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The Journals of Bob Drifter is the first work by indie author M.L.S. Weech.
It’s the story of Bob Drifter, a part time Arizona substitute teacher and full time immortal Journeyman – a supernaturally gifted person who can transport near-death souls to the afterlife. Bob’s been a Journeyman for precisely 338 years and still struggling with the emotional toll it takes. Bob ends up attracting both the attention of two detectives when they catch him loitering around a series of dying people.
If you’ve read a Dean Koontz book – specifically the Odd Thomas — The Journals of Bob Drifter is clearly inspired by it, with Bob Drifter coming off as a more vanilla version of Koontz’s Odd Thomas. Indeed, the similarities goes even further: ‘Bob ‘is simply rewording of the same characters found in ‘Odd’ though if this his is intentional homage or by accident, I don’t know.
Still, while Bob may not be as interesting as Odd, lacking the idiosyncrasies and small-town charm that made Koontz’s hero so beloved, Bob’s still interesting enough that you want to see where his story goes and how it ends. And as Indie stories go, if you like Koontz, you may want to give this similar-feeling story a go. It’s not as good, but it’s something in the direction.
The structure of the book is set in such a way that it’s divided into three parts, which each part feeling almost like a separate stories rather than one fluid continuous novel. The first arc is by far the most interesting of the three because it focuses on the story of Bob, his struggles with his occupation, and his endearing sense of weariness. The other two arcs focus mostly on Bob’s violent confrontations with his antagonist Grimm – another Journeyman who’s managed to re-purpose the souls of the dead as slaves instead of releasing them to the afterlife. The battles between Grimm and Bob are the focal point of book, but also the least interesting parts of it as well.
From the get go, Bob remains solidly the good guy through the story. There is never any moral complexities, nothing to tempt Bob into darkness. This makes the story a pretty easy read to get through.
The humanity of the hero is one of the best parts of the book. Bob is a likeable guy.
The author foregoes focusing too much on the supernatural details (at least initially) to examine Bob’s not-so-simple struggle to live a normal life and be a normal human guy.
That is, how Bob tries to juxtapose his sordid job role of helping death along without having any actual ability to prevent death – even for the ones he loves. Despite his struggle, Bob is never tempted into darkness nor does he fight any sort of vice. Basically, he’s a straight out good guy and a likeable one at that. No Dirty Harry here or Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus do bad-things-for-good-reasons style hero here.
I found the first arc of the book quite interesting because the author spends a lot of the narrative introducing Bob to us and showing his daily struggles with being a substitute teacher, dealing with kids, and knowing the people he’s trying to help are ultimate doomed to a horrible death of which he will have to bear witness and participate in.
Hat off to the author for not making any of his heroes invincible – they all suffer through the course of the novel, both spiritually and sometimes even physically; by the end of the book there’s a solid character death count, a fitting thing because it is a book about death after all.
The prose is decent, considering this is Weech’s debut book and an indie title (which lacks the big budget editing that goes into a traditionally published novel). Overall, the prose is straightforward, the grammar usually correct, and the author doesn’t commit any major writing faux pas.
Many of the character interactions left a lot to be desired. Particularly, the relationships between the main characters are not well developed and don’t come off as realistic. Because of this, you don’t really care about many of the characters.
The author tries to build up the relationships though the dialogue between characters, but some of this dialogue just doesn’t very flow well; characters say unbelievable things and respond in unbelievable ways. Again, this is the first book by the author so some slack here is given. Just don’t expect any tight witty dialogue from the characters.
The initial world building shows some promise, specifically Bob’s strange Journeyman powers and his strange calling. However, the supernatural world at large created by Weech is never fully revealed; indeed, the impression given is the author is still himself figuring out the rules of the world.
Bob, despite having been a Journeyman for 338 years and his mentor Drisc who’s been one for even longer, seems to know almost nothing about his own powers, the supernatural world at large, and of his fellow Journeyman peers. This seems a bit impossible given Bob’s age and occupation.
Indeed, the novel initially feels like it’s trying to build up a detailed supernatural world full of internal mythology and organized rules that you might find in a Dresden novel or the Odd Thomas books, but the details are never really fleshed out and the information never clearly presented.
Instead you only get a scattering of information about the supernatural world at large, usually though Bob’s internal musings or through a piece of dialog. Perhaps in future books the author intends to develop the world – and the lore – more thoroughly, but I found by the end of this one I still really didn’t have a real sense of the supernatural world or an understanding of how it worked.
There is a saying that a hero is only as good as the villain that opposes him. In this case, Bob’s antagonist, Grimm, was not a very interesting villain and the least interesting part of the story – a straight out ‘bad guy’ with no sort of internal moral quandary going on. He’s bad and he loves being bad. But there is no real development about why Grimm is the way he is, why he’s chosen the dark, lonely path. Perhaps a more interesting tale would have been the story of Grimm and why he became who he is. But this tale is never hinted at.
As it is, Grimm is not very well drawn, nor scary, nor interesting; rather he’s there to propel the plot forward and no more.
The first part of the novel that’s the most complex and where Weech spends most of the time developing Bob. There may have been a lack of supernatural battles that follow in the later arcs, but for me, the first arc was the best part of the novel and by far the more interesting. The other two arcs felt tacked on and did little actually develop any of the characters in any meaningful way.
Overall, The Journals of Bob Drifter show M.L.S. Weech has promise as an author.
My overall feeling is that The Journals of Bob Drifter is bit rough, though readable. But if you are looking for a straightforward supernatural thriller in the vein of an Odd Thomas novel (but less polished and more simplistic) and you don’t mind giving a young indie author a chance, you may find the Journals of Bob the Drifter a good read. With a bit more experience, Weech will likely find his stride and voice in his future books.
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.
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