Monthly Archives: May 2008

Here There Be Dragons by James A. Owens

I heard about James A. Owens’ novel Here There Be Dragons on the Dragon Page Cover to Cover podcast and was immediately intrigued.   Owens spoke about how he wanted this series to be one that wove togther various bits and pieces from the stories, myths and legends all across the world and how he had a masterplan for not only this series but another one (each will run seven books)  that he is currently writing.  In the end, Owens says he plans to tie the two together with the final line of each of the last novels being the same, setting up a huge wrap-up fifteeenth novel for both series. 

Loving the ambition of the idea, I immediately sought out the first novel Here There Be Dragons.   I have to admit I was pretty eager to crack the cover and find out if the book lived up to the praise.

The good news is that this novel did.  Dragons is one of those books that works on a lot of levels.  Owens is clever in how he combines threads of various stories and myths, giving those who are well-read a lot of fun little easter eggs within the story. But fun easter eggs would be meaningless and wasted if the novel itself weren’t worth reading.  And Dragons is an enjoyable novel on its own. 

The unusual murder of an Oxford professor brings together three strangers in World War I London: John, a soldier and the professor’s correspondence student; Jack, a young Oxford student; and Charles, an editor at the Oxford University Press. One rainy night they meet a curious man called Bert who tells them that they are the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, an atlas of imaginary lands. Forced to flee in Bert’s ship, the group sails to the Archipelago of Dreams, where a battle over Arthur Pendragon’s throne threatens to place the evil Winter King in charge. Owen brings together elements from well-known works of fantasy and legend: the lands and characters lean heavily toward Greek and Arthurian myth, while clues from the caretakers’ works point to the legendary writers they will become.

The story is intriguing and while it does have some spots that aren’t quite as page-turning as others, they are necessary to create and establish the universe Owens is working in.  I expect that the next installments will be able to get to the action and conflict a great deal faster now that we’ve had the set-up and universe creation of the first book.  Also, while it maybe easier for long-time readers to figure out who the three main characters are in our world based on the events presented here, this isn’t revealed until the books final pages.  Other reviewers seem intent on giving this away, thus ruining most of the fun of the final few pages of the story.  I strongly encourage you to stay away from anything that will ruin this nice little suprise at novel’s end.

 

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Par for the Course by Ray Blackston

After straying away from his typical “Christian guys confused by relationships” pattern with A Pagan’s Nightmare Ray Blackston returns to that fertile ground with his latest novel.  Centering on Chris Hackett, the owner and golf pro at Hack’s Driving Range, the novel gets back to what Blackston does best–put guys in situations where they have no clues.

In this case, it’s Chris’ blindly enlisting for a seminar on communication between men and women and meeting Molly, a political reporter who throws him for a proverbial loop.  Following Molly’s advice, Chris opens up nights for political parties to come out and take out thier frustration on their political opposites at his driving range.  They prove wildly successful and soon gain Chris local and national prominence.

Unlike most contemporary Christian novels, the strength of Blackston’s stories is that he has authentic characters who he puts on authentic journeys.  Nothing feels forced or contrived about Chris’ story and even when Chris gets on the peaks and valleys that come with any journey through life, his reaction to it still feels authentic.  And while Chris does learn from both extremes, the writing never feels forced or preachy, unlike a great many other writers in the contemporary Christian genre.

The novel is also peppered with the usual eccentrics that Blackston relishes.  

This is a fun, charming and entertaining novel that firmly puts Blackston in the upper echelions of contemporary Christian writers.   Par for the Course is Blackston’s best book since his initial offering Flabbergasted.

And if you’re a fan of his novels, you’ll see a few cameos of characters from other books sprinkled in here, adding to the enjoyment and delight of long-time readers.

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Book Briefs

Some short thoughts on a couple of books I’ve read lately.

Matter by Iain Banks

I was looking forward to this one a lot.  I’ve enjoyed Banks’ Culture novels a great deal over the years and was anxious for a chance to visit the universe again.  And while the first 400 plus pages of this book are fantastic, fun and complex as with the best of Banks’ stories, it feels like the publisher cut Banks off at the 500 page mark, forcing an ending that seems unfulfilling and unsatisfying.   I turned the last page and felt sure I’d missed something or that somehow my copy was short a few chapters.  It’s a shame when a good book leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

Buxbaum’s first published novel has a comepelling, interesting first-person narrator in Emily.  On the verge of being proposed to by her boyfriend of two years, Emily dumps him and begins a journey that of discovery of who she is and what she wants from life.   And while Emily’s voice is compelling, unique and makes this novel worth picking up, Buxbaum picks every single last cliche in the book to put Emily through on her journey.    You’ll meet character fifty pages in and be clearly able to predict where the story will end for Emily…and then it follows that exact path.   Enjoyable but predictable.

Iron Man by Peter David

So sue me.  I love media tie-in novels, especially any one written by Peter David.  The man knows his comic books, he knows exactly how to play in someone else’s universe and he knows how to adapt a script to the printed page.   In short–he’s the man.  (Added bonus–when allowed to play in his own universes, David is equally brilliant).  Being excited to see Iron Man and loving Peter David, this one was a no-brainer to go on my reading list. 

And once again, David delivers the good.  Will this win awards? Probably not.  Will it entertain the heck out of you and add to the movie-going experience?  Absolutely. 

Star Trek: Excelsoir  – Forged in Fire by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin

Advertised as a Captain Sulu adventure, that might be a bit misleading. But then again, it’d also be hard to fit on the cover all the nods and continuities from all the Trek shows this one ably and deftly weaves together.  And on some level, it does focus on the circumstances that led to Sulu’s becoming captain of the Excelsoir.  But that’s just the first hundred or so pages.  It expands from there.

It’s got Dax, it’s got Kor, Kang and Koloth, it’s got a tying together of a lot of plot threads in the Trek universe.  And it’s got a good story that will keep the pages turning.  It does loose a bit of focus in the middle as our heroes pursue the villian of the story and the framing device to tell the story as a flashback seems a little too tacked on.  But these are minor flaws in what is, otherwise, one of the better Trek tie-in novels to come along in a while. 

 

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