Mar 6, 2011

eBook Review: Realmshift by Alan Baxter

RealmShiftRealmshift by Australian author Alan Baxter is available as an ebook and in print from Gryphonwood Press.  This review is based on an epub version presumably generated by the Smashwords meat grinder.

I read Alan's Blog and converse with him regularly on twitter.  When he asked for reviewers I put up my hand as , Realmshift falls within my reviewing guidelines ie Australian Speculative Fiction. 

So this book is a review copy provided free of charge.

The Story
Isiah is a centuries old servant of The Balance (a nebulous entity that entrusts tasks to Isiah), a mix of Highlander's Connor McLeod and an avenging Angel.  In Realmshift Isiah must ensure that certain events happen, that certain characters meet, interact and in one case kill each other.  This seems easy enough considering the super powers Isiah seems to possess. To throw a spanner in the works though, one of these people, the evil Samuel has gone and sold his soul to Satan and Satan has come collecting.

Isiah must rescue the soul selling Samuel from the torturous pits of hell and set him back on his predetermined path. Samuel was previously of the belief that if he can reach the site of a recently discovered Mayan Crystal Skull, then he can claim immortality and avoid Satan's soul collecting indefinitely.  This means that his path will cross with Katherine Bailey a  journalist investigating the skull, whose destiny is to go on and save an indigenous tribe, and thereby the rainforest and prevent a huge ecological disaster.  Samuel's part was to run into Carlos Villalopez, a crazed Mercenary, and prevent him from killing Katherine.

In which I have issues
I wanted to like this book.  It has elements I enjoy - theological thriller mixed with  archeological adventure.  Unfortunately there were a number of issues with the story that prevented me from enjoying it.

Formating - the Bane of eBooks
Alan sent me the ePub version which I have viewed on both my SONY PRS 505 and Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop.  On both devices the font size would alter within the same page for no apparent reason, although it did seem to be limited to paragraphs or dialogue.   This does not appear to be the case for those who have read it via the kindle.  This was a minor issue.

More of an issue was the lack of section breaks. With a paperback or printed book you can get away with a couple of hard returns to signify a scene change within a chapter,  this doesn't seem to work in eBooks and Realmshift is not the first book I have come across with this issue i.e. a section break not being apparent.  I find it interrupts the flow of reading and dumps me, as the reader, right out of the story. Particularly when its not clear that the author has changed to another character/scene in a different time/location.  I think the best solution is to insert a  symbol(like an asterix or hash) to signify the break.

The one issue that really did  scuttle my enjoyment was the the early revelation of the plot - what needs to occur for Isiah to be triumphant.  This coupled with the fact that Isiah is such an all powerful character meant, that as a reader I was never really in doubt that he would succeed - there was for me,  no tension, no fear for any of the characters. 

Now it could be said that the vast majority of fiction is the hero always triumphing or succeeding, in our best stories, however,  an illusion is crafted that places the characters or someone close to them in danger(some nasty authors even kill their darlings). 

There was no tension in this thriller, anything of real value to Isiah had already been lost and I felt that even if he failed in this task he wouldn't be too worried. So with the main character not at risk, and a bit annoyed at being at the beck and call of The Balance I began to feel blasé as well.

One genre too many
For a thriller this story moved too slowly for me.  I attribute this to a couple of factors - in tone it was more Noir, the start was broody and atmospheric, which is fine to a point, but I felt the atmosphere building was overdone and got in the way of fast paced action. 

The second was the metaphysical pondering which verged on the point of preaching(not in a literal sense, perhaps lecturing is a better word for it) through dialogue .  It was the wrong place, in my opinion, for that sort of conversation with the reader.  I think it would have been better to cut all metaphysical discussion, that wasn't essentially illustrative of character and let the reader think come to their own conclusion about the metaphysics.

A shining light
Where the story did work for me( I noticed a palpable shift in my attention and immersion) was at the dig site.  Here I thought to myself, was some mystery, for the first time I was curious about what might be in store of the characters and the reader. There was a real chance that the characters could be threatened - without a supernatural figure to rescue them.  Unfortunately the story didn't pan out that way.

Baxter  has, I think attempted a  too much with Realmshift and in trying to fit everything he wanted to the story has left me feeling as though it's forced.  I think he needed to stick with Isiah as a central character and really put him in danger, make the reader fear for his safety.
I wanted to, but couldn't bring myself  to like this book, no matter how hard I tried. From the blurbs and reviews available on Amazon though, it seems that there are plenty who do like it.

My advice is to download the sample from Smashwords or Amazon and try it for yourselves.

I will  be reviewing the sequel Magesign by the end of the month and it will be interesting to see how Alan's writing has developed.  Early indications are that Magesign contains a bit more suspense.

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