Fantasy writer Brian S. Pratt is one of the most popular authors on Smashwords. Yet, while he generally gets good reviews overall, many people have panned his novels for their bad grammar, poor character revelation, and skimpy plots. (I believe that he had cleaned up his spelling atrocities before I discovered him.) I’ve read only the first book in his lengthy Morcyth Saga series, but unless he has improved dramatically, I have to agree with his critics. To make matters worse, his writing style is clumsy, repetitive, and lacks imagination. With all this going against him, you have to ask the obvious question:

The Unsuspecting Mage - Cover

Pratt’s heroes have sound values and genuine courage.

Why does he sell so well?

To answer that question we have to start with another: who reads Pratt’s novels, anyway? I think it is safe to assume that his audience comes mainly from the young. These readers, while enthusiastic, are not sophisticated; they lack the broader reading experience needed to tell the difference between a well-written book and a clunker. However, that’s not the same as saying they are stupid. We humans are born with an instinctive feel for story. No one – sophisticated or unsophisticated – wades through a full-length novel unless they gain some genuine satisfaction from doing so.

What’s more, Pratt’s readers don’t just finish his books, they turn them into best sellers. While a vast network of links on the web can get you started, only continuous word-of-mouth promotion can make you a best seller. This means Pratt’s readers enjoy his books so much they can’t wait to read the next one; it means they eagerly talk about the stories with their friends; it means those friends read the books, like them, and talk about them with their friends. The human feel for story has been satisfied and the good news spreads.

So, what do Pratt’s readers see in his works? Pratt himself has claimed that a bad review comparing his books to the narrative from a lousy dungeons and dragons game helped get him started. There may be some truth in this. In fact, Pratt has gone so far as to write a series of books designed specifically to imitate the role-playing game experience. Such a similarity would make the novels seem familiar; the much-loved game’s magical aura rubs off on the book.

However, there’s another possibility, one which gets repeatedly overlooked. That possibility is values. Whatever you might say about Pratt’s shaky writing skills, bland story lines, and primitive narratives, you can’t argue with the man’s outlook on life. What young people encounter in his work are genuine heroes with the old-fashioned values that have served humankind so well for millennia. There are none of those “reluctant heroes” that have recently become so popular. (A classic case of ostentatious modesty; in truth, we all want to be heroes.) The book’s title is The Unsuspecting Mage, not The Reluctant Mage.

As the novel opens, James, the seventeen-year-old main character is looking for a job – a job mind you – not some nanny-state handout. (More mature folks should remind themselves how much courage it takes to face that very first serious job interview.) The position turns out to be a lure and the lad is whisked away to a land where magic works. Another student is killed during James’s first night there making him well aware that he too could perish. What to do?

He doesn’t collapse into a morass of self-pity. He doesn’t need any “grief counselling” or “trauma counselling.” Realizing he has no way to go home, he sensibly mucks in and makes the best of it. We soon see his willingness to stick his neck out for the sake of others and his reckless physical courage (he is only seventeen). James is simply unable to stand idly by while others are being abused by the bad guys. When he meets up with the guttersnipe, Miko, he takes the homeless boy under his wing and treats him like a younger brother. He behaves responsibly towards his vulnerable companion.

Miko is another embodiment of the better side of human nature. Streetwise and used to living by his wits, he is more aware of life’s dangers than the older James is. Yet, when James plunges unthinkingly into assorted fights and dangerous situations, Miko – while shaking his head over the rashness of it all – stands loyally at his friend’s side. The book wraps up with James and Miko separated in a chaotic city evacuating under threat of conquest. James isn’t thinking about how he can save his own skin; he’s trying to find Miko and some other young people who he knows are in danger.

The obvious fact that characters such as these are appealing to today’s youth says a lot about the constancy of human nature. Layered as they are beneath the relentless leftist orientation of the West’s public school systems, mainstream media, and literary world, young people are instinctively gravitating towards indie writers like Brian S. Pratt to find heroes and role models who embody traditional conservative values.

That is why Brian S. Pratt sells so well.

Brian S. Pratt’s books are available from Smashwords  and online ebook stores. For the latest news on his books and travels visit Brian S. Pratt’s Worlds of Fantasy.

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18 thoughts on “Why Brian S. Pratt Sells So Well

  1. Never read any, Thomas. You raise some intriguing points. I’m a great one for fighting for what’s right, though, as a matter of honour, without trauma counselling, and I’m left wing for sure!

  2. Pratt’s characters embody traditional values such as courage, loyalty, strength, boldness, self-reliance, independence, and so on. As a champion ex-pugilist, I don’t doubt your scrappiness and courage, Lucinda, but you must admit the left’s frequent assertion that “we’re not taking any chances” is definitely not courageous. The “if it saves just one life” routine is also not the philosophy of someone willing to take even reasonable risks.

    The leftist nanny-state cocoon is the opposite of traditional values. It is all about safety, risk aversion, getting something for nothing, dependency, lack of initiative, and weakness. The idea that we vote for the cocoon to benefit others is a convenient smokescreen that hides our real motives. Most people support social benefits because they selfishly hope to get more out than they have to put in, or because they are just plain scared of having to face life without Big Nanny Government to look after them and do everything for them. I know this sounds harsh, but it is, regrettably, true. You have only to look at what is happening in the bankrupt European countries for an illustration of what I’m saying. Even impending national ruin is not enough to stop the violent demands for still more government benefits and spending.

    Conservative values recognize that people are not particularly splendid. These time-tested values call upon people to draw on the better side of their personal character. Western societies with these values have done well in the past. Look at these same societies today under the influence of the left: bankruptcy everywhere, increasing social breakdown, and national disintegration. Those on the left are very willing to exploit human weakness by pandering to people’s neurotic fears and blatant selfishness. They buy votes with promises of safety and more social programs. The quickest way to get control of a society is by making it fearful and dependent. The left allows, even encourages, people to be at their worst.

  3. Lol, sometimes I agree with you about many people having a personal greed for a cushy existence, Thomas, lefty as I am; obviously, I must be cloned, and then the world will be perfect even if filled with dyslexic day dreamers…

  4. I’m wrapping my head around the notion of a world filled with cloned Lucindas. Let me see now, that would mean a world filled with female, irrational, matriarchal, weight lifting, champion pugilists. As a man, I have only one thing to say: YIKES!!!!! (Lol) Actually, I think we could do a lot worse.

  5. I am as left as it can go and still have these values. I think you are right in your assessment that children are looking for heroes and role models. However right or left has nothing to do with it [as] these values are neither innately conservative or liberal; they are simply human.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ryan.

    I agree that many of these values are innately human, but you cannot separate ideological belief systems from basic values in the way that you propose. If human values were universal then there would be no such thing as left and right, liberal and conservative. Each worldview emphasizes a different set of values drawn from the larger pool.

    Conservatives stress independence and self-reliance, for example, qualities that, by default, require courage. They want to be free to live their lives without a lot of unnecessary fussing from the government. They want to make their own decisions. They believe charity should be personal, voluntary, and come from one’s own time and pocket. The sacrifice should be more intimate.

    Leftists stress caring, sharing, inclusivity, and above all – safety. They believe others should be legislated by the government (tax and spend socialism) to give up their money to help others. The sacrifice is involuntary and impersonal. This *forces* conservatives to support social programs to which they object. Leftists believe the Nanny State must control and regulate everything to keep us all safe. None of these leftist values requires courage, quite the contrary, in fact. Many critics of modern Western societies have pointed out the remarkable aversion to risk that now prevails in Europe, Canada, America, etc. People who carefully avoid risk do not value strength, boldness, independence, self-reliance and courage.

    If you do value those things, Ryan, then perhaps you are not the good little leftist you believe yourself to be. You may be a conservative wolf in leftist sheep’s clothing! (Gasp!) Read these other posts and find out:

    https://thomascotterill.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/second-hand-worldview/

    https://thomascotterill.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/sleepwalking-through-reality/

  7. He sells well to adults also. Despite his lack of mechanical talent. He gives the first book away. And it is the best of the lot. And many like myself simply can’t resist finding out what happens next. And next. Especially at such reasonable prices. At even 8 or 10 bucks I wouldn’t have read the rest of the first series but they were dirt cheap and compelling enough to lure me onward.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ricardo. You make a good point that I overlooked in my post. It has always been true that fantasy and science fiction, while mostly written for the young adult market, is widely read by adults. I’m 63 and still enjoy books from both categories. Like you, I’m happy to get some titles free and others at very low prices.

  9. I honestly think this book takes no sides in all things politics. It is a simple book that is a great medium for simple escapism. That is what RPG is all about: escapism. It uses the traditional good vs. evil device found in many fantasy books.

    I actually found many parallels between a couple of lynn flewellings Nightrunner series books and this book. If you didn’t know, her books have gay characters.

    I think the European economic debacle is more dynamic that you make it out to be. The more socialist countries in Europe Switzerland, France, Sweden, finland, Germany, etc. are the most economically and culturally stable countries in the world on their own rights. These countries are incredibly liberal and they enjoy a “nanny government.”

    It’s the countries of Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland that are sinking the European Union. These are by far some of the more conservative countries in the EU but they still are slightly socialist.

    So why do some countries social doctrine work and others don’t?

    It has to do mostly with culture. The economically strapped countries of Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Ireland are very catholic or follow one of the Orthodox Church. I believe it is the value system of Catholicism that makes these countries economically bankrupt. Catholicism likes families, giving to the poor, and they don’t like wealth, these combined makes for a inherently poor country.

    In contrast, Protestants believe that faith in god will lead to prosperity. There is a documentary that details this on PBS, it talks about “the Protestant work ethic.” This is why the aforementioned wealthy countries are wealthy. They became more Protestant over the centuries, but they also became more atheist or humanistic which further enhanced their social doctrine.

    You can be a diehard conservative right-wing republican all you want, just know what you are talking about. The most Economically and culturally stable countries in Europe are not right-wing gun-slinging bible-preaching people-hating countries, they are left-wing people who give a lot of their pay check to the government to better support their nation and the people in the nation so they together as a whole can be better off.

    It is the more conservative, religious countries who are bringing Europe to it’s knees. Likewise in the US. The right wing does not want everyone in the United States to be better off for the sake of the future of the country, they only want themselves and people like themselves to be better off and get rid of those who do not meet their standards.

    They want an elitist United States where only the few benefit and the whole suffer.

  10. Thanks for taking an interest in the discussion, Alan. To keep things clear I am going to break my response into parts. In my first reply, I will deal with the areas where we have some agreement.

    You are correct when you say Brian S. Pratt takes no political sides in *The Unsuspecting Mage*. The book is what you say it is, “a simple book that is a great medium for simple escapism.” My post is an essay of literary criticism and such things need to say something worthy of consideration. I chose to discuss the book’s values and pointed out that they were the simple traditional values of the human race at large. I then added my belief that, since leftism and socialism are very recent historical developments, these old values are necessarily conservative values. I also suggested some young people found them a refreshing change from the leftist worldview so heavily promoted in Western schools. You will note my personal assumption that leftist values are not compatible with those of conservatives, even at this basic level.

    A couple of commenters (my friend, Lucinda Elliot and Ryan) have made the case that the values in Pratt’s book are still universal. Their belief that the rise of the left has changed nothing sparked the beginning of disagreement. I believe we all still carry these older values within us, but they are sometimes buried beneath what I see as the wildly conflicting values of the modern socialist state. This is where politics entered the debate.

    Brian S. Pratt has nothing to do with this, so let us leave him out of it!

    I am not familiar with Lynn Flewelling’s work, but if you enjoy books with gay characters, you might be interested in my review of C. S. McClellan’s *Hidden Boundaries*. The book is not a fantasy, however, more of an alternate reality SF novel that takes a serious look at slavery and sheds light on gay relationships in difficult situations.

  11. Alan, in this second reply, I want to mention your rude and ill-considered characterization of conservatives as “… right-wing gun-slinging bible-preaching people-hating …” Personally, I think your own attitude reveals hatred. You are not the first leftist I have encountered who believes he has a lock on some kind of moral superiority. A striking characteristic of many on the left (especially among the young) is their unwillingness to tolerate and respect opposing points of view. Vigorously arguing your view of life’s many difficult issues is fine, but vicious personal attacks are not acceptable.

    I should point out that I am not religious. Nor am I a “diehard conservative right-wing republican” who knows nothing of socialism. I am a thoughtful Canadian conservative. My family comes from England. I have lived my entire life in socialist countries and experienced first-hand the economic and social ruin inflicted by leftist ideology.

  12. Okay, Alan, now let’s have a look at some of your views on the European economic crisis.

    Your belief that all Europeans are “left-wing people who give a lot of their pay check to the government to better support their nation and the people in the nation so they together as a whole can be better off” is naïve to say the least. The rate of income-tax evasion in Europe is legendary. Consider the size of the unofficial (underground) economies in many European countries: twenty-five percent of GDP in Greece, twenty-two percent in Italy and Spain, sixteen percent in Germany, fifteen percent in France, about twelve percent in the United Kingdom. Compare these rates with the US rate of roughly eight percent.

    People are more willing to pay taxes in countries where taxation rates are reasonable. Turning tens of millions of people into tax crooks is just one of the many negative aspects of socialism.

    Your claim that southern Europe is only “slightly socialist” is absurd. All member states must abide by the levels of socialism decided by the European parliament in Brussels. Social programs are much the same everywhere, although some nations, notably those in the south, have opted to go even further. Before the collapse, social benefits were so luxurious in southern European nations that these states were sarcastically described as “Club Med” (after the chain of luxury holiday resorts). For example, before the crisis, many people in Greece retired at age 53. Until recently, all Italians had a job for life and their employers were unable to fire surplus workers even if the company’s survival was threatened. Government could not reduce the size of the bureaucracy when they needed to balance the budget. Unions in southern European countries have escalated wages and benefits to unsustainable levels in the full knowledge that this makes their nations uncompetitive. It is worth noting that, in the late 1990s, German unions voluntarily took pay cuts so that the country could keep exporting.

    The lack of economic competitiveness in the south shrank government revenues. Sky-high civil service wages and benefits drained national treasuries. These factors combined with the liberality of general social entitlements (which had been carried on for decades with borrowed money) to cause the current national bankruptcies.

    I should point out that you confuse the bankruptcy of governments with a general state of poverty in the affected country. The Irish and the Southern Europeans are not paupers. Overall, they rank as high as Canada and the US in the human development index put out by the United Nations.

  13. Finally, Alan, I want to say a few things about religion being part of the problem in Europe.

    It is hard to make a strong case that Catholicism is responsible for the current economic crisis. While it is true that southern Europeans are more likely to go to church than northerners are, weekly church attendance is very low throughout Europe. A notable exception is Catholic Ireland where rates rival those of the United States. Many countries that you single out as doing well have large Catholic populations: France 83%, Switzerland 42%, Germany 34%, and Netherlands 30%. (As an aside, I will mention that socialist Canada – which is still afloat – is 43% Catholic.) What these numbers mean in light of poor church attendance is open to speculation.

    The Protestant work ethic was certainly a factor in establishing pre-socialist northern Europe as the most prosperous part of the continent, and there may be truth in the idea that old attitudes towards work and duty linger on there. However, the Protestant (and socialist) United Kingdom went bankrupt in the late 1970s and was at that time the only industrialized nation ever to require a bailout from the IMF. Protestant Sweden lost ten percent of its jobs in 1991 and had to back away from its worst socialist excesses to survive. The country still stagnates with massive job losses last year.

    Sven R. Larson writes, “My parents grew up to enjoy all the perks the welfare state provided for them; my generation, born in the ‘60s, pays the price in the form of low income, perpetually high unemployment, low and stagnant standard of living and a grim outlook on the future.

    I left Sweden in the late ‘90s. I have never looked back. The last thing I want is for America to become another Sweden.”

    http://www.conservativedailynews.com/2012/04/the-swedish-disaster-americas-future/

    Northern Europe has already generated its own problems without being brought to its knees by the south. Iceland is ruined and considering adopting either the Euro or the Canadian dollar as its currency. Belgium is broke and may need a bailout on a par with that of Ireland. France and the United Kingdom are both skating on thin ice. The Netherlands economy is shrinking.

    An important reason for the strength of the German economy is the effective 40% devaluation of their currency brought about by the switch from the Deutsche Mark to the more-widely-based Euro. A much cheaper currency means many more exports. In other words, the weaker southern European states, by diluting the value of the Euro, made Germany prosperous.

  14. Mr. Cotterill,

    Terrific responses. All around. Smart. Sound. Just keep in mind there is no reasoning with an unreasonable and misguided lefty. In my own case I am liberal about certain things, conservative about others. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who is one hundred percent liberal or completely, one hundred percent in the conservative camp is either a fraud or a dodo–or both.

    Also: your take on Europe is excellent.

    Best,

    Kirk

  15. Thanks for the kind words, Kirk. Reality being what it is, I agree that it makes sense to hold a mix of conservative and liberal values. I describe myself as a conservative because I do fall into that camp more often than not and readers need some idea of where I am coming from. Extreme positions on either the left or the right are always counter-productive.

  16. Pompus “enlightened” political snob. That’s what leached out of every word you wrote. You pretend to look deep into the meaning of his popularity through the lens of a philosopher but anyone with half a brain can tell it’s just to stroke your own ego. It’s not values, it’s that he tells a damn good story.

  17. You are taking the post too seriously, Conroy. One cannot look deeply into the meaning of a writer’s work in a piece that runs only a few hundred words. This is a brief essay of literary criticism meant to suggest another way of thinking about Pratt’s work: nothing more and nothing less. My aim—and the aim of all such writing—is to broaden a reader’s understanding and appreciation of books and stories by presenting fresh viewpoints. I chose to write about values for the simple reason that no one else was doing so. Like every work of literary criticism this is an opinion piece.

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