I do not take the word “hated” lightly. Nevertheless, there are books that I hated. Many such books, in fact, so I’ll have to narrow the list down to one. I am an avid science fiction and fantasy geek, and much of exploration of those fields came from simply pulling books off the library shelves because they looked interesting. Consequently I had encounters with books that were simply terrible (Heresy, by Anselm Audley), books that were dull (The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan), books that were misogynist (any of the Gor novels by John Norman), books that disguised moronic political or religious lectures inside a science fiction jacket (Pallas, by L. Neil Smith, any of the Left Behind books), books that were simply disturbing and nasty (A Cavern of Black Ice, by J. V. Jones), books that were merely an excuse to write pornography (Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind), books that were simply shameless copies of other books (The Sword of Shanarra, by Terry Brooks), and books that didn’t even have a coherent plot or characters (Lord of the Isles, by David Drake). The award for the book I hate most, however, goes to a singular novel that manages to have all of these flaws and a great many more. So with that, I now introduce the worst book ever written.
The Fifth Sorceress, by Robert Newcomb, is so bad that it beggars the mind. So bad that you can’t even laugh at it. So bad that it defies description. Nonetheless, since I’ve chosen it as the topic of this post, I guess I’ll have to describe it anyway.
Nominally The Fifth Sorceress is a low-rent, formula fantasy, Tolkien ripoff. It features a magic piece of jewelry that lets gives a person control of the world, a prince whose father is murdered and who fights to reclaim his kingdom, and an elderly wizard mentor. And that’s it, pretty much. Half the book consists of these two characters walking around while the wizard explains history and such to the prince. Newcomb is clearly proud of the back story that he wrote, which may be why it gets more attention than the front story. He somehow fails to notice all the glaring errors and inconsistencies. Effects occur before causes, characters who have never met before know all about each other, and so forth.
Okay, when I said “that’s it”, I lied. There are also four evil sorceresses. In a book where everything is over the top, these ladies stick out for being over the top of all the other things that are over the top. Newcomb has decided that the best way to communicate his views about gender roles is to have all the major female predators be sexually voracious and subject to out-of-control urges, causing them to want to rape everyone and everything they see. They also dress in skintight leather and thigh-high boots and carry riding crops and keep midgets on leashes and… oh, why am I even bothering with this? Let me just quote from the book:
“And then, surprisingly, the acute unfulfilled desires had come. One day, while struggling to understand one of the more arcane passages of the Vagaries, she and the others had all felt the unexpected stirrings of their loins. The hugely sexual, needful longings had been intensified by an insanely irresistible desire to inflict those same sexual needs upon others.
Of both genders.”
Yes, the entire book is written at about that level. And yes, the homophobic implication in the last sentence fragment is typical of Newcomb, who sneaks in some trashing of just about every gender, sexual orientation, and race other than his own.
Oh, and did I mention that the writing is rather bad? Here’s the opening paragraph:
The once-proud galleon was named Resolve, and she listed drunkenly in the nighttime sea, her seams slowly failing while she tried to hold back the brackish ocean that pressed relentlessly against her sides. Her ships’ wheels tied off on both sides and her sails belayed, she rolled awkwardly at the mercy of the elements. The crew had tried to keep the ship’s lanterns lit, but the squalls of rain kept extinguishing them, finally forcing a surrender to large torches both fore and aft. The firelight cast oddly shifting shadows upon her gently rolling hulk, revealing areas of scorched and destroyed deck and railing.
That right there is a lecture on how to not begin a novel. Note the plague of adverbs: drunkenly, slowly, relentlessly, awkwardly, oddly, gently. Note that pointless descriptors–is any ocean not brackish? Note the contradictions. Is the shipping on the verge of sinking in a major storm, or is it only rolling “gently”? Newcomb himself seems to prefer the later interpretation, since the rest of the scene features characters strutting on the deck offering up preposterous lines without any apparent care given to the fact that the ship is sinking. Oh, and we also learn that this galleon had four masts. A galleon by definition has three masts; look it up.
Back when I read this I was an angry college student, so I promptly took my anger out by posting negative reviews on amazon and on various message boards, and even created a bash page at tripod. Nowadays, being a little bit older and wiser, I put more time into promoting good books and less time into attacking bad ones. But if you want to see a really thorough takedown of The Fifth Sorceress, here you go.