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Reading time

Posted by joeabbott on February 15, 2015

I haven’t made a lot of time for reading lately … in days past I’d sit all day with a book … but I do keep chipping away at the pile by my bedside. And, of late, I’ve worked on books written by friends. While I’m not reading a lot of novels, in relatively recent times I’ve had the pleasure of finishing three written by friends of mine from work. All are works of fiction and probably fall into the “fantasy” category.

Let’s take a look at what I’ve completed in the last couple months.

Adept: Book One of the Essence Gate War

imageType Michael J Arnquist into the search engine of your choice and you’ll get a number of pages by or about Mike. Sites leading to his (outdated) WordPress site, pages to Amazon where you can purchase a copy of his book, and various other locations you can read about his decision to self-publish or about the novel itself.

I mention this only because his article on self-publishing gives me a peek into his motivation and, potentially, explains why others are hopping into this burgeoning field. Now … onto the book!

Adept: Book One of the Essence Gate War covers a world of AD&D characters: a half-orc healer, warrior lizard men, vampires, and a richly imagined high fantasy world. The protagonist, Amric, is a warrior raised by the aforementioned lizard men (the Sil’ath) who have detected a blight spreading across the land and have sent out their best fighters to uncover the cause. Along the way, Amric assembles a ragtag group of fighters and others who face the perils of monsters, the machinations of political intrigue, a cunning scientist in a seeming abandoned fortress, and many other challenges.

While Mike doesn’t stray far from the AD&D trope, he introduces the reader to less-trodden paths of a magical current that connects many worlds and acts as pathways and portals between them. The book ends with Amric learning of a hidden power within him as he takes the remnants of his band through one of these portals to face the power that threatened him and his world.

For those who like this sort of story, and I’m one, it’s a page-turner of a book. I enjoyed the familiarity of the character-types and the color of the twists Mike puts into his telling and the characters themselves; the varied politically motivated factions have believable backstories and motivations; and the main city feels real.

To be honest, my biggest complaint is that, at the time I read the book, the release of the second volume wasn’t in sight! I cornered Mike in the hall and asked him about it; he shared with me some of the challenges of having a busy career, needing time with the family, and then putting in real, dedicated time to write a good book. I became a bit less pushy but he shouldn’t interpret that as any less interested. If you have time for a flight through a fantastical realm, enjoy a bit of time with this book.

Novah Burns

imageWhen Robert Reynolds told me he was writing a book I said, tell me more … and about all he shared was that a guy named “Novah Burns” was piloting a space craft. My head was instantly filled with stories in the mode of Flash Gordon … and yet, this is not that sort of story.

Set in the near future, a somewhat benevolent race of aliens realizes that earth is doomed. While the cataclysmic events will destroy all of life on earth, they provide a space ship “ark” for some 40,000 people and point them to a planet ready for the settling. There’s a twist to that bargain, however, and by the time the story ends, we’re still in the dark as to how it settles out!

Novah Burns really feels like two different stories: the initial chapters are a lot darker and contain some adult themes. After those, however, there are a few haha … didn’t see that coming, didya? moments, but it retains enough grounding in realism to make the story plausible. You see, the protagonist, the titular Novah Burns, was incarcerated for petty crimes, suffered a tragic time in “prison” (you’ll have to read the book to understand the quotes), and is then “selected” (see the previous parenthetical) to be the captain of the space ark!

Along the way he meets Jesus, falls in love with his great-great-(insert more “greats” here)-granddaughter, and commits a sort of genocide. And I repeat, haha … didn’t see that coming, didya?

While some of the themes set me back, there was only one now what was his motivation for that moment … it’s explained by the end of the book … and for the most part the pacing is excellent, the situations are creative, and most of the loose ends are tidied up as I turned the last page.

The one thing I feel badly about is that, when I told Robert I was done with the book, I didn’t have time to share appropriate accolades or superlatives on this effort. But, we were in a meeting and it’s hard to gush about someone’s efforts outside of work when bug counts, schedules, and software feature decisions are being made.

Again, with the warning about the adult themes in the opening chapters, the book is an engaging and polished first novel. Put it on your summertime read list!

The Shadow Chaser

imageAs I walked to the bus stop late one afternoon, I bumped into Dylan Birtolo, a technical writer who I worked with while on the Xbox team. I asked how his aspirations were coming for being on the writing team for a game and he mentioned things were good in the quest to be an established author. To that end, he had already been published multiple times!

From the more-than-a-dozen offerings on the Amazon book list I selected The Shadow Chaser title and, as with the other books in this post, gave it to Suzy to “get for me sometime”. And, as I’m spoiled in ways that would make any child a snotty mess, the novel made it to my waiting hands not long thereafter.

As with the other two books here, The Shadow Chaser involves fantasy themes but Dylan weaves them into the current world of cell phones, video games, and all the trappings of modern living. Within the story, the main character, Darien, finds he has fantastical powers and a hidden world of intrigue awaits as vying factions tug at controlling him.

Of the three, I found the pacing of this book the most challenging. It’s not until you’re halfway through the book that you get an inkling of his powers but, you are informed on how his girlfriend likes her omelet, you get his roommates backstory, and are treated to the video games he and an old pal play early one morning. And while the book starts out almost languidly guiding you through the various details of his life, the final two dozen or so pages take you through two climactic battles, doing away with a government shadow agency pursuing Darien, and a few days after he learns of his powers, he’s off to take on the main seat of power for The Shadows … the evil entities trying to convert him to their side.

While I do have some critical views of the book, it was engaging and I looked forward to my nightly readings. Dylan has a clear, easy style and his ability to imagine surroundings believably are likely what pulled him into some of the above noted problems. I very much liked that, of the various forces vying for the main character’s support, the “good side” is clearly not “pure” and among those not controlled by the Shadows, there’s a bit of in-fighting. This feels a bit more realistic than the standard good guys vs. bad guys story.

As a final note, the book has a sequel and, from a Kickstarter program (closed now), I see Dylan is rewriting the first two books and finishing the third and final volume. As he says in the video included on the Kickstarter page, the original novel was finished in 2004 and he believes in the ten years since, that he’s a better writer.

If you don’t pick this book up now, you can do like me and wait until March 2015 to get all three novels in a single collection!


And that’s what I’ve been reading! I have a couple of other books I’ve been paging through, the stray magazine that finds its way into my reading room, and then there’s the daily paper and various Internet reads I work through. It’s good now and then to see I’m doing more than just playing video games!

But, for those interested in fiction offerings by new and upcoming authors, please consider the above: good stuff by some great people. Rich and imaginative, entertaining stories that will make you look forward to reading time as much as I did! Enjoy


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