Mandan News

A novel review: South Heart

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Steve Schwab’s novel, South Heart, is a fantasy work set in Western North Dakota. Working on an apocalyptic theme, the story portrays the classic battle between good and evil, while allowing for the heroes to still be humans with faults.

The Story (four out of five)
The work centers around Tom Warren and Jean Wright, a couple from New York. Not fully understanding why, Tom decides he needs to leave the big city, and finds himself eventually settling in the small North Dakota town of South Heart.

With that move, a set of strange occurrences begin, that first go unnoticed by Tom. Eventually, Jean takes the move to South Heart as well, and shortly thereafter, what once could be ignored, becomes to drastic to turn a blind-eye to. The two, with a host of local individuals, including the authoritative cowboy, John Rose, find themselves in the grasps of a cosmic war.

The story itself is engaging. Schwab’s writing allows for a good pace to the story, it’s not rushed nor is it so slow that it becomes a tedious read. Living in North Dakota, and knowing the area well, the location adds another connection that is welcomed.

Part of the flow of the work comes from the wonderful foreshadowing that Schwab uses throughout the work. While it is subtle, it brings the book together quite nicely. It makes certain events click much better.

Looking at the main characters, Tom and Jean, their relationship and personalities are believable and easy to relate to. They are dynamic characters who evolve with the events that they experience. Schwab also gives the reader an inside look into this evolution, as he places us into the characters mind, by allowing a glimpse of their thoughts.

Schwab also does a great job at choosing names for both characters and fictional businesses. As the work continues along, the meaning in certain names are revealed, which gives a different insight into story.

Together with the foreshadowing, and pace of the book, one slowly gets pieces to a larger puzzle, which helps the reader to become engrossed in the work.

With all the strengths of the story though, it is not perfect. The major drawback is the dialogue between characters. While at times, it is convincing, in other places, it becomes unbelievable. In some instances, it is understandable, as Schwab is trying to give background information through the dialogue. However, in most instances, such was not needed.

In other cases, the dialogue just seemed stiff, as if it were bad acting. What the characters are saying does not seem to be realistic, and thus makes it unbelievable in certain cases. At other times though, Schwab was able to create great conversations between the characters which drives the story forward.

The other pitfall that Schwab seems to fall into is word choice. This is largely matter of preference, but it also goes hand in hand with the drawback of the dialogue. Part of the reason why certain sections of the dialogue seems unbelievable is because the characters are saying things that does not appear to fit the character very well.

Quite possibly the biggest upset though is the anti-climatic nature of the final fight scene. Schwab was able to create a wonderful war scene; yet, when finishing it, it fell a little flat. Having been able to portray a seemingly realistic sort of battle, that all was brushed away with a final fight that proper intrigue. Instead of a major struggle, it ended abruptly.

The overall strength of the work though does make the drawbacks appear minimal.

The editing (2.5 out of 5)
Where Schwab’s book really struggles is in the editing process. Part of this was because Schwab went the self-publishing route. While it was a good choice, and the work looks professional, there was no editor to catch some of the editing issues.

The majority of these issues are easily overlooked, and do not hamper the reading of the story. There are instances in which quotation marks are left off, or where the wrong tense of a word is used. Other times, it appears that words that were dropped off. As the book progresses, these problems seem to crop up more.

There are also areas in which the work is not consistent. In particular, the manner in which Schwab addresses some characters change, which can lead to confusion. One of the most persistent examples of this is how John Rose is addressed. In places, Schwab uses his first name, other times it is his last name, and then other times, it is his full name.

An editor would also would have been able to possibly smooth out some of the awkward dialogue, as well as cases in which the work seemed abrupt. As it stands though, the editing problems are not so great that they take significantly away from the actual work. It is clear that Schwab has a talent for storytelling.

Overall (4 out of 5)
Even though there are problems with the work, most significantly with the editing, the story is worth reading. The strong nature of the story overcomes the majority of its shortcomings.

The ending does suggest that there will be a sequel coming along; however, the work also is complete on its own. While a sequel would be appreciated, and would undoubtedly add to the story as a whole, leaving the story as is is not disappointing.

This is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in fantasy or apocalyptic work.