Wow. When you agree to accept a free copy of a book in exchange for writing a review of it, you always hope it will actually be good. I hate returning the author’s kindness with a negative review, but I also can’t lie to my readers (all three of them!) and tell them that something is good when it’s clearly not. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ll have seen the results. If a book deserves to be skewered, I skewer it. This book? I’m not kidding you when I say that I couldn’t put it down. It was that engaging, and I heartily look forward to seeing what happens next in this universe.
Somewhere between life and death, there is the Commons. When you are on the verge of death, your soul enters the Commons, where you must complete a Journey or quest to decide your fate. Succeed, and you may be allowed to recover and reclaim your old life. Fail, and you succumb to fate and go on to judgement, for good or ill. The Commons is a shifting place, its geography and some of its inhabitants drawn from your memory and subconscious. Other inhabitants could be scraps of memory left over from other people’s Journeys, or even errant souls on their own Journeys. The Envoys serve to guide souls through this shifting landscape, helping to shield them from the worst of its dangers. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. There is now only a single envoy still at his post, and he’s not seen an assignment since time immemorial. In the interim Mr. Brill, a corrupt corporate baron, has subverted the entire system, capturing souls and draining off their essence to fuel his own power. There are a few who remain free of his power, but even they enjoy freedom simply because they would be more effort to bring in than they are worth. Should they oppose him, that would change, and the result would not be pretty. Things look bleak for those who remember the way the Commons used to be….until Paul Reid arrives following a midnight bus crash. For some reason, Brill commits a disproportionate amount of his forces to recovering Paul’s fellow passengers from the crash, but even so Paul manages to escape with the help of Jonas Porter, the last envoy who has finally received another assignment. For some reason, Paul is special. For some reason, his Journey has the potential to put a kink in Brill’s plans for good. But with Brill committing everything he’s got, Paul’s going to need all the help he can get. He could use an army. What he’s got is an old man with a renewed sense of purpose, a silent Shaolin monk, a mummy in sunglasses, a goth girl with a living tattoo who happens to be the most beautiful thing Paul has ever seen, and behind the scenes the assistance of an Iraq vet and her autistic son. For the sake of everyone in the commons, they’ll have to be enough….
As I mentioned, I couldn’t put this down. The chapters were generally short, perfectly timed to fill a break at work, and suspenseful enough that when reading before bed I invariably spent longer than I’d intended before hitting the pillow. The characters were engaging, and even though you’re kind of thrown into things without much of an explanation, if you stick with it everything will eventually become clear. The book is written for a young adult audience, but I didn’t find that to be at all offputting. There are a number of heavy themes dealt with through the course of the story, and the book doesn’t pull any punches. It honestly reminded me of something Neil Gaiman might write, and that’s high praise indeed. As befits the first book in a series, the plot was mostly tied up, but with that one little thread leading off into the next story to keep you hooked. I thought it was very well done, especially for a book that I suspect was self-published. The publisher shares a name with a location/element from the story, and when I enter the publisher into Amazon this book is the only one that comes up. The good news? I would have had no idea if I weren’t researching the book for this review. It was that well done, even down to the professional-looking cover. Mr. Peck deserves a hearty congratulations on his achievement, and you deserve to read this book.
CONTENT: Mild language. Some violence, occasionally strong. Some sexual innuendo, notably a flashback where Paul saves one of his fellow street kids from being raped (you have to read between the lines, they were both getting beat up, and from the direction of his female friend he hears “elastic being ripped”) and some flirting, but on the whole it was pretty clean. Nearly the whole story happens in a fantasy setting, but there are some significant philosophical claims made. It’s not a Christian novel, and so the metaphysics of the story are unsurprisingly inconsistent with a Christian worldview, but I don’t believe that should disqualify it from consideration.