Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: "Awakenings" by Edward Lazellari

You might think, by looking at the cover, that Awakenings by Edward Lazellari is your standard paranormal fiction. But I was reminded of more traditional fantasy, in the vein of Terry Brooks in a modern setting, rather than something by Jim Butcher.

Cal McDonnell is a NY city cop who has no memory of his life prior to thirteen years ago. Despite his retrograde amnesia he has managed to carve out a meaningful life for himself that includes his job and a beautiful wife and daughter. Seth Raincrest also has no memory before thirteen years ago, but he hasn't had the same success in rebuilding his life. He ekes out a living as an amateur pornographer without forging any lasting relationships with anyone but his cat. But Seth and Cal share a past that is rapidly catching up with them as dangerous, and magic wielding, enemies from their former lives have found them and plan to attack before they can regain their memories.

Thirteen-year-old Daniel Hauer is the adopted child of Clyde and Rita and to say he grows up in an unhappy home is an understatement. Clyde is a mean drunk who resents being Daniel's stepfather and looks for any excuse to take it out on Daniel physically. But what neither Daniel or his parents know about is his noble heritage; one that ties him to Cal and Seth. But the same people that are hunting the others are now on Daniel's trail, and the people who want to keep him safe don't have any idea where he is-- or what name he goes by.

Edward Lazellari has a deft writing style which makes "Awakenings" a very absorbing book right from the start. Throw away characters are given a distinct personality in a just a few lines and the mystery surrounding Cal and Seth's amnesia certainly keeps you turning the pages. However there isn't a lot of mystery-solving that goes on as the story progresses. We do find where Seth and Cal come from and why they have amnesia, but much more time is spent on the set-up of the story that the reader is left with the feeling that they should know so much more.

"Awakenings" is also busy book, in part because there are at least five disparate story-lines that all connect at various points along the way. That alone wouldn't make "Awakenings" a confusing book, but throw in several interconnecting dimensions of varying magical and scientific resonance and some haphazard political machinations, and you have a book that can confound the most astute reader.

First, you have the p.o.v. of the three main characters, Cal, Seth and Danny, who are tied together by a mysterious past that is only partly explained throughout the book. Then you have the bad guys, led by the somewhat stereotypical Dorn who believes that a strong leader only uses fear as motivation. Then you have the good guys as initially represented by Lelani, a mysterious sorceress who tries to reach Cal and Seth before Dorn and his dangerous minions launch their attack. Adding to the various perspectives presented in the book are Cal's wife and a private detective hired to find Cal, Seth and Danny. It's amazing the book isn't more confusing than it is.

But if I had to pick the one thing that may have ruined the book for me, it's the fact that one of my literary deal breakers reared its ugly head several times in the book in the form of some politically slanted content. If I had to guess I'd say Lazellari is a very liberal guy. The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that Cal's wife Cat seems somewhat fixated on her feminist values. Every time she muses on any situation that arises-- whether it's a crisis or not-- she definitely worries that her place in the world as a feminist is assured. Whether she goes back to work or ends up in the magical world Cal comes from-- she wants it known she's a feminist. And I have to say that, from my point of view, that even the most die-hard feminist isn't going to worry about such things when they're faced with life-altering problems: So it's not only unrealistic, but tiring. And heaven forbid you're a (gasp!) republican. Maybe it's me, but I find it strange to see more than one random comment regarding republicans pop-up in fantasy fiction: You'd think republicans don't read fantasy or something. Add to that a chapter that seems necessary only to insert some stereotypical slams against fundamentalist Christianity and you've come pretty close to a book that resembles Stephen King's recent work.

Another minor quibble I had with "Awakenings" was the issue of certain credibility gaps. For example, I'm pretty sure a four-hundred pound centaur isn't going to fit into the back of a Ford Explorer (with three or four other passengers). Maybe I'm just being petty, but I couldn't let that one go. Nor do I think the same centaur could get around a New York City apartment without knocking over a lot of furniture.

Despite the presence of some content that might normally make me walk away from a book, I finished "Awakenings" because the slant wasn't overwhelming and I wanted to see where the story was going-- so I have to say that Lazellari does a good job of keeping the reader interested. And I have to give credit to some really good writing when it comes to the action sequences. I thought the fight scenes were absolutely captivating. But in terms of payoff, there really isn't one where this book is concerned. Some of the back-story is sorted out but mostly the book reads like 350 pages of plot set-up. I really feel that the story could have been condensed into 200 pages, which would have allowed the narrative to progress more and prevent the feeling that you're only just getting to the meat of the story as the book ends.

The impression I was left with after finishing "Awakenings" was that Lazellari is a good writer who might benefit by toning down the politics, which might allow him to move the story more. Regardless of your political affiliation, it's distracting to have a story take unnecessary detours. To me it seemed as if he was pleasing himself by injecting some bias rather than writing to the story, and the book suffered for it.

3 out of 5 stars.

2 comments:

Simcha said...

I thought this sounded like a promising book am a bit disappointed to see that it only elicited a lukewarm response. I generally have little interest in reading about politics in fantasy so that would probably turn me off as well but I think I'll probably still give this book a try.

SQT said...

Most complaints I've read about this book center on the fact that it ends kind of abruptly; and it does. But that wasn't as distracting to me as the other stuff. I wanted to like it, but mostly thought it was just okay.