Nov 20, 2012

[Books] The Epiphanist

More and more I find myself in the position to review a book by independent authors. It's proving to be quite the interesting experience and I've been enjoying exploring new worlds and new realms through the works of these various authors.

Thus as a matter of principle, I do my best to take the time to read these books when the offers come along. Review copies are certainly meant to be treasured among fellow readers and the writer in me can only respect the effort that went into creating the book. In fact, I fully envy the fact that they are published and I think this is a big part of the reason why I do my best to read and eventually review these books.

It also means venturing into stories that I probably wouldn't seek out on my own. And that's not a bad thing at all - it means I get to expand my horizons and sample other types of stories and thus new adventures. The Epiphanist initially felt like one of those books - something that felt outside my comfort zone to some extent. But I stuck with it and finished the book, and that in itself was quite the reward.

Synopsis: The Epiphanist is the first novel by author William Rosencrans. This is, without a doubt, a science fiction novel and a rather complex one at that. This is not leisure reading, to say the least. And I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this book for review purposes.

At the center of our story is young Vladimir, who lives in the jungles of what has come to be known as Abbadon. This part of the island that they live on is meant as a rather expansive prison for those found unworthy by those who control things from the Holy City. And those who live in this elaborate prison include individuals like Vladimir, who are failed genetic engineering efforts to create better solider and other specialized functions. Thus many of the citizens who live on this side of the wall that keeps the Holy City safe are prone to fits of violence and such.

But there is hope for the cast out "sinners" of the Abbadon. By taken a test - the examen - one may prove worthy of entrance into the city. Otherwise, they will remain in Abbadon. And amid an on-going war between the East and the West, Vladimir finds himself to be the focus of the attentions of several heralds - artificial creatures consisting of nanites who have their own agenda. Appearing in varied forms such as a fly or a gentleman in a top hat, the heralds are determined to help Vladimir survive long enough to take the examen and stand a chance of finding redemption in the Holy City.

Now admittedly I was initially turned off by the highly religious and philosophical discussions and arguments that littered the book from the very beginning. There's no warm-up or even an introduction to the world that you are now in. Instead you jump right into the primary narrative and are left to your own devices in terms of trying to keep up. And that's not a bad thing - it demonstrates a certain maturity in terms of the expectations of the author.

And once you get past that initial hurdle, the book does eventually draw you in. The characters are all nicely complex and the arguments and discussions between them are pretty heavy and worth a second reading or more. And ultimately it's hard for even a veteran science fiction reader to precisely determine where the book is going to go. And this is not because it's confused or anything like that - instead the plot is that rich and filled with interesting nuances that ending comes as quite the surprise.

Yes, I could have done with less religious imagery. And while I'm used to experiencing religion from new perspectives in books of this nature, I felt things were laid on a bit thick. To be fair, it's not like the book advocated one religion or the other. It just had a lot of the trappings of various religions as part of the narrative and thus it can get a bit draining for a rather skeptical agnostic like myself.

The book is a tad lengthy and the chapters are equally long as well, so you'l find yourself with fewer clean "breaks" in the narrative in case you need to get something done outside of reading. Thankfully I read this on my Kindle, so bookmarking was pretty seamless. Not that the technical solution alone was sufficient enough to make me take a slower pace in reading this book. In fact it was quite the opposite - once I was invested in  a particular chapter, I didn't want to stop until I had reached the end. And that's certainly a good thing.

Ultimately what is most impressive about this book is the rich and complex world that Rosencrans has created. The island is more than just a small spot of land divided into Abbadon and the Holy City. There are many technologies that make their society possible ranging from the nanite heralds to the biologically-enhanced buildings.

The Epiphanist is a rich and rewarding book that was nicely polished and quite impressive for a first venture by an independent author.  The book is a steal at only $0.99 in the Kindle Store and given how complex the story is, you'd be a fool to not make the investment. The book is certainly worth more than that and thus I ate the book a respectable 3.5 complex kenjutsu moves Vladimir learns out of a possible 5.

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