I had to set upon Darren Shan’s 2005 paperback Lord Loss, if not for anything else than the broken-English “Grisly Glow In The Dark” cover sticker which boasted like the awesomeness of such a thing completely overrides the quality of the book itself, as if sitting looking at it in the dark is a better way of enjoying it than reading the bloody thing.
The central thrust of Crap Looking Books is to judge these books by their covers, and Lord Loss seems to be screaming at me to do just that, and ignore the written words on the 264 pages within. Not bloody likely.
As a book for children or young adults, over-the-top cover art is expected, but Harper Collins really went to town here. The slavering mindless wolf in the main picture gushes blood from his mouth that washes into the background colour of the jacket as if the wolf itself has dove out of a pool of blood into the reader’s face. I’m more concerned with the fact the wolf appears to be randomly vomiting chess pieces. Chess pieces that the blurb leaves completely unexplained.
If the hook-line on the back was “Bobby thought it would be an ordinary chess tournament, but the full moon had other plans…” then at least the cover would make a little sense… but unfortunately we get “When Grubbs Grady first encounters Lord Loss and his evil minions, he learns three things:” I don’t want to go into detail about what those three things are, but none of them have anything to do with chess, and none of them are “Don’t put bullet-pointed lists on book covers”.
The basic story is that our hero is orphaned one night because his bloodline has a pact with a chess-playing demon who eats his sister and parents. He is taken in by his sexy but angry uncle, learns a little chess, learns why chess is important to his destiny about seven chapters after the reader understands it, then he beats the big bad demon at chess.
The book reads like Darren Shan really wanted it to be made into an edgy late 90s TV drama ripoff of Doctor Who or Goosebumps, and maybe hoped that the cover would appeal to that demographic. Each chapter (especially the dreadful last one) ends in a pseudo-cliffhanger and it’s hard to not imagine the characters pulling a quirky half-wink freeze frame as an overly pretentious yet light jingle plays and credits roll.
Lord of the Rings is name-dropped a surprising number of times, as if the book is somehow trying to play at its level, so it’s not altogether surprising that it mirrors it in basic narrative. In Middle Earth a ring isn’t destroyed which is bad then it is destroyed which is good, while in Middle England a chess game is lost which is bad and then it is won… which is good.
Unlike in that more popular series of books about a magical child, the character names don’t so much as allude to traits as signpost them in their entirety. Dervish is a bit of a Dervish, Grubbs Grady is a bit Grubby but gets good grades, William “Bill-E” is a bit of a Dick, and the least said about My Dead Mum and My Dead Dad the better. Seriously, I don’t understand why Grubbs Grady is so continually overwhelmed by his adventures, with a name like that he should have expected since birth for his life to be the focus of Young Adult fiction.
Reading this was a little like watching a grossly familiar film on a Sunday morning, attentive to the events as they passed but half asleep and overly unconcerned with how or where the narrative would end, and who would die or end up turned into a zombie,and disappointingly not a werewolf.
See my major problem here is just how little the cover relates to the book. Yes there’s chess, and yes there’s blood, but there’s so little wolves or wolf-like creatures in the book that the cover art comes across as intentionally misleading. That’s exactly the kind of fakers that Crap Looking Books is good at snuffing out, even if I’m always a little disappointed when it does. It really is apparent that somewhere along the line the publishers considered the book a little weak, and smothered it in so much blood and glow in the dark nonsense that they hoped the reader wouldn’t care.
Since writing this review I’ve actually issued a FULL retraction that you can read here.