Book Review: Awakenings by Edward Lazellari
I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Guardians of Aandor
Publisher: Tor (August 30, 2011)
Length: 348 pages
Do not let the blurb or the cover of Awakenings deceive you—its marketing actually belies a very interesting book, which turned out to be nothing like I expected. At first glance, you would be forgiven for dismissing this as yet another urban fantasy with undertones of noir and the supernatural. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that the world is not as it seems. When it came to categorizing this book, I ended up tagging it Urban and Epic fantasy, because ultimately it encompassed elements from both genres.
As the story unfolds, readers are introduced to a cast of characters which include Cal MacDonnell, a New York City cop. Thirteen years ago, he woke up in a field with no memory of where he came from or how he got there. His entire life now revolves around his wife Cat and their young daughter Bree. Next is Seth Raincrest, a jaded self-centered slacker who has few friends and no prospects for the future. Like Cal, Seth can’t remember anything before thirteen years ago, when he was found as a boy outside a burning house, his parents presumably dead inside. He spent the rest of his childhood in orphanages and foster care, and now struggles to make ends meet as an amateur pornographer. And finally, there’s thirteen-year-old Daniel who lives with his adoptive mother and abusive stepdad. Despite his troubles at home and at school, all Daniel wants is to be a good person and help his friends.
For Cal, what began as an average night on the job quickly turns deadly as he and his partner are called to the scene of a disturbance. In a derelict building, they are suddenly ambushed by otherworldly beings who seem to know about Cal’s past. Now his wife and daughter are in danger, and the night would have ended in disaster had it not been for the intervention of a mysterious red-headed woman named Lelani who claims to be a sorceress from another world. Promising to have all the answers to Cal and Seth’s questions about their past, she leads them on a quest to regain their memories because hanging in the balance is the life of a child they must find before their enemies can get to him first.
As you can see, the story which initially presents itself as an urban fantasy quickly transforms into something wholly different. I’ve seen the term “inverse portal fantasy” used to describe books like this, and it is quite appropriate in the case of Awakenings. Gradually, the mundane world becomes permeated by elements more commonly found in high fantasy settings, such as wizards, centaurs, other creatures like gnolls, and politics from a feudal medieval realm. The result is this strange mishmash of different concepts and tones, featuring the modern existing beside the antiquated, or science and technology comingling with magic.
But of course, this hodgepodge of ideas also causes a fair amount of confusion, especially in the early parts of the novel, with the vagueness of the situation further exacerbated by the characters’ amnesia because they are not aware of what’s going on themselves. Another hitch is the lengthy setup and the amount of time it takes to introduce all the characters and their backstories. Not surprisingly, a book like this requires lots of groundwork before all the various plot threads can even begin to come together. And finally, there’s the obvious drawback regarding reader expectations. If an urban fantasy fan were to pick up Awakenings, for example, there’s no telling how they would react to the sudden change in style and tone around midway through the novel, when the contemporary aspects start to give way to more epic fantasy elements.
The good news is, the writing is fantastic. Edward Lazellari does an incredible job juggling all the story’s moving parts, ratcheting up tensions when required in order to draw the reader deeper into this dark mystery. His prose is also smooth and very polished, and if I hadn’t known this was his first novel, I would have thought he’d been doing this for years. To be honest, I only really have one main complaint, and that was the ending. I found no closure in it at all, not even the slightest sense that any of the multitude of loose ends have been tied, making this entire novel feel like one long drawn-out prologue. I can’t deny the lack of answers frustrated me, and it’s just a shame that this is perhaps the book’s greatest weakness, because otherwise everything else about it was rock solid.
Still, on the whole I did enjoy reading Awakenings. Despite the open ending, I’m intrigued by the ideas Lazellari has presented here, and also curious about what he has in store for his characters. By the looks of things, the next book The Lost Prince will be bringing even more of the storylines together, and I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out.