make Lucifer reappear.

The plot is epic, even cosmic, and Netto has mapped out a whole world in his mind with a history of its own. It’s criss-crossed by many, yet interwoven story lines. Besides, the cosmic struggle is painted on the canvas of the sempiternal, yet always intriguing philosophical concern of why evil is permitted in the world, of why God allows it to take ground.
There is no need to continue the praise for what the author does masterfully. He has crafted his plot, and its gorgeous. He has set the plot against the background of mature questioning about the world, and the background fits the plot, still adds dimension to the grandeur of its conception. There is no need to continue the praise.
Instead, it has to be explained why the novel, though holding the potential of a mind-blowing fantasy masterpiece, loses and deforms this potential so much it becomes almost unrecognisable.

As such, “The Whispers of the Fallen” is the type of a story that has been spilled and wasted by the way the author went about writing it. Netto’s attitude toward the effects of language and language structure shows insufficient care from beginning to end. This is visible down to the micro level of vocabulary, and also from the broader perspective of scenes and change of scenes. First, I’ll highlight signs of haste in writing on the micro level; next, I’ll show how this haste runs down the whole text to a same par of excitement. On this flattened plane excited writing turns into the immunisation against excitement by monotony.

To preclude a misunderstanding: I have no appreciation for textbook illusions about how a good-looking text should switch to a synonym at every second line, whenever a word with the same meaning is used again. Never should a writer limit the scope of expression by such arbitrary rules. Franz Kafka, in his novels, came up with sentences that included the same word three times over. But Kafka’s descriptions, when they appear laborious and pedantic, serve precisely the purpose of appearing like that, setting the tone for the painstaking struggle to decipher the workings of inscrutable powers. In language, everything is justified that serves a purpose. Repetitions of words and thus limitedness of vocabulary only are critical when there is no sense behind them; when they really are limitations of a language that could be richer in expression, were these limitations surpassed.

Unfortunately, at several places in the novel such restrictions in language seem to be responsible for unnecessary repetitions. To cite a few examples:
“I lost ground the moment I felt a sharp pain taking me completely. Not a moment passed before the sharp pain caused me to lose my footing entirely.”
The reader can’t conceive of the pain yet sharper with the author insisting a second time on its sharpness.
“The mist moved as we moved. I stretched forth my hand, trying to touch the mist, but I couldn’t. The mist vanished, but as I pulled back my hand, the mist would return again. When I looked down I discovered the ground had disappeared. We were riding on the mist.”
With so much mist whirling through this paragraph, the description might get a little misty before the reader’s eyes.
“A thick gray mist slowly rose around us. It touched my face, hands, and neck. ‘Do you see this now? Any of you?!’ I shouted. I looked at Devin and I knew that this time, he saw the mist. Slowly, the mist emerged into the form of a man.
‘Ely?’ I asked as the mist shaped the traces of the face.”

The reader wonders, with so much mist, where all the fog has gone; or the vapour, the haze, the brume etc.
“My attack was released from me with fury. I concealed my attack to strike him directly. Wings sprang from his back as he took flight. He swerved away from my attack, flying to his left.”
This was just an attack amongst others, but still, the reader searches to bestow a particular meaning on it, since it is denoted as such, an ‘attack’, three times over; he’s puzzled when he discovers the attack does not have that importance, and that the author did no more than show an example of scarcity of expression.
“’Is the chariot ready?’ I asked Marco …
‘The chariot is right in front of the cathedral,’ he quickly replied.
I opened the door to find the black chariot standing right in front of us. …
Marco opened the door to the chariot. ‘In here.’ He smiled as he pointed towards the red cushioned seats lining the chariot.
I stepped inside the chariot and took my seat. ‘The humans…so unaware of the danger…’ I muttered under my breath as Marco … closed the chariot’s door. ‘You may proceed,’ I ordered the guard that drove the chariot.
As the horse pulling the chariot trotted along the thoroughfare …”

Certainly, an author who can write ‘thoroughfare’ instead of ‘street’, has no need to call the chariot a chariot eight times in a row. And it’s not that this would be any kind of special chariot, whose significance is to be underlined by its repetitive denomination: the chariot. No, it’s just a plain means of transport that serves no other purpose than the very short-lived one to get the characters from point A to point B.
Netto gives proof of his abilities as a stylist in many other passages and those picked out above give the impression that he didn’t went about editing his novel with the care it should have deserved. This is serious, because it has consequences. Especially in a fantasy novel, which depicts strange worlds, evocative and varied language spurs the reader’s imagination, while monotonous expressions tend to curb it. Thus, the impact of the text on the reader is restricted and his interest in the story suffers.

In addition, every author has his bouquet of favourite words from which he likes to hand flowers to the reader. Among Netto’s cherished words are: ‘synchrony’, ‘visibility’ and ‘allegation’. However, as dear as these words might be to the author, sometimes it does not seem fitting he should have tried to gift them to the reader. Some examples:
“Right away, I heard commotion coming from the wall above.
‘Denali…they killed Denali and Fridverd. They are impostors!’ he alleged.”

However, from the dynamic of the scene, from the commotion the guard initiated, it must be clear that he shouted his accusation and that it was an accusation emboldened by conviction (accentuated by the exclamatory sign); he did not just allege suspicions, whispering into ears behind the cupped hand.
“Loud shouts and shrieks were sounded … ‘Victory!’ We alleged repeatedly.“
Here the impropriety of shrouding the direct speech into an allegation is especially stark. The actors here do not allege anything; they are shouting out a battle cry, at the full of their voices.
“’I don’t think we should travel any further. The snow is getting too intense here,’ Adawnas alleged as we stopped at the river bank. The visibility was barely perceivable to see what lay
ahead of us.”

Here the author’s love for the ‘visibility’ has ensnared him into an ungrammatical construction. ‘Given the visibility, X was hardly perceivable’ would have worked, but, clearly, visibility as such – and not the visibility of on object – cannot be perceivable, nor can such a construction be followed by an infinitive verb.
“ … as the freezing wind began to blow with a blizzard-like ferocity making visibility almost blinding.”
This is an odd encounter of words, since blindness precludes visibility – quite literally, the reader cannot see how one can go with the other.
“The thickness of the mist blinded my visibility.”
A second case of the irritating juxtaposition of the concepts of ‘blindness’ and ‘visibility’. And for a split moment, my mind was was also suspended by the uncertainty whether it was not the shape of the character that was blinded by the mist from the vision of others.
Every novelist has his flowers of beloved words he tries to weave into his phrases rather more often they they would deserve. However, for the reader to appreciate it, the weaving should be done with greater care.

On a more abstract level, it is to be remarked about the language that it is straight and short throughout. The author’s sentences never exceed the length of easy accessibility for the mind. While this assures a very fluent reading, it is accompanied by an inevitable shortcoming: changes of the pace in storytelling cannot be signalled with a varying length in sentences. Like that, even moments of reprieve pound with the beat of crisp action. A fight with an enemy, told by a quick succession of phrases, runs over into a description of scenery, told at the same speed. The mountains and castles don’t appear on the horizon, but instead they seem to be hewn out of of it by the same rapid blows that had rung in battle just a paragraph before.

And this constitutes a major factor accounting for the final rating of the book. It is not fast-paced, it is rushing; it is not action-packed, it is action-crammed. Neither the complexity of Netto’s world can unfold, nor can his characters claim sufficient room to breathe and think and show themselves for the personalities they are. The outcome is that Netto unnecessarily sacrifices suspense to action.

Often the change of events is so bewildering that it would have been impossible for the author to dodge the necessity of letting his characters remark on it.
“A loud explosion echoed and I was sucked back to Justicia. ‘We are out!’ I yelled. ‘We made it.’ ‘How did we – What happened?’”
Neither the characters nor the reader get an answer. But anyway, there is no time for an answer. Right way, almost by the next sentence, the enemy comes forth to renew his chase.
“At an amazing speed, the shadow surrounded us and in a matter of seconds we were transported to Aloisio, standing in front of the walls.”
This happens, by the way, after the people concerned here had left Aloisio on the very chariot so insistently made mention of further above. In reading the sentence, I couldn’t help imagining the author sitting at his desk and asking himself: “How can I get them all quickly back to Aloisio?” At least this time there is not a sudden whoosh-and-bang and there they are by utter miracle; instead they profit from a special faculty of a new figure they have encountered – he can travel great distances by the lash of an eyelid. Still, it’s questionable whether the action needs to be whipped onward like that.
“Somehow, we had been transported to the borderline that connected Elysium and Justicia. I couldn’t understand how all that had happened.”
As this happens in the realm of the Creator, where no one should wonder about miracles raining from the very sky, this example is less quizzical than others; still, the author must have been a little uneasy about the forced change of scenery, else he wouldn’t have been compelled to let the character reflect on it.

The descriptions Netto offers of his world tend to be blurred out in the stream of events. The reader cannot get in touch with this world; he has no time to spare for that. Already the next clang of weapons and cries of pain call on him.
“The roof and the walls were old and cracked. As I walked up the two creaking wooden steps and onto the porch, I was surprised to see a massive conglomeration of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.
Once inside, I noticed the fireplace was lit and the aroma of newly brewed coffee reached my nostrils, tantalizing my senses.”
But right away the action kicks in again:
“All of a sudden, the roof of the shack was broken through and Shadows mounted on Desert Dragons descended upon us … “
And indeed it couldn’t happen more of a sudden. There is no kind of introduction, no shift of perception, no build-up of menace. The reader can only think that the action thrill has never been tuned down, that is has always been running on high. In consequence he can hardly perceive the descriptions as descriptions any longer. When he reads ‘cobwebs’, he sees the ropes of the hangman from which some side figures may be dangling in the next few seconds; when he reads ‘fireplace’, he sees the smoke of the next burnt down village; when the reads ‘coffee’, he sees its dark colour turn the venom of blood.
Everything is rushed together, descriptive or explanatory scenes are not differentiated from action scenes, neither by introduction nor by means of language. In this way the author creates the illusion of perpetual thrill. But this never works. Suspense always is a rising moment. If everything is trimmed to peak action, no rising can occur. Even the altitudes of action, when they are never left, become very flat. The reader quickly gets immunised against the incentives of perpetual thrill. Suspense is done away with by action at high speed. Action, bereft of suspense, disintegrates to mere agitation. And this can be quite boring for the reader to watch, contrary to the author’s best intentions.

This is the one aspect I’ve tried to enlarge on: the usurpation of descriptions, and, indeed, of everything else, by agitation devoid of suspense.
The other aspect is a mere consequence thereof, and it is: the apparent superfluity of descriptions. In general, Netto recurs to descriptions rather sparingly. But when he does so, their consumption by the action scenes makes them appear out of place.
In the sudden attack cited above, needless to say, the ‘old and cracked’ shack is destroyed immediately. One cannot help wonder why the author took the care to describe it at all, given the shack really served no other purpose than to house the characters for a brief talk with a guard – who, needless to say, dies instantly at the attack rushing in. Why this side remark about tantalising coffee aroma when the very last thing one can the protagonists imagine to do is sitting down and sip their coffee? They don’t have time for that. “Suddenly” the enemy strikes the next blow, out of nowhere. And also in language he does that with the suddenness of a single sentence, thrown right into the text. But for the description here Netto at least made space for a couple of phrases – yet to no effect at all. Descriptions cannot be perceived for their value, for what they are, as a plane of connection between the reader and the world, as a means for him to think and feel himself into it. They become dysfunctional by the constant beat of agitation. Thus they must strike the reader as mismatched and dislocated whenever the author makes use of them.

With all this it’s clear that lines of character development cannot be followed with depth and consequence. Predominantly, the figures Netto sends speeding through his world are visible in contours but uncertain. Isaac, for example, could be anybody. There is no unique theme attached to him and insights into his psyche are precious few. He repeatedly asks himself questions, but these echo only the questions the reader is asking himself at these moments – e.g.: “First, they all wanted us because of our blood, but now they wanted to protect us? Why did I have to stay next to this black throne alongside Nephele and Azaziel? What was going on?”
The reader only finds his own wonder reflected in Isaac’s inquiring gaze, but he learns nothing new about Isaac as a person. Very rare are the paragraphs when he does, when he can get an idea of the workings of his mind. For example, one of these few paragraphs terminates with: “I was becoming a master at ignoring these haunting emotions, continuing on as if the only challenge I faced was to reach Aloisio.”
However, mostly the author makes it appear as though the characters really had only their challenges to deal with, that is, the sole conquering of the exterior obstacles. With the rarity of paragraphs as the one indicated above, the reader tends to believe that Isaac indeed has no other challenges to face in the two-dimensional world he rattles through. And this is not a slight issue, since Isaac is the first person narrator for more than half of the book.
In the other part, the narrator is Nephele, an evil figure from top to bottom. Still, much like Isaac, Nephele stays rather flat on the paper of the book. The reader runs no danger of getting enmeshed with her and won’t experience discomfort by having to look at the world through a perspective such as this: “The shrieks and cries of the people were like music to my ears.”
At least a theme of character uniqueness is hinted at for Nephele: her conflicting and disturbing feelings towards Mordred. These feelings promise to lure her into situations where she could struggle with her loyalty to Lucifer – but this would have to happen in the second instalment.

The “Whispers of the Fallen” is the first part of what could have been a moving fantasy of cosmic dimension about the problem of evil and the struggles of individuals to come to terms with their own choices. Instead, as it stands now, it is the first part of a series of nice reads in which the action steadily gets drowsy by its very overexcitement. Unsurprisingly, this first part has no end at all, but just rips off in the middle of events. As there is no sense of completion to any single scene in the novel, there can be no sense of completion to this first part of a series. All is sucked in by the maelstrom of the beat of hasty language and writing. The waste of potential is horrendous. Still, it’s to be hoped that the plot, which reserves its promises, develops to better force with another writing approach in the next instalment.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Link to Amazon USA (paperback, kindle also available)
Link to Amazon Germany (paperback, kindle also available)