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Book Review: Majestic Descending by Mitchell Graham

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Before writing Majestic Descending, Mitchell Graham wrote a trilogy in the fantasy genre called The Fifth Ring. Reviewers of Graham's The Fifth Ring ranged from those who loved them and thought they were amazing, to those who didn't like them and thought they were clichéd.

One reviewer said, "Terrible, tired and clichéd…..large portions of this book are lifted out of other fantasy books." Another reviewer said, "It reminded me too much of the 'Lord of the Rings'. I half expected Gandalf to show up and say, 'Frodo, you must destroy that ring!'"

After reading Majestic Descending, I feel about it kind of like these two reviewers did about The Fifth Ring. The story about Katherine Adam's past where she was kidnapped and tortured by a madman who had collected other girls and kept them all drugged and locked in separate cells in the basement, is almost like a summary of James Patterson's Kiss the Girls, except that the madman burned himself, the house, and all the other girls with it. Katherine Adams was the only one who escaped.

Cut to twenty-five years in the future, Katherine Adams is on a cruise ship that is bombed by Muslim terrorists. Firstly, has anyone watched the movie Poseidon? Secondly, do all terrorists have to be Muslim?

Granted, the scenes are not exactly like those from Poseidon, and the terrorists didn't bomb the cruise ship just for the sake of terrorizing Americans. They were there to kill a man who had successfully researched a way to clone stem cells, and just decided to kill nine hundred other people at the same time by bombing the ship to cover up the murder.

Yet they didn't bother covering up the sabotage of the smoke alarm sprinklers or the fire hoses. Call me crazy, but I honestly think a murder investigation for a single dead body would be much easier to evade than a terrorist investigation for a bomb on a cruise that killed nine hundred people.

Almost everything that happened in the book was just really convenient or highly unrealistic. Katherine just happened to have a license for carrying a gun near the end of the book? Her teenaged children aren't even concerned about her when they hear about the cruise ship bombing, and instead ask her to have fun in Italy and not to bother coming home so soon? Her sixteen-year-old son giving her an enthusiastic hug when she does go home? Since when do teenaged boys hug their mothers so enthusiastically? That sounds more like something a younger child would do, and anyway, he wasn't worried about her either and that's why it's really not realistic the way Graham described that scene. You'd really have to read it to see what I mean.

One of the most unrealistic things of all, Katherine's best friend just happened to… Oh wait, that would be giving away spoilers. Actually, there are so many details about the book which bothered me, but I can't tell them all without giving away too many spoilers. So if you're interested in finding out how not to write a suspense novel, I suggest you read Majestic Descending for yourself. It's not really all that bad, despite all the clichés. You’d enjoy a good laugh, at the very least.

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About Betty Wong

Betty Wong grew up studying natural health and nutrition and is now a certified Master Herbalist. She believes that the health of the body, mind, and spirit are intrinsically linked and that nurturing all aspects of the self is essential to achieving true health. She is a naturally curious person who likes to ask questions and look for creative and unusual answers. She is also an avid reader and writer, and enjoys crafting in her free time.
  • Amy Tillinghast


    I was dismayed by your nasty approach and review of Majestic Descending, by Mitchell Graham. I read it as well and think it’s one of the best books to come out in a long while. I absolutely don’t agree with your comment re the story being cliched. From my standpoint it was anything but that. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I’m glad to say virtually none of the reviews I have read to date echo you.

    In short, I feel Majestic Descending was well written and fun. The dialogue is unquestionably a cut above what’s out there as are the characters Mr. Graham has created.

    In the future, it might be a nice thing for you to try and remain objective rather than pen an attacking piece to pump yourself up.

    Amy Tillinghast

  • Hi Amy,

    Thank you for your comment. You’re right, the book was well written and fun, nowhere in my review did I say it was not. But there were many shortcomings about the book too, which I addressed in my review, and which I feel cannot be made up by the book being well written and fun.

    However, I don’t know where you get the idea that I was trying to pump myself up with this review. I don’t see how writing a negative – but definitely not an attacking,IMHO – review, helps to pump me up.

    If you read my other reviews, you will see that I write mostly positive reviews, and if the book has flaws, I still try to write something positive about it. In fact, I would like nothing better than to write positive reviews about *every* book I read, but that’s not possible and it wouldn’t be right.

    I’m sorry you felt that I was attacking the author. I read through my review again after reading your comment, but I honestly don’t know how you interpreted it as an attack. As I said, it was negative, yes, but absolutely not nasty or attacking. I never called Graham any names or even said anything remotely bad about him. All my negative comments was directed at the flaws in the book.

    As you said, everybody is entitled to their opinion, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I happened to think it wasn’t all that good, and decided to say so. I’m upset that you ended up attacking me for my negative opinion about the book.

  • Paul Turco

    I tend to agree with Amy. The review you wrote was definitely nasty. I also read MAJESTIC DESCENDING and thought it was great. I definitely didn’t see all the negatives you did. Saying, “if you want to read how *not* to write a novel, read this book,” is pretty low.

    I found the pace excellent and the sinking scenes top notch. I absolutely loved the ending, Usually I’m pretty good at guessing them, but this came out of the blue, despite the clever clues the author planted.

    I also took the time to look up and read the reviews of Mr. Graham’s THE FIFTH RING. The vast majority of them were all 5 star, yet you chose to focus on on the few that didn’t like it. Dirty pool I think.

    I’ve always felt a critic’s job is to state things objectively. Unfortunately, some people interpert that as meaning they should criticize. Agreed, most of your reviews are good, but you missed the mark on this one by a mile.


  • Roxanne S.

    Maybe I should set the record straight here. I’ve read all of Mitchell Graham’s books and while they’re not Pulitizer Prize candidates, they are darn good stories that hold youur interest and entertain.

    First: The Fifth Ring.

    It has nothing, repeat NOTHING to do with the Lord of the Rings nor are any parts taken from other fantasy novels. There is no magic, no elves and certainly no wizzards running around. The general consensus by most readers is that it is a top notch fantasy story.

    You may be interested to know, that at last year’s Dragon*Con the true author of the second review you quoted and it was revealed to be another writer who was jealous of the book’s success and was trying to ruin it.

    Second: Majestic Descending. As you stated above, you certainly have a right to your opinion. Thankfully, that view hasn’t been shared by eighteen members of my book club who picked the book for our main summer reading selection and loved it.

    Yes, we read the Publisher’s Weekly piece saying parts of the book were cliche. Fortunately, we also read the Times, Booklist, Mystery Book Review, and Estrelle’s Revenge reviews who felt exactly the opposite way and applauded the author for –not– relying on cliche.

    Variety makes the world go round and while I generally enjoy what you write, I am pretty disappointed with the hatchet job you tried to do here.

    On a positive note, I was glad to report that Hollywood hasn’t adopted your rather mean spirited position and has optioned the book for a major movie.

    I think “Majestic” is a great first effort at thriller writing and will definitely look forward to Mitchell Graham’s next release.

  • Paul,

    Thank you for your comment, and also your compliment about my other reviews being good.

    I don’t equate positive reviews as good, and negative reviews as bad, however. I write a review according to the way I feel about the book, and as I have said previously, if I were to write positive reviews about every book I read, I would be lying, and it would be against my conscience.

    As with Amy, I am glad you enjoyed the book, but as have already been stated, everybody has their own opinion. I wrote my review according to mine. I chose to include the negative reviews about Graham’s The Fifth Ring, instead of the positive reviews, because they were relevant to my own opinions. I think it’s unfair to accuse me of dirty pool because I focused on those reviews which helped me make my points in my review, about my opinion about the book.

    The ending was one of the things I didn’t like about the book, I thought it was unrealistic. Again, *my* opinion. And there were many more things about it which I didn’t like. *My* opinion.

    Perhaps saying, “if you want to read how *not* to write a novel, read this book,” isn’t nice, but negative reviews aren’t nice in general. Besides, I wasn’t trying to be nice, I was trying to tell the truth, *as I saw it*.

    Again, I am upset that you saw my review as nasty. I still don’t think the phrase you highlighted above was nasty, because I can assure you, if I were to give advice to aspiring suspense writers about how to write a suspense book, I would tell them, frankly and honestly, not to do it the way Graham has with Majestic Descending.

    But this isn’t about whether I’ll make a good writing teacher. I am upset because my integrity has been called into question simply by stating what I believed to be true.

    If you want to say I’m crazy for not liking the book like you did, go ahead, but don’t say I’m attacking Graham and not being objective because I wrote exactly what I thought about his book.

    I didn’t hate it, I didn’t even not like it, I just felt exactly how I wrote about it, which is that it was cliched, convenient, and unrealistic. It is my total, honest, and objective opinion.

    There is a serious irony here, in that both you and Amy are accusing me of things that you are both now doing yourselves. You say I am not objective, because I wrote a ‘nasty’ review about his book, but are you objective when you judged me as being nasty just because my opinions differ from yours?

    Yes, I totally missed the mark by a mile with this review, if I was reviewing it based on your opinion. But I’m not. I reviewed it based on my own opinion.

    I’m sorry you don’t like my review, you are entirely welcome to your own opinions. In fact, I envy you your enjoyment of the book, life is too short to be reading books that you don’t enjoy, or to try to make others see your point of view. They either do, or they don’t, and we should all know by now that everyone thinks differently. It doesn’t make them the enemy.

  • Roxanne,

    My inclusion of the reviews about The Fifth Ring has nothing to do with my opinions on the fantasy novel. I included those comments because they were relevant to what I felt about Majestic.

    I am glad you agree that variety makes the world go round, but I am frustrated and saddened that you called me ‘mean spirited’ and my review a ‘hatchet job’.

    You are the third person to criticise me for my negative opinion about the book. Perhaps if it was only one or two who thought I was ‘nasty’, it could argue about their perception, but since you are the third to do so, I must take a look at my own perception.

    In my own defence, let me say to you, Paul, and Amy, that I honestly had no intention to be ‘nasty’, ‘mean-spirited’, or ‘unobjective’ with my review. I am not jealous of him, nor do I have a personal vendetta against him, and I honestly have no idea how writing a negative review about Majestic can pump myself up.

    I wrote this review completely based on my own honest opinion. Perhaps I am more critical than most, but it is my honest opinion just the same.

    Being attacked like this for writing an honest, negative review makes me afraid of ever writing a negative review again, no matter how honest it may be.

    I am really upset at all these personal attacks, but I must concede that since there are three of you with the same opinion about my review, that perhaps I may have come off that way to all of you, and in that case, I am sorry. However, I stand by my opinions and I will not write a positive review just so people will approve of my reviews.

  • James Grampone

    Gang, I don’t know what all the hoopla is about here. If Betty wants to take cheap shots at Graham’s book, that’s her business. Justifying them by saying negative reviews contain language like that doesn’t fool anybody.

    For the most part Betty’s reviews are fairly decent and straight forward. Maybe she just got up on the wrong side of the bed today.

    Like the other commentators, I’ve also read “Majestic Descending” and thoroughly enjoyed it. “Plum Island” it ain’t, but it’s definitely a good read. The female protagonist, Katherine Adams is well drawn as is her counterpart, John Delaney, an ex-N.Y. cop now turned lawyer. The action is almost non-stop with just the right amount of breather to let the reader recover.

    No, I didn’t find either the scenes or the dialogue cliched at all. Nor were there any “convenient coincidences” unless you’re looking to justify your opinion. For my money, if an author can hold your interest through 355 pages, he or she ahd done a pretty good job. Graham is an enormously talented writer who has done just that. I for one have no hesitation in buying his next book.

    I also didn’t see the “various weaknesses,” Betty goes on about and I tend to look at books critically, particuarly since I’m responsibe for the mystery/thriller section at a local bookstore. The rest of the sales staff and I recommended this book to our customers every day and will continue to do so.

    “Majestic Descending” has been selling off the shelves and I can tell you so far no one has asked for their money back.

    So come on guys, lighten up on Betty. She has a right to trash a book if she wants to.

  • Kyra D

    Hey Betty:

    I really enjoyed reading this book and so did my sister and mother who borrowed it from me. My boyfriend is reading it now and says he can’t put it down. I’d have to say I think your review missed the target, but keep at it.

    Kyra L

  • Alicia Castello


    I didn’t think your review was as mean as some of the others have made out, but it definitely catty. Mr. Graham’s story held my interest and kept me up reading for three nights in a row.

    Maybe I’m not as technical as you, but I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment for a writer. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Graham writes next.

    Alicia Castello
    San Francisco, CA

  • Marc Osofsky

    I’ve been following this discussion with interest. To put it bluntly, I don’t agee with Betty at all and tend to side more with the reviews Francine Brokaw wrote for the Times and Kilian Melroy penned for The Edge. Both called MAJESTIC DESCENDING is one of the best thrillers to come along in years.

    In our bookstore here in Baltimore, we’ve had nothing but positive comments about it. I’ve seen a lot of thriller/murder mysteries come and go, and this one is the real deal.

    Sorry, Betty. I think you blew it big time. However, as you correctly point out, it’s just your opinion.

  • Alright already guys, I surrender. I’m truly sorry that my review came across as mean and nasty.

    I’m honestly glad you all liked the book, I feel very much that it was entirely my loss that I didn’t enjoy it as much as all of you did. I honestly didn’t mean my review to come across as nasty, but with all the feedback here, I have to admit that it probably was.

    I’m truly grateful for everyone’s feedback here, because all of you have taught me a valuable lesson in being careful what I say, and how I say it. I have learnt my lesson, I’m sorry, and I will be careful how I word my reviews in the future.

    On a positive note though, I’m sure this debate has probably attracted many people’s attention to the book, and many will pick it up, read it, and enjoy it a lot more than I did. If I didn’t do the book justice with my review, I’m glad all your comments did, at least.

    Thank you all.

  • Denise McCoy

    Dear Betty:

    After reading your review of Majestic Descending, it’s obvious to me you couldn’t have read Mr. Graham’s book very carefully.

    You talk about events being coincidental, like Katherine just happening to own a gun permit. Why is this surprising? Hundreds of thousands of people own gun permits. Terrorists happening to be on the ship? This was central to the plot and set up by the bad guys to mask stealing Ellis Stephens stem cell formula.

    Clearly, not all Mulims are not terrorists, but I’m quite certain that all terrorists are Muslim, to answer tyou question. Quite possibly there are other terror groups out there, I just haven’t seen any on the news lately. Have you?

    Your review was filled with cheap shots trying to justify the position you adopted.

    You think it’s odd for teenage boys to hug their mothers? I don’t know what kind of family you come from, but my sons hug me all the time.

    I thought Murder Descending was an excellent and exciting book to read. For your information, it stays constantly checked out of our library, and we have seven copies. It’s just too bad, self-styled *critics* trying to come across as ascerbic and witty, can only do so in the manner you elected. The next time I suggest you pay a bit more attention to the plot details you overlooked.

  • Trevor Rakestraw

    Ok, you lot, here’s my take. I don’t care who is being nasty and who isn’t.

    I read Majestic Descending and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t find anything contrived or implausable. This is a solid story with great characters, put together by a master story-teller. Chill, and stop beating up on poor Betty.

    Trevor Rakestraw
    Surrey, England

  • Claire Noel-Pearson

    Hands down, Mitchell Graham’s MAJESTIC DESCENDING, is the best thriller I’ve read this year. Don’t know where this reviewer was coming from. I guess everyone is entitled to their 15 minutes of fame (myself included because I’m writing this.

    What makes this book sing is Mr. Graham’s clever use of dialogue. It just sparkles. Add that to a story that moves at a breakneck pace and you’ve got a sure fire winner on your hands. Definitely destined for the best seller lists.

    Claire Noel-Pearson
    Chicago, Illinois

  • Rick Howell

    what a complete hack job! This is a tremendous read. Before you make up you mind, try reading what some legitimate reviewers such as Booklist, The Book Bitch, Estella’s Revenge, Hariett Kalusner,and the Mystery Bookstore said about Mitchell Graham’s first thriller novel.

    I just hate it when people with secondary adgendas use the internet to trash a decent book.

    Rick H
    Queens, NY

  • Betty Sorensen

    I’ve been a reader of fantasy for over thirty years and can tell you Mirchell Graham’s “Fifth Ring” is about as far from the “Lord of the Rings”
    as a book can get. The only similarity the two have is in the word “ring” and the fact they are both epics. I find it very strage that Betty Wong chose this review to illustrate her point, particularly since she hasn’t read any of Mr. Graham’s first novels. Even a cursoy glance at Amazon will show that the book has been reviewed almost 80 times over the years with high praise. Yes, there are a few detractors here and there, but they’re few and far between.

    Being familiar with Mitchell Graham’s work, it was with great anticipation that I picked up his new novel, “Majestic Descending.” I quickly became emersed in the book with the book and can recommend it to anyone without the slightest hesitation.

    From reading these responses above and a number of other published reviews, it’s obvious to me that whatever Ms. Wong makes reference to is known only to her.

    Betty Sorensen
    Boston, MA

  • WIlliam McCarthy

    I read Betty Wong’s review with interest and thought it was a bunch of self-important garbage. I also read her apology and don’t want to pile on. Suffice to say we should all let the matter drop now. There have been few times in my experience where so many people have reacted so quickly to what was plainly an unjustified and baseless review.

    Author Graham’s Majestic Descending will stand or fall on it’s own merits, and not because some random critic say so. I for one, enjoyed the book greatly as did my wife and son-in-law, who reads mysteries all the time.

    Our local book club has picked Majestic Descending for our August read and the feedback has been quite positive thus far, if not downright effusive. It’s nice to see the public can make up its own mind about what is good and what isn’t.


  • Kelly Deavers

    I thought this review was completely unjustified and filled with cheap shot after cheap shot. Not only did Betty trash the book, she went through the Amazon reviews to find the one or two review that didn’t like Mr. Graham’s first book, THE FIFTH RING. Curious, I decided to read all the review as well, and found almost universal praise for the book, including Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

    I’m really disappointed that Blogcritics picked someone as biased as Betty Wong to feature a review on what is a really great novel.

    I totally enjoyed MAJESTIC DESCENDING. Since then, I’ve gone out and picked up THE FIFTH RING, THE EMERALD CAVERN, and THE ANCIENT LEGACY. While fantasy stories really aren’t my thing, I have to say these were fun books to read. No, they didn’t have any dwarves, elves, wizards, or magic, like LOTR just excellent characters and an amazing plot filled with action and humor.

    I felt much the same way about MAJESTIC DESCENDING. This book is the perfect beach companion.

  • Cheryl Watkins

    Dear Ms. Wong:

    I suggest you get your facts straight before attacking an author’s work. I’ve been a fan of Mitchell Graham’s fantasies for a number of years and they are wonderful books. They have almost nothing in common with the LORD OF THE RINGS. Come on, Betty. Why the cheap shots?

    I also read MAJESTIC DESCENDING and while I’m not generally partial to mysteries, I found this one to be quite enjoyable.

    The snide remarks you make do more to discredit you as an objective reviewer than to bolster your position. In short, I found none of them to be accurate.

    Cheryl Watkins
    Athens, GA

  • Forrest Clarke

    Dear Betty:

    I just finished “Majestic Descending” and came across your review. Clearly, one novel is unlikely to appeal to everyone, but I would have to ask what book you were reading???

    I went back through the story again to see what you were complaining about and came up empty. I thought this was a fine entertaining book and would easily suggest it to anyone who likes a good thriller.

    Forrest Clarke,
    Richmond, Virginia

  • Sherrie Stern

    Dear Betty:

    I read this book last month and really thought it was great. Sorry you didn’t like it.

    Sherrie Stern
    Brooklyn, NY

  • Karen Massenaro

    Dear Betty:

    I generally enjoy your reviews, but I think you blew it on this one. I’d put Majestic Descending up against anything out there.

    I, for one, was offended by the cheap shots you took at not only this book, but Mitchell Graham’s other novels as well.

    I did read your apology, so let’s leave it at that. To your credit, you were big of you to own up to your mistake.

    From the many reviews I’ve read, and people I’ve spoken to who have read the book, I think it’s quite safe to say, your opinion appears to be very much in the minority.

    I’ll be one of the first in line when Mr. Graham’s next novel hits the shelves.

    Karen M
    Philadelphia, PA

  • Shawn Leverit

    The review you published was a complete hack job. I read Majestic Descending in three days and thought it was excellent. Apparently so did the Association of Librarians who picked it to add to their collections. The book is now in about 600 libraries around the United States with more being added every day.

    Ive also read Mr. Graham’s fantasy trillogy and it’s obvious to me that reviewer Betty could not possibly have done so. It’s a shame someone like this got pick to air her uninformed and biased reviews on line. Guess that’s the way it goes in the 21st century these days.

    When all the smoke clears, Majestic Descending is a great read.

    Shawn L

  • Lindsay Carlin

    I thought this was a wonderful book! While I believe that everyone has a right to express their opionion, I was appalled at the nastiness of the review, particularly since it was not justified on any level.

    In addition to the Association of Librarians adding “Majestic Descending” to hundreds of library collections across the United States, Andrew Guili, the editor of the prestigious Strand Magazine, recently listed “Majestic Descending” as one of the top books of the year in thier October holiday issue.

    If you haven’t read this fine novel yet, do yourself a favor and go out and get a copy. You won’t be sorry. Just don’t take it on a cruise.

    Note to Betty Wong: You might try *reading* the books you review a little more carefully. You missed the boat on this one by a mile.

    Lindsay C