Book Review: The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 3, 2018)
Length: 416 pages
What a fascinating novel. And to think I almost passed this one up, but every now and then I like to step out of my comfort zone to read something “outside my box”, and books like The Oracle Year make me glad that I do.
The story follows a struggling bassist named Will Dando who wakes up one morning from a dream, his head filled with 108 predictions about the future. Enlisting the help of his friend Hamza, Will proceeds to set up a heavily secured and untraceable website where he begins to release his predictions to the world anonymously, calling himself the Oracle. Pretty soon, he becomes a world-wide sensation when every single one of his prophecies come true. Now everyone wants their future told by the Oracle, from those who think he is some kind of savior to global corporations willing to pay big bucks for any information he can give them.
But not everyone is so enamored with the Oracle. There are those who believe he has too much influence, and that makes him dangerous. From inside the US government, powerful entities are working hard to uncover the real identity of the Oracle, not only to stop him from putting out his predictions, but also to dispatch an unconventional assassin on his tail to silence him forever. Will knows that history has not been kind to its prophets, and that so long his website remains up, his life and those of his friends will always be in danger. It’s only a matter of time before his enemies catch up to him, so in the meantime, the Oracle might as well try to do some good.
Comics fans will be no stranger to Charles Soule, whose name has appeared in the writing credits on some of Marvel and DC’s most popular titles. The Oracle Year is his debut novel, however—one that’s unexpectedly clever and sophisticated. The premise is also refreshingly original, even if it does require a lot to make it convincing. Still, those who can overlook some of the book’s plot holes will undoubtedly appreciate its entertainment value as a kind of “what-if scenario” novel. I always find those to be a lot of fun, and to my delight, this one did not disappoint.
Soule might even have dodged a bullet by staying away from lengthy explanations and giving readers too much detail, as I suspect that would have only hurt the pacing and bog down the narrative. Instead, he makes it clear from the start that it’s better to just go with the flow. Besides, in the whole scheme of things, it hardly matters to the reader how those 108 predictions came to Will in his dreams, or why he was given this gift. What does matter is what our protagonist decides to do with those predictions, and how he chooses to exercise the power that has unexpectedly fallen in his lap. As a person, Will is nobody special—just your average city-dwelling twenty-something millennial trying to make ends meet. His initial response (i.e. setting up a website, cashing in on his predictions) is arguably predictable, but it’s when Will’s life as the Oracle starts spiraling out of control, that’s when the plot matures into something more complex and interesting.
I also think most readers will be able to relate to Will. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and in many ways, Soule’s protagonist isn’t too far off from the comic book heroes he’s had plenty of experience writing. Will is very much like a Peter Parker-type character, especially since his true identity must be kept a secret in order to protect those he cares about. Like Spider-Man, he also goes through a brief phase where the fame and money go to his head, until he realizes he can use his website and predictions to bring about positive change instead. At the end of the day, Will is a good guy with a good heart, and the story unfolds in such a way that ensures readers will be firmly in his corner when our protagonist’s life inevitably devolves into utter chaos. The author throws in some cool twists at the end too, saving the most suspenseful surprises for the final act.
All told, The Oracle Year is a captivating novel featuring a quirky premise and a likeable “everyman” protagonist, but be careful not to let those elements fool you into thinking this is a straightforward tale. Sure, the story may utilize some familiar tropes, but author Charles Soule also plays with different ideas to keep readers on their toes and guessing, especially in the second half of the book where the ending could lie in any number of directions. Ultimately, I’m glad I took a chance on this thrilling and fast-paced adventurous debut.