I’d like to share three reader reviews of Emissary from Emmanuel James Boston, Dave Milbrandt and Steve Hilton. I suspect you’ll enjoy each reviewer’s unique style as much as I did!
Mystery embedded in mystery
By Emmanuel James Boston, originally published on his blog
Thomas Locke delivers something to his readers that, by all measures, is really quite good. Mystery embedded in mystery. Adventure in fantasy. Love in trust. Story in words.
Instead of giving you a book summary like many of the other reviews, I’ll give you a more analytical/critical review to help you gauge (not whether it will be a riveting story, but) whether you want to read this philosophy over-against competing philosophies.
Greater good can be had in denying myself, even being willing to sacrifice everything, and pursuing the cause of the outcast and the downtrodden; in pursuing good for goodness’ sake.
Sacrifice self, pursue good
- There are greater things at stake
People follow whom they can trust
- Every individual needs others
- There are mysterious, guiding forces at work
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Setting: Medieval world, undefined universe
Plot Flow: Ascending, monochronic; Rags-to-riches; quick-paced
Additional literary elements:
- Self-discovery, community building, battle
- The primary characters presented offer the antitype Hero-Leader, Chaos-Villain, comforter, and sage
Cultural Target: youth, young adults, fantasy
A few mechanical corrections need to be made—there were several times in the first 50 pages that a sentence felt cumbersome or lacking in a word. But after these first few, the writing style and sentence structure was flawless. So perhaps it was simply that I needed to get accustomed to the way Locke was writing, but nonetheless: there were a few times I had to reread a sentence because I couldn’t distinguish subject from object or distinction of antecedents.
Along a similar vein, there were several times in the book that I thought the plot developed too quickly—almost like there were gaps in the plot development (not to be confused with plot holes!). It occasionally thought: “There wasn’t enough time for Hyam & Co. to determine that course of action. He didn’t even have a chance to think through the events.”
Hyam seemed to respond too quickly and adeptly—he’s not done these things before, but he is somehow the perfect leader in every situation and knows how to react to things that are coming his way. If it were intended in Hyam’s characterization, he would appear haughty and presumptuous, but the characterization of Hyam was humble and compassionate (albeit holding grudges).
And occasionally it seemed like Locke didn’t spend enough time staging and describing the scene—this critique I know will be dismissed by most because many people want to ‘get to the story/action’ and find description overbearing, but I sometimes found myself rushed from one area to another without ever getting a chance to ‘look around’ as it were, and experience. Now this was not always the case, but I think more often than not the pace of the story was too quick for enjoying the world… and to be honest it was never quite clear in the story why there was such a rush. It seemed like Hyam ‘just knew’ that everything had to be done as expeditiously as possible without a clear plot element that gave cause.
And yet! All these critiques being leveled, the story was so good that all was quickly forgiven. The problems didn’t really even matter because the whole package was so enjoyable the whole time. In fact, all you have to do is read other reviews to understand the things that are so excellent.
I give this book 4/5 stars and recommend it to any fantasy readers as young as age 10.
Visiting new lands
By Dave Milbrandt, author of Chasing Deception, originally published on his blog
One thing I have learned as an author is that once you have drawn readers into your type of storytelling, they are hungry for more. There is a reason John Grisham uses the same structure in most of his novels: it sells really, really well.
But sometimes as a writer you want to explore a new type of story or different genre altogether. The fear, of course, is that people won’t join you on this journey. I have a manuscript in the works that is a significant departure from my first book and I am pondering how to market the project. I even briefly thought of using a nom de plume to separate it from the sequel I also am planning to Chasing Deception.
Speaking of assumed identities, one of my favorite authors who I had a chance to meet at a writers conference a decade ago, has written a new mythic fiction book under a pen name. While I normally don’t write book reviews on my blog, I thought I would make an exception here because I admire how this award-winning author bravely is striking out in a new direction with this work, thus encouraging me to do the same.
Locke was wise to publish this title under a different name, as it is a departure from what people expect from him. His other works are distinctly Christian in nature and Emissary, while not anti-Christian, stays true to the mythic fiction genre in a way that might make his regular readers uncomfortable. In particular, there are mages who use spells to battle evil forces. While this might upset some in his traditional audience, he would not be true to the body of literature he is joining if he ignored such elements.
Having said that, I must note Emissary is quite well structured, blending character development and conflict to engage the reader throughout the tale. The work is reminiscent of Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon series in that it embraces the mythic fiction genre but avoids some of its darker elements. You may have the use of magic, but the force is more of a weapon against evil than a blueprint for the reader channeling such powers for his or her own use. There are battle sequences and a romantic subplot, but Locke refrains from the graphic narrative techniques so popular today. Game of Thrones, it is not.
In Emissary, Locke reinvents himself, writing in a grand style evocative of his earlier work. He takes us to a new land resplendent in rich detail and introduces us to flawed heroes driven to impact the world around them in a powerful and dynamic fashion. Locke dives deep into the world of mythic storytelling, creating compelling characters readers would follow on a grand quest to fight the forces of evil.
Sign me up for the next adventure!
There’s more to Hyam than meets the eye
By Steve Hilton, on ChristianBook.com
The e-mail I received inviting me to review THE EMISSARY by Thomas Locke informed me:
This is a new kind of story that focuses on the positive aspects that come from our life walk: courage in the face of hardship, growth, and change.
Every one of us must wrestle with these issues as we make the break between choosing to live our lives according to principles of the kingdom of hell, or by the principles of the kingdom of heaven. The Lord Jehovah, through his servant Moses, declared: I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, (Deuteronomy 30:19, HCSB)
Life is not about choices, life is a series of choices, and living ones life in light of the ramifications of the choices that we make. And that message is declared on every page of Scripture.
Enough preaching. On to the story itself.
Hyam, the hero of our story, is much like the crops that he grows; the fruit on the surface is abundant, rich, and varied . . . and yet there is more to him than meets the eye. The roots run deep; deeper than even Hyam knows. His mothers dying request is for Hyam to return to Long Hall, where he spent five years as an apprentice . . . and where his extraordinary capacity for mastering languages came to light. It was also a place that holds bitter memories for Hyam, and the one place to which he had vowed never to return. But how can one deny his own mother? When Hyam dares to seek out the Mistress of the Sorceries, her revelations rock his world to its very core. An encounter with an enchanting stranger reminds him that he is part hero and part captive. As Hyam struggles to interpret the omens and symbols, he is swept up by a great current of possibilities–and dangers.
Thomas Locke writes with an attention to detail that doesn’t bog one down with the details. The action varies as the scenes change, but is intentionally directed to the final resolution. The characters are complex, and yet one doesn’t really see them as characters at all. From the opening pages, one is swept off ones feet and taken where the stories, and dreams, and aspirations . . . and the dangers, and the heartaches, and the losses . . . take one.
I’m reminded of the preface to HUCKLEBERRY FINN:
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Because Mark Twain desired the reader to join in the adventure not psychoanalyse the author, or subject the story to the typical literary critique. As Thomas Locke desires in EMISSARY.