Book Reviews: Epic by Conor Kostick & Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx

Disclaimer: I’m not finishing Zombie Blondes by Brian James. I tried. I really did. I just couldn’t care. I got half way through. I kept telling myself: at least read it so as to compare with Generation Dead. Nope. No use. Possibly, it is because I enjoyed Generation Dead so much. Possibly it is because I read two other fantastic books over the course of two or three days while in the middle of trying to read Zombie Blondes. Either way, I’m not going to finish it. Sorry Brian James. Those two books I did read, however, were AMAZING:

Epic by Conor Kostick

A grand science fiction fantasy adventure with a heaping dose of Brave New World / 1984 type social criticism, Epic is wonderful. Featuring a fantasy world structured around, and governed by, a MMORPG, Epic takes its cues from novels such as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies saga in that it features very realistic teen characters fighting to make their messed up worlds right. In this case, Erik and his online team of heroes challenge the status quo and save their world from the tyranny of a select group of people who have risen to dominate through the world-controlling video game.

The novel is a blast to read. It’s fast-paced and full of action and adventure, and the MMORPG-run society is a fun, interesting and unique device, but the teens challenging of their elders, and society, really adds the element which brings this above just an action-adventure read. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the sequel, Saga, which is available now (though I look forward to it with some trepidation since it is definitely more sci-fi than Epic).

Epic will be the second selection in my new video games and book discussion group, Game On!, at the East Brunswick Public Library. The first is Vivian Van De Velde’s User Unfriendly.

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx
This is one of the best books I’ve read.

While there is a fantastical element to the novel (protagonist Luke mysteriously gains the ability to predict deaths), what drives this novel is the brilliantly conceived character of Luke, and Proulx’s ability to get into the head of an older teen– the thoughts, feelings, concerns, failings, doubts, misconceptions, rages, sorrows, lusts, and general questioning about life, and his place in it. There is also a mystery which plagues the novel, and I say “plagues” in the best possible sense. A missing girl named Astelle becomes central to Luke’s life, and his fascination with her distorts his reality, especially when he becomes convinced that his “power” has told him that she is dead. The hold his conception of her, and her spirit or ghost, has upon him begins to define him, and it leads to bizarre complications with his real-life relationships. Of his relationships, there are two main ones that are central to the novel: his (drug-addled) friendship with (drug-addled) Fang and blossoming romance with (aptly named) Faith. It is these relationships which expand the novel in to something more. It could have simply been an interesting story about a teen with a power to hear “deaths” (sort of like Ghost Whisperer), but Luke’s power is definitely secondary, if not tertiary or of even less importance, to the realisim of the characters’ lives and interactions. Another plot thread which Luke interacts with is the war in Iraq, which haunts the novel like one of the spirits which “sing” to Luke, impinging the greater world into Luke’s microcosm. There is a distinct clash between the immediacy of the problems of Luke’s personal life, and the people around him, and the grand scope and tragedy of war where thousands, if not millions, of lives are being impacted.

This sense of “something greater” than oneself leads to another facet of the novel: an intense spiritualism which I found profoundly moving. Luke struggles with his abilities, and all of his normal teenage problems, and it drives him to seek solace in a variey of places. This is a novel of growing up, accepting one’s identiy and place in the world, of relationships, trust and betrayal, and finding spirtuality in a world gone spirtually bankrupt. What Luke finds by novel’s end is an affirmation of faith and a deep spirituality, but one not grounded in the religious constructs of man. It is a very personal relationship with the divine, whatever the divine may be, and a relationship I thought striking in in its simplicity, but also its strength, honesty, and hopefulness.

None of this, however, would have been possible if Joanne Proulx had not been such a simply brilliant writer. She masters pathos, yet strikes with laugh-out-loud humor. Her writing is eloquent, though frequently coarse, echoing her character’s age and mindset even more. Luke is a teen on the border of adulthood. His thoughts and feelings are of both worlds, and unlike many novels where teens are the main characters, he does not feel written down or too precocious. There is a strong sense of truth to every word and it feels much more realistic and meaningful than much writing for teens, let alone adults.

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet is wholly an emotional experience, and at times can be quite shocking. I’ll admit, Luke’s actions in one of the later chapters made me set the book down. I was so angry at Proulx for having Luke do what he does that I almost considered not finishing the book. Ultimately, I picked it back up only to realize that it is a necessary part of the novel–one which demonstrates the extremes of humanity–its desperate highs and tragic lows–and it starts to move Luke into a place where he must choose what he will make of himself, instead of allowing his environment and other people choose for him.

Read this book and be moved.

As a note, I also recently read The Year of Disappearances, the sequel to Susan Hubbard‘s fantastic novel, The Society of S. I’m choosing not to review it, because I loved the first book (I even nominated for an Alex Award), and was rather disappointed by the second. It was a book which just didn’t need to happen and it felt rather forced, like the first did well, so of course there should be a sequel.

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