Monday, October 8, 2012

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

Magic. Ancient portals. What if the legends are true?
Teen brothers Hadyn and Ewan Barlow are forced to adjust to a depressing new life when tragedy strikes their home. Then a secret viking runestone opens the door to a world in peril, and they discover a crisis larger than their own pain.
In the Hidden Lands of Karac Tor, names are stolen from the young and darkness spreads. Hadyn and Barlow become targets of war, forcing them to make a reluctant choice: join the battle or risk losing each other and their home forever.

Print copy, 379 pages
Published: 2008 by NavPress

This story begins with an unhappy city boy, in a miserable new small town, and a regular gray day.

Sounds kind of cliche. I admit, I found this book rather the same way. Now, don't get me wrong - just look at that summary! - there are good, original parts. But it kind of felt like the Lord of the Rings to me. And I should know because it took me two freakin' weeks to read LoTR.

Let me give you my reasons why. First, it felt bogged down with description. There is an entire page devoted to the commerce of a town called Threefork, which was just another destination. It was near the entrance to the secret gnome trail that would leave to the evil sorceress' tower (LoTR also features a dark tower, by the way). But we didn't really need to know what goods come from where - where the furs and metals come from, which country they get wheat from, where does the fish come from. We didn't need to know. There are also other sections, but this is the first that came to mind.

Another, related point is the amount of myth. The amount of legend they tell each other. How often do I get to sit around and tell other people this long story from ancient days about beings they've never heard of? Granted, I wasn't transplanted into some medieval world where they DO believe that stuff, but still.

The main characters both want to go home to the Shire Missouri and pretend this adventure isn't happening.

Finally, it felt a little disorganized. This isn't strictly a LoTR thing, though I see it there, too. Actually, it's a pretty common book thing: it doesn't... tie together neatly. It doesn't flow perfectly. There are bumps and snags in the plot, or the character arc, or wherever. I felt it: it didn't catch my spark. It's something I can't quite name.

So, now I get to the good points.

First of all, there is a witch named Nemesia, who is a pretty decent villain. Still a little stereotypical - wears dark, seductive clothing, has a special magical staff, is prone to monologues - but still, she stole the names and identities of an entire generation. Every teenager in Karac Tor: they all become these empty shells, "walking bombs" as she calls them. Begs the question, "How does a medieval-seeming sorceress know what a bomb is?" But still, a pretty cool, creepy idea.

Second of all, it is chock-full of magic. From making rocks glow like candles to making magic music, it's pretty lovely. I'm a sucker for magic stories.

And, well, that summary. The mysterious runestones. I am quite fascinated with mythology, and there are definitely echoes of it in this story.

I'm sorry to say the characters were not much of a good point. They almost don't deserve a point. Sure, Ewan's magic music and Hadyn being able to feel the true name of stuff were pretty cool, but when I think of this book I think of Nemesia and magic.

Overall, this was a so-so book. Not to be scathing, but I felt it a little cliched - almost LoTR, except it involves Earth. I give it a 3, out of fairness to the points I like, but it felt a little lacking.

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