Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Adversary by James R. Bowman (Reviewed by Mihir)

Order "The Adversary" HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James R. Bowman was born and brought up in Ipswich, Suffolk. He currently resides there with his family. He’s been fascinated by Native American culture and has relished his inquisitive nature by making a trip over to the American Southwest. He’s also been shortlisted for the Brit Writer's Published Writer of the Year 2010 award. This is his debut novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Death, War, Famine and Pestilence; known to the sentient races of the Multiverse as the Absolutes, face their greatest threat since the first race made its mark on the cosmos. The Adversary, Lucifer s right hand and enforcer has decided the time has come for him to take charge instead of orders; freeing Fenris the Dread Wolf to aid him and systematically wiping out the Earth s guardians those individuals whose destiny it was to protect the world from extinction and slavery he gathers his forces, poised to strike and annihilate humanity. The world as mortal kind knows it stands to fall and the age of humans is about to end. Extinction is only moments away.

Two heroes rise to challenge the Adversary, drawn into the conflict by an Arch-Angel, two ancient Dragons and the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse themselves. Tomas a former government operative winds up trapped in Hell and becomes allied with a group of exiled Valkyrie; while Gwen is forced from her home in Santa Fe and is sent on a quest for the First Tree, the tree that seeded all others including the legendary tree of knowledge, and whose whereabouts has been forever lost in the mists of time and memory.

Success depends on their survival and their survival is threatened on an almost perpetual basis by the demonic minions of the Adversary, werewolf like Hounds of Fenris and swarms of possessed, to name but a few. For the sake of the Multiverse, humanity, every other living creature and for the pure life essence of the Earth herself, let battle be joined.

CLASSIFICATION: The Adversary is a mixture of Epic Quest fantasy and Urban fantasy, with an apocalypse impending!

FORMAT/INFO: The Adversary is 1028 pages long divided over twenty numbered and titled chapters with a prologue. Narration is in the third person via many different characters such as Tomas Walker, Gwen, The Adversary, Azaroth, Daniel and a few others. The Adversary is the first volume in a series. There's also an "Acknowledgments" section and an introduction written by the author. Cover art is by Peter Pracownik.

ANALYSIS: The Adversary was a book which got queried at our blog and the premise seemed very exciting for me. After I read the first 25 pages I decided to give it a try. The book blurb reveals it to be quite a mish-mash of genres and the book doesn’t disappoint in the size and scope of the tale imagined by the author.

The tale begins by introducing us to Tomas Walker, an ex-British agent who’s become disgruntled with his life and now has become a wanderer of sorts. He travels around and is soon beset with an otherworldly encounter which convinces him to focus on his self preservation and beguiles him as to the nature of his opponent. He soon meets up with an archangel who convinces him that he’s not losing his mind however events are being precipitated which require his urgent attention and if left unchecked could mean the death of all living things. Tomas being himself is quite skeptical however soon loses all his reservations when he is joined by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. They proceed to lay out his role and why he’s crucial to their battle.

Another thread opens up on the other side of the Atlantic by introducing us to Gwen, who has been living a life of her own but suddenly gets introduced to a paroxysmal shift in the nature of things and soon finds out that two of her best friends are more than what they appear to be. Gwen is also tasked with another responsibility as she finds out that she is akin to a repository and she has been entrusted with new powers. In the third and significantly stronger thread we get a view point in to the Titular character and the antagonist of this tale, the Adversary who has upended hell and its denizens and also whose plans include coercing the power of Fenris and many others who have similar ambitions. There are also a few more players to this mix and it will be best if I don't allude to any more of the plot.

The book is a rather large one at slightly more than 1000 pages encompasses a lengthy tale which is only the opening salvo of the entire saga which the author has planned. The plus points to this book are the author has amalgamated many mythologies and has constructed a vast global mythology to this world which might appeal to jaded Urban fantasy readers. There are also not too many characters and the tale is tightly focused on the POV characters as they travel to new places and continue their quest to save their universe. The writing for a debutant author is good however has some faults which I’ll be discussing next.

The pacing deserves a lot to be said as of there are quite some info-dumps in between as the author tries to explain the world which though required; does detract a bit from the reading experience. Another point was that the main characters of Gwen and Tomas were not fleshed out beyond their roles as chosen ones in the books and this perhaps can lead to a slight disconnect as majority of the plot unfolds around both of them (then again since this is a first book, there might be more to come in the remaining three titles.)

Lastly not all of this gargantuan effort is all that vexing, there are quite a few positives namely the imagination of the debutant author which has to be lauded for coming up with such a mythological background to this tale and his rather exuberant attempt to connect the dots amongst the various myths mentioned in the book. The characters are decently drawn out however with the drawbacks mentioned above, if the author can remedy these in the remaining part of the sage, this series can indeed become special. This book I would rate as a good debut effort with a lot of heart in it however it could very well do with a trimming of its content page wise and a rather coalescing of the plot so as to remove the tepid flow to the pace of this tale. Most readers should very well try this hefty debut from across the pond as it offers something new in terms of effort and plot while retaining some favored clich├ęs.

"The Oracle of Stamboul" by Michael David Lukas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Michael David Lukas Website
Order 'The Oracle of Stamboul" HERE
Read an Excerpt from The Oracle of Stamboul HERE

INTRODUCTION: The Oracle of Stamboul was the first real positive surprise of 2011 for me as it was a book that came out of nowhere for me and took over my reading with a combination of magical prose and pitch perfect atmosphere.

I recently saw the title in a list of "just published" books when looking for more information about what turned out to be the first big flop of 2011 for me and the title sounded appealing, so I checked the blurb below which made me continue exploring the novel, while the excerpt linked above convinced me to get the novel immediately and then it took over my reading.

"Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. "They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch." But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora's mother dies soon after the birth.

Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Oracle of Stamboul is a magical novel, short but fulfilling. Somewhere at the border between historical fiction and the fantastic, not straying away from the possible but hinting at the supernatural, the book has as main protagonist Eleonora, a girl whose birth in unsettled and ultimately tragic circumstances is heralded by portents.

Growing up in Constanta on the Black Sea - the ancient Tomis of Ovid and a city I spent many summers on its beaches, though here we see it in the twilight of the Ottoman era and the beginning of the Romanian one in the 1870-1880's - and in a world of prejudice against women and minorities - her family is a Jewish merchant one - Eleonora is grudgingly allowed to develop her stunning intellectual gifts by doting father Yakob Cohen against the wishes of her aunt/stepmother Ruxandra who pushes her into "women stuff" - eg housework of all kinds from as early an age as possible.

There are strict conditions that Eleonora cannot show or tell anyone what she learns since already a flock of rare birds has taken residence around her house and sometimes the birds are following her when she goes out and as Ruxandra knows too well, when you are Jewish and reasonably prosperous, it is not good to attract too much attention. As it's obvious, soon Eleonora will make a naive misstep when shopping with her aunt and the ignorant shop boy miscounts the change, so from then on she is restricted to one book per month.

In very poignant scenes we follow the 8 year old as she must a make a choice as what book she will get to treasure in the next month, until by chance she discovers an old favorite novel of her mother, a 7 volume series called The Hourglass which will open her eyes to the wider world and give her a taste for adventure. So when her father goes to expand his business to Stamboul, it is natural for Ellie to follow what she has learned in her treasured books and sneak in a trunk with all planned as how she will endure the week long sailing trip.

And so Eleonora's adventure begins and in the Ottoman capital we meet an assorted cast of characters that will interact with her in both usual and unusual ways of which the most notable are Yoncef Bey a Turkish official and intellectual with a reputation for subversive liberal thought, Rev. Prof. Muehler who is rector of the American college there and moonlights as a spy for both the Grand Vizier and the US government and of course Abdulhamid himself, the (last true) Sultan of the empire...

As structure, The Oracle of Stamboul mostly follows Ellie's POV but alternates it with the Sultan's one and occasionally with some of the other adults that come into Eleonora's magical circle. There are no other children in the book and in many ways her world is the world of a "real world" child - doing what the adults ask while creating her own separate universe - though the mundane and the fantastic intertwine around her.

The main strength of the book is the superb style of the author - poetic and evocative, but also making one turning the page until the "too soon, I want more" fitting end. From this point of view the book sits comfortably in the tradition of tales of yore without any modern anachronisms regarding the way the world was in the late 19th century. The atmosphere is also wonderfully evocative and I felt the author really understood the flavor of the places where he has his action happening.

The Oracle of Stamboul (A+)
also belongs to the category of books that feature children as main protagonists but are not really addressed to them for the reasons expounded above - basically the children live in an adult world and follow adult rules, rather than being the motive power of action, eg saving the day, world, situation, by themselves - the awesome The Children's Book by AS Byatt or the excellent but darker The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti are similar narrative space novels I have reviewed here - and as such it is a book for all ages, but one that I predict will be enjoyed more by lovers of beautifully written "magical" tales than anyone else.

I would like to note that The Oracle of Stamboul is Michael David Lukas' debut though it reads like the work of a quite experienced writer...