Maiden - by Ward Nerdlo and T.C.Parker
Updated: Jan 7
In the Author's notes of Maiden, Ward Nerdlo (an anagram of the author’s name) explains the genesis of Maiden – how it was a decade in the making. From the sounds of it, he had worked and reworked the novel, but the tone of the piece was lacking. He then explains that he read Saltblood, T.C. Parker’s novel (a review of which you can find HERE), and knew what was missing – and the hint of exactly what that was is alluded to by emphasizing T.C.’s unparalleled character work and Lore. I’ve said myself that T.C.’s character work is exemplary, her slow build of relationships, her understanding of unspoken body language, and her wonderfully eloquent prose all factor in to show what Ward was searching for. He had the core of his story, he needed the world and characters fleshing out.
Now, the styles of the two authors are, to me, at odds (but which worked). Where T.C. is descriptive and eloquent, Ward uses short sharp sentences structures to convey pressure. Ward’s vocabulary tends (here) toward vulgar - his writing is intended to shock. His main villain character is loathsome. His motivations are non-existent. It is as if he has given T.C. the task of building characters and a world, in which he can let horrific things happen, to show exactly how low a particular human can go. Almost like allowing a gem to shine before smashing that gem to smithereens and then shitting on the rubble, because, honestly, why not?
And it works - to an extent. The characters are there to fulfill specific roles. Nash - the no-holds-barred depraved villain of the piece (with boating experience) is set up, right from the beginning, as a character to hate. The authors show him in all his depravity (as if Ward has decided that sexual atrocities are the worst thing a person could do, so let’s have lots of that), a clear-cut bad guy. Against this, we have Charlie, a bad-ass lesbian final girl type character (with no boating experience), well structured, hard, a great counterpoint to Nash, and an obvious character to root for.
We have the other unlikely characters of the boat – Sam and Jordan. Sam is a broken man (with no boating experience), who is depressed and cannon fodder. This guy is introduced and you know it is going to end badly for him. Jordan is a gay young guy (with no boating experience). He’s a character that is just starting to find out his sexuality, so obviously, enrolling on a boat (a typically man’s-man hard hetero-man type of job) is not going to end well. The captain is called God, and the only reason I can think of for that was for a few one-liners like “god is dead” and “God surveys his crew and sees that they are good.” Which was pretty funny to atheist Austrians like me.
The unlikeliness of the crew is really not over-seeable. I love Ward and T.C.’s character work on all of the crew in the initial setup – but the realms of plausibility are strained. To work on a crabbing boat (7 people) you need a crew of people who know exactly what they are doing, or people die. It’s that simple. You need to know that the people that are on board are going to be able to save your life when it all turns to shit. This is not that crew. Not even slightly, and there are two people missing – Crab boats typically man 7-person crews.
Regardless, you want it to work. You want the story to unfold, so honestly, the writing is engaging enough that we want to continue.
A scene right from the get-go sets up Nash as a rapist. So – there are triggers here. It’s well written, the Charlie POV worked and I felt happy that she got out of there and Nash suitably wounded. The writing was tight, I felt the tension rising.
The set-up of the find of the mermaid works. I liked it, I liked the description, I like the situation, I liked the conflict of interest it made for Nash and God, it made the killing of God believable, it made the downward spiral of relationship conflict believable.
Then Ward (I assume, it has to be said) decided to layer on more depravity for Nash.
By this time, we know the character. We already don’t like him, this was, for me, overextending the point. The rape of Jordan seemed pointless. Nash then rapes the mermaid (if he thinks of it as a sexual assault, it is, by definition, a sexual assault, regardless of the correctness in ascertaining her reproductive organs) and tortures her by destroying her hands. Again, we already know he’s a dick. It’s preaching to the choir.
Lots of stuff happens, and the situation escalates with ever-increasingly dangerous problems attacking the ship. The final bad guy monster is of historic god-like proportions, but by that time this reader had already given up their attempt at caring, because the only character I felt an affinity for was killed in a one-line shock, and that, ironically, probably just for its shock value. We are left with a character we felt sorry for, but honestly, did nothing of value apart from surviving and having our sympathy.
Ward’s style of shocking the reader does work. In restraint. Here, I think he went overboard in an attempt to make the character even more loathsome every time we visited him. It seems ironic that that disbelief in the reader (from the Author) is the cause of my disbelief in the novel. Trust us a little bit more, next time, Ward. We were on board. You had us, but you lost us by thinking you had to go to even greater and greater extremes. I would have been massively happy to have seen the play of tension between the existing characters onboard a solitary ship, without adding all of the external factors and the threats they then included. The two Author’s character work was on the page but was ultimately forgotten by the ever-increasing events and depravity layered onto Nash.
I still have no idea why the ship had a personality, was able to manipulate objects only when it wanted to and not in other situations, and why it didn’t just stop its own engines when God was pulled under if it cared for him so much. If it can decide to stop Nash steering when it wants, it could also swerve at the right moment to induce a fall, or say, send someone overboard when they neared the edge, and the fact it roars off into the sunset by turning on its own engines illustrates my point above with the death of God.
Look. The premise of this was great, the execution improved 100% by getting T.C. to shore up the characters (I assume), but the storyline, which I get the feeling, as defined by Ward, wasn’t going to be saved by either of them by the end. I’m giving this a 3 ⭐out of 5 for effort, I’d say the start and the middle of the book were worth the cover price, nice tension building, but the complete package wasn’t for me.
You can buy Maiden by clicking on the Amazon store appropriate to you.