A while back, when I was making a tour through fantasy fiction aimed at younger readers, I noticed that one of the highest-rated such books on Amazon was Ruin Mist: Keeper Martin’s Tale by Robert Stanek. Accordingly, as a break from my usual fare, I put it on my wish list and I received it for Christmas. I started reading it last week, and man does it stink. Besides the painfully one-dimensional characters and predictable plot, the author actually managed to annoy me in a whole new way. You know that aura of mystery that good fantasy has, as plots and characters are revealed slowly like a literary striptease? This book doesn’t have it. What it has instead is context and detail dropped at random, yielding an experience much like having a decent book read to you over a really bad cel-phone connection. Yech.

The most interesting part of the book, in all seriousness, is the back cover. Here we find testimonials from such luminaries as “Liz S., Reader” and “Reader, Amazon.Com” (twice) – no professional would touch it, apparently. Then we see the unattributed and unsubstantiated claim that “Stanek is perhaps one of the best writers of our time” and, finally, some information about the author’s military (not literary) credentials. Weird. It was so unconvincing that I started wondering what kind of amateurs put it together. Who is Reagent Press anyway? What a surprise it wasn’t to find that their entire list of authors seems to consist of Stanek, Stanek, and Stanek. Reading through the site a little, it’s clear that they devote most of their creativity to self-promotion; no wonder so little was evident in the book itself.

It looks to me like this small-time publisher has been using Amazon to wage an astroturf campaign promoting their own book. Maybe Amazon should check the identities behind some of those glowing reviews.