How Do You Review a Book?

Written by Clive Webster

May 15, 2009 // 10:06 a.m.

Tags: #bioware #books #david-gaider #dragon-age #ea #novel #prequel #rpg #story

It seems that this week is Dragon Age week - Joe's put up his Dragon Age Hands-on Preview and I received my review copy of the game's prequel novel Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne yesterday. I've been pondering how exactly I'm going to review it ever since.

The issue is that our reviews usually follow a fairly tight formula: here's a product, it costs £X, does the performance and features it offers mean it's worth that price? The issue is when you're trying to review a product where your judgements will be largely subjective - making it tricky to definitively say whether it's worth spending time with or not. And a review that's not definitive fails to be a useful review.
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The problem is akin to music reviews, which I gave up reading many years ago. You can describe music (and usually music journalists do a fairly good job of describing the qualities of the sound they're reviewing), but merely describing a sound has never given me much of a sense of whether that sound is any good, whether it's interesting, and whether I, as a reader should buy it.

To do so, the journalist would have to summarise as to whether the album/track/DVD is worth the money being asked, and to do that, the reviewer would have to inflict his or her personal taste upon the reader.

That's not a huge problem though, as long as the reviewer declares his/her tastes to the reader first. If the reader shares the writer's tastes, they can be reasonably sure that if the writer likes the work being reviewed so will they.

Similarly, someone who doesn't share the writer's opinions has been empowered to completely disagree with the conclusion of the review but can still walk away with the feeling that they've gained useful knowledge from reading it.

How Do You Review a Book? How do you review a book?

So, I'm thinking that maybe I should spend a bit of time talking about the authors and kinds of fantasy novel that I like to read when writing up my thoughts on The Stolen Throne. But have I just over-thought the problem, or would that be genuinely useful to you? Answers below please.

PS, the other solution to the problem of a subjective review process is to give a away a free sample (iTunes will let you listen to about 30 seconds of a music track to help you decide whether to buy it, for example). It seems Bioware has had the same thought, so it's made the first chapter of The Stolen Throne a free pdf download.

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