There is an art to writing fiction. The characters need to be likable, accessible, hopefully relatable. The plot needs to flow, and avoid the pitfalls and traps of running your character into dead ends, jumping around, and so on. Sometimes, all that happens, and you still get a book that is impossibly hard to review.
Down to Oath is that book.
While my personal satisfaction was low, the reality is that there is little objectively wrong with the book itself.
The characters are well drawn. They are believable, exactly trope-ish enough to be familiar, while retaining a uniqueness that is appreciated. The towns are decent enough – the titular Oath is the best-developed and most satisfying to me, with shades of the nameless village of The Lottery, and even shades of The Village from The Prisoner. Not so much in the surreal weirdness, but in the characterizations of the residents. I liked what I saw happening, as it fit nicely into a lot of my preferred boxes and concepts.
Then the book continues.
So this is where this stops being a product satisfaction review, and becomes a book review.
As Down To Oath progresses, the characters are developed into less monotone versions of themselves, and this growth is not without conflict. The conflict is well composed, and the evolution of the characters is both well written and well paced – there is very little downtime, and what is there is needed to continue development, but without the pressure of the plot elements. The climax hits in the right place, with the needed tension, and a predictable, if not unwelcome, ending. A sequel is set up, but not made a requirement, which is nice. Far too many books these days are written to require a sequel, and that gets tiresome after a time.
And this is all well and good, but there is one ‘review’ problem, and one ‘satisfaction’ problem. The review problem is that so much of the book has the flavor of a spoiler that writing about it in any but the most vague language feels like I am giving something away. The other town names, not so much, but the other characters, the ones beyond Oath? Yes, that seems to be a spoiler. The reason for it all…spoiler. The resolution…obviously a spoiler, but even hinting at it is giving things away. And that is just frustrating.
The satisfaction issue is that when we find out the why of it all, it is the least-good version of the why. Tyrolin Puxty does nod to other reasons – all of which I would have preferred – but sticks to her guns, and delivers. I am not down with that reasoning, however. I feel that it limits the plot, limits the characters, and limits the book itself. All needlessly.
So, my final thoughts here would be that Down to Oath is a well-written, well thought out book, and while aspects were not to taste, this will be quite satisfying ro other readers.