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The Kraken of Cape Madre by J.P. Barnett–Review by Willow Croft

(Definite spoilers ahead.)

I love, and miss, the ocean terribly out here in the desert. So a book set by the ocean held great appeal, despite the pangs it brought by way of a geographic homesickness. And then to discover that the book revolved around the theme of cryptozoology? With a kraken at the deep heart of the story? (I love octopi. Octopuses, I’m told it’s spelled now.) Naturally, I was keen to begin reading The Kraken of Cape Madre as soon as possible.

The more I read on, the more I wanted to love the book. Two women main characters? Two strong, intelligent young women characters? Best friends, who actually interact and talk to each other, about something other than boys? Awesome!

Still in all, I struggled to get through the book. As a writer, it’s hard for me to write reviews, sometimes, because I know all the behind-the-scenes work, sweat, and tears that go into a book. And what’s going to happen when it’s my turn to face reviews?

But as a freelance editor? I think of my past editorial work as helping the author. I wanted to help the author and the amazing ideas and premise behind their books to really shine. I would be so invested in the editorial process because of that. Like, what if it was my book, and it suffered because it hadn’t been properly edited? (I’m talking about developmental editing, not just line- or copy editing.) Which is why I drained my bank account to pay for an editor to critique my own manuscript.

So it breaks my heart to read a book that needed more editing. All signs were a go for me to love J.P. Barnett’s book, but it was very disjointed to read. I kept having to go back and re-read parts because I would get lost in what was going on in the action and the events of the story. It was like I was a ping-pong.

There’s Detective Tommy, who’s investigating the deaths and injuries caused by the kraken, and what I read as a potential new love interest with the nurse Krissy, but then he and Stacy, his deceased friend’s wife, have an attraction/take the first steps to a relationship, in other parts of the book? It confused the heck out of me.

Then there’s Miriam and Macy’s friendship, which, when I read it, seemed to hint at a relationship that could develop into something more than friendship, but which never went anywhere. I thought that would have been an interesting twist to one of the book’s subplots. But, then, the author tells/shows us that Macy and Tanner might have an attraction to each other. (Tanner being Miriam’s cousin-that’s-more-like-her-brother). But nothing happens on that front, either. It may seem hypocritical to go from “two women characters interacting in the story with limited focus on love and happily ever after with a man” to wanting some of those romantic ends wrapped up more clearly by the end of the book. And that’s why I was hoping for the Miriam-Macy twist. It could also rescue the “bikini bathing suit” bits from the brink–it could be Macy who would like to see her friend in a bikini, rather than stressing that they are putting on sexy suits “for the boys,” though with the twist, that can also make an interesting overlay.

I liked how Miriam and the other women in the story were not emotionally susceptible to the lure of the kraken; only the men were. But stating it as because women’s “brain chemistry” was different and couldn’t provide the right host environment for the parasites? Hmm. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t comment on whether that’s even actually scientifically feasible, but it comes across as pretty darn sexist.

And then I was even more confused by Miriam’s self-professed “love of cryptozoology.” Which I read as a love of monsters and creatures. Yes, as she says, her father turned her into “monster-hunting robot” but the author also tells us, through Miriam’s inner thoughts, that she’s trying to evolve past that. But at the end, she gets all kick-butt, and kills the kraken with zero remorse. I love that she’s the strong woman who saves the day, but I couldn’t also help thinking, “But she just murdered one of the creatures that she loves studying.” Because of this, it made me feel that Miriam’s evolution hadn’t progressed at all throughout the book. And I felt so sorry for the poor kraken. I went from relating to Miriam in the beginning, because of certain parallels between her life and mine, to feeling a little let down by her and her actions, towards the end of the book. Maybe it’s a complicated plot line to develop, but that’s where, perhaps, a bit of extra editorial attention would have come in.

Because of the confusing story/plotlines and the potentially paradoxical character development throughout, I found myself on the side of the (male) “bad guy” at the end of the book, who becomes the baby krakens’ new mommy.

At which point, I went “Awwww,” so it seems the kraken has affected me, at least. Which made me glad for the happy ending, of sorts. It’s like the poignant end of Charlotte’s Web, cryptozoology style.

Having written my critique, above, I would like to check out more from J.P. Bartlett–The Beast of Rose Valley and The Witch of Gray’s Point–because of how he handles the depiction of women characters. (Oh, and The Witch of Gray’s Point is set in the desert–talk about fear that’s really close to home!) And that’s a huge draw for monster-loving, feminist readers like me! (Plus, they are both in paperback, as well!

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