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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Guest Review: Immortal Quest: The Trouble with Mages

Note from Emily: Guest reviews are a rare treat here at WBiT? and today I'm happy to hand the reins over to Lewis Faulkner, author, playwright, and all around nice guy. You'll be hearing more from him during the Declare Your Independence Indie Author Giveaway Carnival here in July, but for now, he's on tap as guest reviewer!

Immortal Quest
Title:  Immortal Quest: The Trouble with Mages
Author:  Alexandra MacKenzie
Page Count:  280
Publisher:  Ingram Book Group (EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing)
Genre: Fantasy
Overall Grade: A

50 words or less: When detective Nick Watson interrogates Marlen, he’s led into a fate-of-the-world adventure.  But not from the usual suspects.  Magicians, a goblet, a ring, and a sacred stone—elements of an adventure that will reveal not only Nick’s current character, but his problematic past.

Immortal Quest is a great novel. 

But when I first read the plot, I didn’t think I’d like it.  Maybe not my cup of tea.

Once I started actually reading it, though, I had a much different experience.  The first chapter convinced me that this was going to be a page-turner! 

There are two main characters in the novel.  One is Marlen, [last name unnecessary and an ironic twist of the lips from the name Merlin, I suspect], who we discover is a mage, or using a more superficial definition, a magician.  He’s breaking into a museum.  But the motive isn’t money.  He’s removing something from the museum that has the potential, in the wrong hands, of ruining the world itself.  Nice start—the fate of the world is at stake.   Of course, Marlen gets caught, which introduces him, quite naturally, to the second main character, Nick Watson.  Nick is a hard-nosed detective.  Maybe a detective who comes off as a little stereotypical, at the outset, but he doesn’t stay that way for long.  Most importantly, in the first few chapters, Nick’s main job is to be skeptical of what Marlen is going to reveal, and a detective is just the right dose of realistic juxtaposition.

As Nick interrogates Marlen in the first chapter, Nick’s life is changed forever.   Again—the fate of the world at stake?  A character’s life changed forever?—that ability in an author is professional and exactly what fiction needs.  Eventually, Marlen reveals information about Nick that no one else could possibly know.  Nick has had many other lives, and in some of them, Marlen has not only been his best friend, but hints that Nick may have bisexual tendencies.  Of course, all this could just be a tall-tale, made up by a burglar.  The convincing comes, however, when Marlen reveals information that only Nick knows, from items on his body to the dream he had last night. 

Nick, of course, is astounded.  As you or I would be.

This might be a good place to point out that such an opening tells me, as a reader, that the author knows what she’s doing.  She’s pulling me in, very gently.  She’s making a regular person in the plot ask exactly the same questions I would ask under such circumstances.  This plot isn’t going to get a free ride under the category of fantasy; Nick is a hard-nosed realist, asking hard questions, and demanding proof before he steps into this adventure!

As the novel moves quickly into ‘what should we do now?’ mode, Ms. MacKenzie begins each scene with something interesting, wastes little details on artsy description, uses fresh dialog to keep things moving, and ends each scene with foreshadowing.  Again, I’m thinking, as a reader, this author knows what she’s doing.  And, she continues this template throughout the entire novel.  Certainly a feat in itself.

This ought to be enough to convince you to read Immortal Quest for yourself.

But there’s more.

As the plot unfolds, we see the characters divide into camps for the upcoming conflict.  Marlen and Nick are out to indirectly help the leaders of a Council (composed of Duncan Phipps, Georgina Pruit, and Ed Kelly).  This group is planning serious action against a mage named Vere, who is set out to destroy the world.  But in order to ruin things, Vere needs to regain three tangible possessions: a goblet, a jeweled ring, and a stone from the museum (the same museum where we first met Marlen in scene one).

As the two sets of foes journey across the Welsh countryside in search of the three talisman, opportunities arise for the reader to get to know the personalities of the characters.  From minor characters (known as drones) who surround the evil Vere, to Nick’s Uncle Brian, to ancient council members like Isabel—the author takes us deeper into the history of the relationships and strengthens the idiosyncracies of all her characters.  The journey takes us to Cornwall, to the Isle of Skye, and a surrounding castle—the scenery as realistic as the road signs, and the intrigue increases even more, as the race to find the three talismen comes to a head.

A lesser author might have been content to let the journey and the climax be nothing more than finding the three object and foiling the villain.  But Ms. MacKenzie shows even more talent, in my opinion, by crafting a couple of superb twists in the plot toward the end of the novel.  Without spoiling anything for you, if you haven’t read the novel yet, you’ll find a couple of places where the characters you’ve grown to think you know reveal themselves to be the opposite of what you believed.  Again, more real life than fantasy in my world, anyway.  All this, mind you, not from a fall-back on fantasy, but from genuine revelations of character and motive.  Real-life stuff!

As the novel comes to a close, we realize Nick is still struggling to understand his identity, from his possible bisexual nature, to his previous lives, and his current feelings for Marlen.  And Marlen is struggling with his own na├»ve, multiple-life loneliness.

Just for good measure, the novel has sprinklings of humor.  For example, Marlen reveals that “most of my fellow mages have become stockbrokers.”  Almost a laugh-out-loud joke.  But not exactly something you’d associate with time-traveling, multiple-life magicians.

Overall, the book was a great read, covering everything from intrigue to humor to emotional conflict.

And, with a hook like the main character having lives multiple lives, I think there’s plenty of room for some sequels!

Thanks for a great read, Ms. MacKenzie.

Lewis Faulkner is the author of The Headhunter, Radical, Novel Noir, Valentine’s Day—A Romantic Comedy, Miles Overman—A Novel, and Titan’s Rumor, as well as the award-winning play, Captain America.  He lives in Morrisville, NC.  Contact him on the web at www.FaulknerFiction.com
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