August 9, 2013

Sentinel by Joshua Winning: Review & Interview

Sentinel (Sentinel Trilogy, #1)
Publication Date: May 1st 2012
Genre: Young adult Fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: given to me by the author for review
Who are the Sentinels? They’re everywhere, but you’ve never seen them. The Sentinels are the world’s best-kept secret, but that secret’s about to come out… Are you ready for it?

A dark fantasy set in Cambridge, Sentinel is the first instalment in the thrilling Sentinel Trilogy, which takes place in a world that everybody knows, but few would recognise. Who are the Sentinels? Who is the mysterious godmother? And why is fifteen-year-old Nicholas Hallow able to sense things that others can’t? Filled with action and mystery, Sentinel takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure with unconventional heroes and a little bit of magic.
Review: I always suck at starting reviews so let me just say that this book is definitely worth a read if you love fantasy. As far as fantasy books go, this one is a must-read. Set in Cambridge, Nicholas Hallow has to deal with his parents death while also learning about his real family history.The plot of Sentinel was interesting. Readers are kept in the dark in the dark for most of the book and learn as the main character learns but having glimpsed into various points of view, readers learn a little too much. It is both interesting and a bit annoying to know all this stuff and have Nicholas completely oblivious. I really liked the idea of the Sentinels but there is still a big mystery cloud hanging over them. I am glad the author wrote that the sequel to Sentinel will explain the Sentinels more because I am so curious! Let's talk about the main characters. Nicholas was an OK character. I found him to be a little vain and selfish but it is kind of understandable because he went through a traumatic loss and he didn't know anything about the Sentinels so his actions are justified, but still annoying. Another interesting element in this book is the lack of romance. Romance in YA books has been bothering me lately because it's full of cliche and eye-rolling moments so I was excited to see that there was no romance in the Sentinel trilogy.Other than minor annoyances at Nicholas, this book was full of descriptive language and interesting settings. I really enjoyed this book and I can't wait for the sequel.

Author Interview
  Why should readers pick up your book?
They can pick it, throw it around, dance with it, deep fry it, use it as a coaster – anything they like, as long as they enjoy reading it! Somebody described it as Harry Potter meets Indiana Jones, which I'm perfectly happy with. For me, the best kind of fantasy is fantasy that's grounded in real emotion, and that's what Sentinel has in spades. It's a contemporary story about a teenager, Nicholas, who thinks he knows it all, but in fact knows nothing. He goes on something of a savage learning curve, faced with monsters, sinister villains and a wheelbarrow-load of mysteries.

I'd like to think that Sentinel also has strong crossover appeal. It doesn't matter if you've never read a fantasy novel in your life, or if you don't fit in the 'young adult' bracket. A lot of people who have found and read Sentinel are people you wouldn't expect – and their feedback has been fantastic. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I say, don't judge a book by its genre. A great story is a great story.

How did you come up with the idea for Sentinel?
It was a series of images to begin with. Because I've worked as a film journalist for six years (and watched a heck of a lot of films before that), stories tend to jump into my head as images first. Then it's my job to tie them together with some sort of logic. With Sentinel, it was the image of a young woman and an old lady summoning spirits in a poky room in a mansion. That turned into the book's prologue.

On a more intimate note, Nicholas's grief was inspired by events from my own life. Hopefully that comes across. It's funny; when I read Sentinel back for the first time, I realised that pretty much every single character in the book is broken in some way. They have issues, they have traumas – and they'll need to get over them to fight. Broken characters are far more interesting to write – and far more realistic. We've all got at least one screw loose, right?

Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?
Some of the names in the book are borrowed from friends or family members, but the characters are nothing like them, so that's OK. I don't think there's a character directly inspired by anybody I know in real life (perhaps a few of the villains!), but I'm sure there are a few monstrous amalgamations. I have to be careful with that!

What can readers expect in the next installment of the Sentinel Trilogy?
Book two is called Ruins and will take things to the next level. We've dipped a toe into the world of the Sentinels, but what now? How do they actually work? Why were they even created? There are quite a few questions left unanswered by the first book, and a few of those questions will be put to rest in Ruins – to a degree.

Right now I'm about a third of the way through writing, so hopefully it'll be released early summer next year. It's an interesting challenge, attempting to carry through the momentum of the first book. There are also a number of new characters, which makes the juggling act all the harder. But the new characters are pretty exciting; I'm having fun getting to know them. There's one who's deliciously evil. Nicholas better watch his back...

Was the writing experience difficult for you and do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
It took me 16 years to write Sentinel so I'd say it was pretty tough! I wrote the first seven or eight chapters, then the story rested for a few years. Then I wrote up to chapter twelve, and finally in early 2012 I decided to get it finished. It was mostly down to time constraints that it took so long – those were really formative years for me. I went to university, I was looking for a job.

I'm sure a lot of people have the same problem. My main piece of advice is always: never give up. People may not like your writing. YOU may not like your writing. But if you can't think about anything else, plug your heart into your laptop and see what you can do. Writing is always going to be difficult, but the rewards at the end of the day are immeasurable.

Do you have a favourite author? (and name him/her please)
Growing up, I devoured the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. I was also a Point Horror fiend – the scarier the better. I had a weird obsession with the Babysitter series by R.L Stine. And Teacher's Pet – that one was terrifying, especially as it raised the stakes above tamer Point Horror fare (don't go near The Claw, it's dreadful). It's been a while since I last picked one up, though, so I'm not sure how scared I'd be now. The same goes for Christopher Pike. I just noticed he's released a new book, so I'm adding that to my reading list.

My other favourite author is Robin Jarvis. He's a massive inspiration in terms of his use of language and his intricate plotting. I wish I could be half as good as him. Maybe one day!

Do you have any writing mentors?
Not really. I took a screenwriting module while I was studying film at university in Cambridge and my lecturer was fantastic. She taught us how to boil a story down to its simplest components to eradicate any waffle. I've not spoken to her since graduating, but I often think back to her advice when I'm in a writing rut.

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