The OF Blog: Robert Stanek, Keeper Martin's Tale (illustrated, "ultimate" edition)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Robert Stanek, Keeper Martin's Tale (illustrated, "ultimate" edition)

After reading and reviewing a shojo and a yaoi book, the final and most arduous book dare I had to meet was to read and review a Robert Stanek novel.  Some of you may remember the little bit of controversy about this photo of him and Brian Jacques, where Stanek had done a bit of photoshopping to give the appearance that he was there in some other capacity than as a parent escorting his kids to a book signing.  Others, or at least those who frequent Westeros, may remember the memorable "Robert Stanek Shat Directly into My Soul" thread.  For those of you new to this self-published author (well, at least in the US, as somehow he has had his fiction translated into Spanish, Bulgarian, Vietnamese, and maybe a handful of others for whatever reason), that link may provide some insight into why I was dared to read and review this work.

Normally, I would turn over the reading and reviewing of such dreck to my specially-trained Serbian reading squirrels, but after a couple of them started to foam at the mouth and attacking anyone who approached them, I had to bite the bullet and read the book myself.  It was a sort of "gauche waddle" (p. 67) when I grabbed the book and began to read.  Now, with "ironic agony" (p. 138), I begin discussing the book in full.  Thankfully, I managed to avoid having my soul shat upon, but it was a near occasion on a few times.  A few more of my Serbian squirrels suffered to protect me and I'll have to make it up to them and their mistress, who had to read an earlier edition of this work after I bought it in a used bookstore last year and mailed it to her.  Her comments were along the lines that Stanek "makes Goodkind look like a literary genius" and that "the squirrels don't deserve to have their dreys lined with this."  But is Keeper Martin's Tale really that bad?

Well, let me begin with a few quotes.  One cannot come to appreciate the "genius" of Stanek's prose until they read it in its native, amateurish environment after all.  Too often people just call this dreck "shit" without ever really supplying the evidence of why it is perhaps the spiritual successor to Eye of Argon, minus most of that awful work's redeeming qualities.  Now for the "greatest hits":

"Seen me?"

"In a dream...Smell the wind."

"Smell, the wind?"

"Child, smell it.  It comes, can you not tell?"

"It?" (p. 13)

Beyond the Barrens was the untiring Rift Range - ice-capped mountains of jagged black rock that climbed perilously into the heavens. (p. 14)
Since when did an inanimate mountain range ever become "tired" in the first place?  And how does such a thing "climbed perilously"?


The robed figure lowered his hood to reveal childlike features riddled with lines that spoke of ages past and of hardship. (p. 16)
I guess "childlike" really means "riddled with lines that spoke of ages past and of hardship."  My understanding of the word has now been changed due to Stanek's masterful prose.


Galan answered not with words, but with feelings, playfulness. (p. 41)

I wish I could answer not with words, but with feelings. 


So while gasps audible and inaudible - those of the mind - passed around the chamber again, Queen Mother fixed her open gaze upon him again. (pp. 47-48)
Is this a gasp, audible and inaudible alike, before me, the gasping before my hand?  Come, let me clutch it.  I have thee not yet I see thee still.  Or art thou a gasping of the mind?  Shakespeare obviously had nothing on Stanek, I see.


There is a look about him, as if he has just returned from a very long journey - a look of fatigue in the eyes, an unkempt beard.  It is unlike Keeper Martin to have an unkempt beard. (p. 66)
The gracefulness of this passage surpasses my understanding.  I think I had a gasp of the mind as I read it.


She chuckled a bit at her father's dowdy appearance in his night robe and slippers, and at the gauche waddle due to the slickness of the smooth floor. (p. 67)
There's a gauche and non-gauche waddle?  I did not know that.


But his search was in vain because he truly was alone.  There was no one else with him. (p. 86)
I remember attending a minor league hockey game when I was in college at UT.  The PA guy announced at the end of the game:  "Public skating will be open to the public at..."  Umm, yeah.  I guess some reiterations are just pointless, no?


Go on, Adrina's eyes said. (p. 97)

Thog could use this for his Masterclass, I believe.


Adrina rode quietly, content for a time simply to watch the scenery they passed, scattered trees, farmers and work animals in fields, and the occasional traveler. (p. 115)


Yet with a cry of ironic agony, their charge ended. (p. 138)

I feel their ironic agony, I really do.


"Are you always so stubborn?  Use that which you have.  You must always use the tools that you have been provided.  Do not be afraid to use your natural talents." (p. 151)

This guide is certainly no Yoda.  The italics use is rather amusing, no?


And I cannot forego quoting this epic passage:

The horse beneath her, confused by the mixture of opposing signs given it, reared upward.  To regain a tight grip on the reins, Adrina twisted the leathers in her hands.  This again sent misleading signals to the confounded and uneasy animal beneath her.  It reared again.

A second pull on the reins caused the mare to shift sideways as it landed.  The steed stumbled, and then faltered as it lost its balance on the uneven roadside.  Adrina's tumultuous, wanton [!] eyes spun around as horse and rider tumbled.

No longer a participant, Adrina became an observer.  The torchlight seemed to dance around in circles before her as she felt herself falling to the ground.  Her head was still spinning and her thoughts yet dazed as she landed with a splash into the murky waters and mud of the mire.

In a blur of frenzied thought, she felt herself sinking downward.  A split second passed and she relived the fall into the water, eyes wide, cheeks puffed gasping at air, hands flailing, the light of the torch spinning wildly before her and then dying the instant it hit the dark waters with a sizzle.

A scramble to free feet from stirrups ended as she felt the movement of her body come to a sudden stop.  Had she hit bottom?  Was this it?

She held all the time in the world in the palm of her hands and she released a sigh of thankfulness, cut short by the horse landing on top of her with a horrific crunch.  Adrina's pain was sudden, excruciating, and vividly real as her world careened to darkness. (pp. 189-190)
All this for a horse rearing and its rider falling off and being knocked unconscious.  Epic, in all the pejorative, modern senses of the word.  And to think this leaves out discussing the misuse of "wanton" in there, unless this noble lady is also a whore?

I could probably quote dozens more similar passages, full of wretched imagery, awkward sentence constructions, and repetitive descriptions.  But it should be noted that these mistakes, common as they are, ironically made this story more readable.  Yes, I'm channeling my Inner Stanek by putting that in italics.  Deal with it, lest I take a shit directly into your soul, or send one of my trained squirrels to do so.

Stanek's actual story is just a bunch of recycled D&D races and character traits.  It is rather amusing to see an Irish priest, bearing a Celtic Cross on a staff, being depicted in a setting where apparently there is a sort of quasi-Manichean religious duality overlaying a pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses.  I suppose I should note with some chagrin, being a mostly-observant Catholic, that this faux Catholic priest does look a bit creepy, sad to say.

Sadly, with all of these quotes and quips, I have managed to avoid talking about the plot.  The problem is that the "plot" is more "send some people out on a travel quest to find out about their special snowflake powers while being tempted by nefarious powers."  Stanek does little more than just describe, or I suppose "tell" in the parlance of these "show and not tell" shows, what his characters experience and do.  Combine that with the ridiculously poor prose and the story almost begs to be read as a parody of pedestrian, unoriginal epic fantasy knock-offs than as just merely a crappy story.

Perhaps that is the po-mo brilliance of Stanek.  By cynically manipulating the social media (knowing perhaps all along that his ham-fisted attempts at self-promotion would backfire), he has created a reading dissonance that allows the most cynical and distrusting readers to get a sort of schadenfreude joy out of beholding almost pure, unadulterated crap.  If this is actually the case and that Stanek is not actually serious about believing that this story is worth reading as a straight-up text, then perhaps Stanek did succeed brilliantly in creating a work that perhaps could serve as an early 21st century spiritual successor to Jim Theis' Eye of Argon.  However, it is much more likely that he is just self-delusional about his talents as a writer and that this work is just shit on a level that makes elephant turds shrink to a scale of that of squirrel turds.  Perhaps that is the most apt analogy for the author:  Stanek is just nuttier than a squirrel's turd and that unless people are willing to invent creative "interpretations" of the text in order to amuse themselves, then there is the real risk that you might feel as though you had a good, thorough soul shitting occur.


Bill said...

Ha ha. That was brilliant. Those quotes were actually painful to read, but I suppose that was the intent.

I may catch some flak for this, but I was reminded of Goodkind, in the wandering, distorted, pointless prose and mismatched metaphors.

Tibor Moricz said...

You lied to the kidnapper squirrel in the interview. You kick up some asses occasionally...hahaha!

Simeon said...

Haha, nice one, Larry! But I didn't see the stone face ;_;

Anonymous said...

"Deal with it, lest I take a shit directly into your soul, or send one of my trained squirrels to do so."

Yeah, I laughed and kind of blew it off. Now, I'm sitting here and eating my lunch while a squirrel has crossed the courtyard and approached my office window. Up on the sill, he's knocking. I apologize dude, ok? Call off the squirrel.

Anonymous said...

I can honestly say I haven't laughed that hard reading a book review in ... well, ever. The quotes are priceless.

Larry Nolen said...


Goodkind at least can write competent sentences at least once in a while. That's the major difference between the two, well that and Stanek apparently isn't an Objectivist.


Who's to say that a squirrel didn't dictate what was written here? ;)


Could it have been edited out, since this copy has a 2008 copyright? I looked for it, but seemed to have overlooked it.


The squirrels' tails reach far and wide. Remember that!


Glad you enjoyed the quotes. They certainly carry a bit of the umm...stench...of Stanek a bit more than a mere paraphrasing would do, no?

James said...

I am going to have to break out the notepad when I read this book, something I never do. Definitely have to get this book now.

By the way, the art was done by Stanek, I believe. Did it add to the story? Was it terrible? Any unintentional humor from it?

Larry Nolen said...

It was, of course, horrible, with some oddly drawn shoulders and shoulderplate armor, among other things. The rest were just dull derivative drawings. The priest drawing in the glossary was creepy, as if the character were looking for young boys to molest :(

Gabriele Campbell said...

Goodkind at least can write competent sentences at least once in a while. That's the major difference between the two, well that and Stanek apparently isn't an Objectivist.

And Goodkind has real fans, scary as that thought may be; he doesn't need to write Amazon reviews under assumed identities.

The only positive thing about Stanek is that he makes me feel good about my own writing. ;)

Adriana Rodrigues said...


Seriously, Adrina?

My name is Adriana. Close enough to make me feel dirty, right now. Poor soul of mine. :/

Larry Nolen said...

Yeah, I suppose that would be a bit too close for comfort in the name department. Luckily for you, "Adrina" sounds like a bad spelling of "adrenal" and now I can think of glands on top of kidneys :P

RedEyedGhost said...

I have a feeling that Paht and Lari will be the villains in Stanek's next masterpiece. :D

Larry Nolen said...

Wouldn't be the first time something that I said ended up in an author's next book :P

Eileen said...

Maybe this will make you feel better. It's a Sith squirrel.

Elena said...

1. excellent deployment of schadenfreude.

2. it is a rare pleasure indeed to find crap that is irredeemable in any through arguments of the relativity of taste. that tells me he tried to create that kind of masterpiece. there's no way this is unintentional.

Larry Nolen said...

I think the real question is whether or not a squirrel helped Stanek in composing this "masterpiece" and if that squirrel might be a Sith.

Anonymous said...

He probably just ran it through Babelfish.

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