Book Review: The Culling, by Tricia Wentworth

The reading public has long been conditioned to feel a certain way when they hear or read the almost damning phrase “self-published book.”  It whispers the condemnation of “less than,” as if an author self-published because they weren’t quite good enough to be a real author who found an agent and publisher.  What the reading public doesn’t understand is the complexity of the publishing industry, for industry within the free market it is.  Which books get traditionally published and which do not is not something that necessarily rests solely on the single condition of quality.  That’s not how television works, why would it be for books?  Being an industry, books are traditionally published primarily because of money.  Will the general public purchase a heavily marketed book, ultimately making money for the publisher?  Publishing is a business, and this is the main consideration if a publishing house wants to keep its doors open.  This is not to bash publishers.  It’s just a rule of survival.  Sadly, however, this results in a long-lived assumption that independently published books are “less than” and therefore they fall through the cracks, ignored and forgotten.

But I digress.  Significantly.  The purpose of this review is not to examine the pros and cons of various publishing methods, but to give praise to an indie author where praise is due.  I admit that I often fall into the trap of what I just described above: that when a first-time author puts out a self-published book, I naturally wince inside and prepare to read something of potentially “less than” quality.  I needn’t have worried when it came to Tricia Wentworth.  Her debut novel, The Culling, deserves pride of place on the bookshelf right along with any other high-quality piece of fiction.

I first “met” Tricia when an unsolicited message popped up in Facebook Messenger: “A dear friend of mine, _________, referred me to you. I am trying to claw my way through this writing business and aim to self-publish later this fall…”  She went on to explain the progress on her manuscript and then pose her questions, wondering if I might be willing to help her through the brand-new-to-her publishing process.  “You’re the only real author I know,” she said.

How could I turn that down?  My own writing mentor, Sharon Kay Penman, has time and time again, provided me with priceless pieces of advice, taking the time to answer my newbie questions.  In her words, “we as authors are a dying breed, and it’s in our best interests to help one another out.”  I’m not sure if we are truly a dying breed, but we all win when we help one another.  If this New York Times best-seller could make time in her busy writing schedule to help me, how could I not return the favor?

So I dove in and began helping Tricia as she worked through the final stages of taking her manuscript to publication.  Obviously I purchased an early copy, and when it arrived, I proudly shelved it, thrilled at her accomplishment, and meaning to get around to reading the book as I made my way through my always-too-long reading list.

Well, I’ve finished it.  And I can say with absolute certainty that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Nothing about The Culling suggested it was “less than” or that it qualifies for the widespread and stereotypical response of “well, it’s good for an indie author, but…”  What reader doesn’t long for a book to totally and absolutely fall into, becoming absorbed in the pages as if having been magically transported into another world?  The printed word disappears to be replaced by the action, adventure, and tension, as if you were right there in the middle of it all.  This book did that for me.  While it feels trite to compare The Culling to The Hunger Games, that is the easiest place to start.  There are certainly many comparisons to be made.  But it would sell this book short to stop there.  Tricia has come up with plenty of unique and inventive ways to tell a YA, dystopian story that holds its own in a crowded field.  The plot kept me hooked, the characters full and well developed.  Everything was real, everything believable.  She did a masterful job of telling a story full of enough red herrings to keep me guessing, making the ending a surprise, and one which will keep readers hungry for the next installment.

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, this book is an absolute must.  If you enjoy a well-paced story that grabs hold and never lets go, this book is for you.  I eagerly await Ms. Wentworth’s next installment, and can say with confidence that a new author has made her mark on the publishing world.

Highly recommend.

Purchase The Culling here.