Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Review: A Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz

cover art: A Star Curiously SingingA Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

In a dystopian future of Earth with advanced technology and a repressive global regime, to be a tech geek is to be a slave. Anyone (usually male) chosen for this role at age 10 is implanted with a chip that allows him to wirelessly connect to machines, computers and serv-bots—to “stream” to them—and to perform necessary repairs.

These people are called debuggers, and Sandfly is a good one. He does what his master orders, and rarely gets “tweaked” for disobedient or dangerous thoughts, although his wry observances of life under the masters—the Abduls (Servants)—skate pretty close to the edge at times.

Sandfly’s world is ruled by a form of Islam that’s all rules and no faith. Absolute power seems to have corrupted absolutely, and Sandfly wonders if there are any good masters left.

A top-secret assignment lands him on a space station (he’s afraid of heights) where he’s introduced to the prototype space ship, Dark Trench. Dark Trench is a technological marvel, but its crew can’t be cleared to go home until Sandfly finds out what caused their only bot to destroy itself part-way through the mission.

There’s a lot more to the story than that, but you need to read it yourself. Part of the fun is being dropped into this unusual world and figuring out what’s going on as you read Sandfly’s narration. He’ll call you “freehead” and occasionally explain details, but most of the time you’re just along for the ride, learning on the fly (if you’ll pardon the pun).

A Star Curiously Singing is a fast read, with twists, turns, humour, faith and danger. It’s a good story, and Sandfly really makes the novel for me. He’s an engaging character with a distinctive voice. I look forward to reading the other two books in the Dark Trench series: The Surperlative Stream and Freeheads.

A Star Curiously Singing won a Reader’s Favourite Gold Medal Award, and was a finalist on a few other awards lists. You can learn more about Kerry Nietz at his website, and read a sample of A Star Curiously Singing on the Marcher Lord Press site. And you can read an interview with Kerry Nietz, and a bit about his newest book, Freeheads, at A Christian Writer’s World. The draw is now over, and I won! Kerry very kindly substituted A Star Curiously Singing for Freeheads, rather than drop me into the series at the end.

Review: The Word Reclaimed, by Steve Rzasa

The Word Reclaimed cover artThe Word Reclaimed, by Steve Rzasa (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

It’s 2602 and humans have developed interstellar travel and colonized planets. Major power belongs to the Realm of Five, with dissenters living on the fringes as Expatriates. The other players in this universe are the Martians, and I’m not clear if they’re humans who lived on Mars and then rebelled or if they’re another race entirely. What they are is hostile.

The Realm of Five’s Royal Stability Force, aka “Kesek,” is a nasty secret-police-type enforcer of political correctness, including the Realm-wide ban on any religions other than the state-created generic one that won’t “threaten the human spirit”.

When their spaceship stops to salvage the remains of another ship, Baden Haczyk discovers highly dangerous contraband: a Bible. Print books are things of the past, and people read on wireless devices called delvers. Along with other holy books, Bibles were thought to have been destroyed.

Should he sell it on the black market? Give it to Kesek before they come after him?

He’ll decide when the ship reaches the next space station. First, he starts reading it.

While the main plot thread of Baden and the book (and his difficult relationship with his father) plays out, a secondary thread follows cadet Alex Verge and his family on earth and into space on a military mission.

Author Steve Rzasa weaves two seemingly-different stories set in the same universe to mesh into one satisfying conclusion that dangles enough questions to make me want to read the next book in the series, The Word Unleashed.

One thing I enjoy about futuristic novels is the authors’ extrapolation of technology, specifically space travel. Steve Rzasa has some intriguing ideas that add an extra layer of interest to the novel.

I felt a degree of information overload in places, as if the author were giving me more background details than I needed to know. He’s done a thorough job of world-building (would that be “universe-building”?) and I can definitely visualize this story as an epic space movie. It has everything: ships, chases, action, explosions, battles, exotic locales… as well as relationships, political machinations and a thought-provoking plot.

One thing I’ve noted in other Marcher Lord Press books is the meticulous editing, and I was surprised to see some copy-editing issues here. Nothing more than you’d see most places, except for the fact that Alex is Alec for a while when we first meet him, but still not what I expected.

You can read a sample of The Word Reclaimed online. The remaining books in the Face of the Deep series are The Word Unleashed and Broken Sight. You can read an interview with Steve Rzasa (pronounced “Ra-zah”) on the Marcher Lord Press site or visit his website, The Face of the Deep. His newest novel is Crosswind, in the steampunk genre, and it looks intriguing.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Zinovy’s Journey, by Ginny Jaques

Zinovy's Journey cover artZinovy’s Journey, by Ginny Jaques (Millennium Journeys Press, 2011)

When the world ends…
Zinovy’s journey begins.

Zinovy Kozlov was a successful assassin. Then he was running for his life. Now the earth itself has changed and his enemies are dead or out of reach. As he tackles the physical pilgrimage to the one remaining city on the planet, he doesn’t see that he and his companions are on a spiritual journey as well.

Zinovy’s Journey is “a speculative novel in three parts: The End, The Journey, and The Beginning.” It offers a little bit of just about everything: action, intrigue, suspense, a spacewalk, relationships, revenge, philosophy, end times, a whole new world, and surprises at every turn.

Author Ginny Jaques has envisioned a richly wondrous world set during Revelation’s thousand-year reign of Christ, and I’m sure the real thing will be all that and more than we can imagine. Reading about it made me wistful.

The author has chosen to interpret biblical references “as literally as possible in creating the setting, because that approach made an interesting physical backdrop for Zinovy’s journey.”

People have many different expectations about the end times, and if you read this novel checking it against your own understanding you’ll probably find differences. But you’ll also miss the story. Readers who take it as fiction and not doctrine will engage the universal story of human choices on the journey to a relationship with God.

One of the many things I appreciate about the novel is it doesn’t end with Zinovy accepting Christ. That happens in the middle section, and then we get to see his struggles as he learns what his choice means – and what it costs. For a rational man like Zinovy who has always dismissed Bible stories as fables taught by his mother, the path to faith is indeed quite a journey.

I found the pace slower in The Journey section, because there’s a lot of philosophical discussion among the travellers. Readers who enjoy deep thinking will be satisfied, and the characters touch on all the heavy-duty spiritual questions. To the characters, it’s not slow; it’s a necessary part of working through their concerns. And the action never stops, it just happens between conversations. There’s still danger lurking.

The characters came alive to me, especially Zinovy, Sara, and the boy Caleb. The day after finishing the story, I caught myself wondering what was happening in their world now. It was a bit disappointing to remember I couldn’t pick up the book and read more!

Zinovy’s Journey is Ginny Jaques’ first novel, and I really like her writing style. The novel is available through the Zinovy’s Journey website, where you can also view the trailer and read a sample chapter. Those who’ve already finished the book are invited to visit the About the Novel page for background information and deleted scenes. You can also read my interview with author Ginny Jaques.

Author’s Warning: Some scenes in this book contain violence, strong language, and religious ideas.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Words in the Wind, by Yvonne Anderson

Words in the Wind cover art Words in the Wind, by Yvonne Anderson (Risen Books, 2012)

Words in the Wind is book 2 in the Gateway to Gannah series. Book 1, The Story in the Stars, introduces Dassa, the sole survivor of planet Gannah, and Dr. Pik of planet Karkar. Dassa looks like most humans, but Karkars are taller, with six fingers and toes per hand/foot, and the only emotions they show are through their ear movements. The two planets, Gannah and Karkar, have a bloody history.

I can’t review book 2 without giving spoilers for book 1, so if this is a new series to you, click over to my review of The Story in the Stars. You may want to read that novel first.

[Scroll down for the rest of the Words in the Wind review]

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Words in the Wind takes place 20 years after Dassa, the last Gannahan, is rescued, and 10 years after she and Pik have married. They’re leading a settlement of humans whose goal is to repopulate Gannah according to the Old Gannahan customs, culture and language.

It’s a harsh culture in some ways, based on honour, truth and communal living. Many of the Old Gannahans had embraced Christianity when it was shared from Earth, partly because God (they call Him the Yasha) spoke directly to them. The settlers are Christians as well.

True Gannahans have a meah organ in their brains, allowing them to hear one another as well as God. A Gannahan was never truly alone, until Dassa became the last survivor.

In Words in the Wind, Dassa is stranded on the far side of the planet when her shuttle crashes. The impact damages her meah and she’s cut off from her children and from her God. She must survive in harsh surroundings and find a way home if her people can’t locate her. And she needs to learn to live her faith the way other races do, relying only on the words in the Bible and on God’s providence.

Pik has no contact with her but he’s convinced she’s still alive. Weather and equipment foil his rescue attempts, and the harder he tries to keep the settlers together and to lead in her absence, the worse he seems to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Dassa’s journey is an adventure, and while it’s dangerous, I wasn’t afraid for her. And then there’s the whole rediscovering Gannah aspect: this amazing planet with habitations and archives ready to be explored and put to use. Plus there’s the trust these people (most of them) have in their God to be with them in the hard times and to make a way.

When I reached the end I kept wanting to turn pages but there were no more! I’ll be eagerly waiting for book 3, Ransom in the Rock. In the mean time, if you like Christian science fiction that’s light on the science and more about the people and the planet, I highly recommend the Gateway to Gannah series.

You can learn more about Yvonne Anderson at her website, Y’s Words. Or follow this link for more about the Gateway to Gannah series. Yvonne is also part of the team at Novel Rocket.

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair review.]

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Friday Friends: Ginny Jaques, author of Zinovy’s Journey

Ginny Jaques is a Canadian author whose debut novel, Zinovy’s Journey, released in October 2011. I first read the opening of an earlier draft of the story in an online contest put on by Marcher Lord Press. Readers were the judges, and the winner got published. I don’t remember who won, but I was disappointed when this story about a guy named Zinovy didn’t make it. I really liked the author’s style.

Janet: Welcome, Ginny, and thanks for taking time to join us. I don’t remember how we eventually connected, but I’m glad we did—and glad Zinovy’s full story is now available.

Ginny: I don’t remember when we first met either. It’s funny how you meet people in situations that you don’t know are going to be significant, so you don’t mark the date on your calendar! I know it was through the Marcher Lord Press contest Jeff sponsored in 2009.

Janet: Tell us a bit about Zinovy’s Journey.

Ginny: Zinovy’s Journey is a speculative novel about a Russian cosmonaut who is preparing to shuttle down to Cape Canaveral from an international space station when the earth below is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. He’s used to being in charge of his life, but now he’s caught in circumstances that are totally beyond his control. The book chronicles his journey toward acceptance of the truth that he cannot be his own god, and the realization that there’s Someone else, who’s been walking beside him all the time, who is much better qualified to fill that position in his life.

Janet: Where did the story idea come from?

Ginny: The idea came out of one of those “What if. . .?” questions that sometimes send writers off on interesting journeys. I thought, what if, when Jesus comes back to establish His kingdom on earth, there are people away from the world at the time? What would they see, from wherever they were? What would they do? The opening conflict, and the beginnings of a plot scheme developed naturally from that point on.

Janet: Was the Marcher Lord Press contest the manuscript’s first exposure?

Ginny: Yes, the MLP contest was Zinovy’s first exposure. I’d pitched the manuscript to a few editors before, but Jeff was the first one who really listened and expressed an interest in the idea. I had scheduled an appointment with him at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Denver, mainly to get advice about who else I might approach. He’d just introduced the MLP contest, and invited me to submit. It was the beginning of the boost I needed to go for publication.

Janet: You chose to self-publish Zinovy’s Journey, with skilled advisers at every step of the way. What sorts of things would have gone wrong if you’d tried it on your own?

Ginny: I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own. There were just too many things I didn’t know. I knew some things I’d need, like a book cover, and typesetting, but I had no idea where to begin looking for them. Jeff Gerke was encouraging about the manuscript from the start, and he kind of fell into the position of my self-publishing consultant. I’d e-mail him with questions and he’d send back the answers, along with encouragement to go ahead and try things myself. He was literally a God-send.

Janet: I think the biggest danger of self-publishing is not knowing what questions to ask. Well, second-biggest. The biggest is thinking one’s work is perfect as-is and deciding one doesn’t need an editor. You successfully avoided both. Having gone this route, do you expect to do the same with your next novel? There will be a next one, right?

Ginny: Yes, you’re right. If you know the questions, you can find the answers, but if you don’t even know the questions you’re stuck. But it’s gotten easier to self-publish knowledgeably, even since last year when I began this project. There’s so much information out there now.

As for the “perfect as-is” manuscript, it doesn’t take much probing to discover that your work isn’t perfect. If you can’t see it, there will always be people eager to show you!

And about a next novel, no, I don’t have plans. I’m still recovering from this one.

Janet: Recovering. I hear you. What got you started writing?

Ginny: Actually, it was this story that got me started. Unlike other authors, I’ve never had a driving ambition to be a writer. Writing is such hard work, and I’m not highly motivated to do hard work! I would never have done this if the story hadn’t just insisted that I tell it. I’m ashamed to say that, but it’s the truth.

Janet: Writing is definitely something where you have to be motivated or you’ll never get to the end of the first draft. Okay, I’m going to ask a question I personally hate answering. Feel free to pass. What’s the novel’s theme? Or what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?

Ginny: The theme. Hmm. There are several, but the central one probably has to do with personal freedom—the freedom God grants us to choose our own eternal destiny. We can’t control our circumstances, but I do believe we are in control of how we respond to them—how we allow ourselves to see God in them. I want readers to come away from the story realizing that they have the option of responding to God’s love, and that the choices they make regarding this opportunity are of eternal significance.

Janet: May they see the choice and choose carefully! I know the novel’s just released, but what has reader response been like so far?

Ginny: Reader response has been encouraging. Surprisingly so. I’m pleased that people of both genders and all ages have reacted positively to the book. Even people who are not religious appreciate the story, which pleases me even more. It’s a Christian story, bottom line, but non-Christians have always been my target audience.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Ginny: I’ve always loved the song, “Trust and Obey.” I think it totally sums up the way we should live our lives. It’s the way I’ve tried to walk on this writing journey, just taking one step of faith at a time. I don’t think there is any other way this book could have happened.

Janet: What do you like best about the writing life?

Ginny: Tee hee. See comments above, under what got me started! The thing I like best about the writing life is when the manuscript is done and I can quit. It’s kind of like banging your head against the wall. More positively, I suppose, it’s the sense of satisfaction you get from the finished product. And a chance to curl up with someone else’s good book instead of having to work on your own.

Janet: Ah. “It feels so good when you stop.” I get it. What do your family think of your writing?

Ginny: My family has always been supportive of my writing, but it’s been tough love. They are my most honest critics. It’s probably a good thing that none of them read the whole thing before it was published. I might still be revising! My husband has been very patient with the process, and he fed and clothed me while I wrote. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?

Ginny: I read a variety of books. When I’m writing, I try to read authors whose writing styles I admire, because I tend to mimic the style of the writing I’m reading. But now that I’m through writing, I can play around a bit. I just finished Decision Points, George Bush’s autobiography. I wanted to get his perspective on his presidency and it was a great read. Right now I’m reading Helen of Troy, a historical novel written by Margaret George, a delightful writer I met at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in October. I’ve got a stack of books by my bed and I’m working my way down.

Janet: What do you like to do to get away from it all?

Ginny: I love to go to places that are warm and sunny. We usually go to Los Angeles in the spring to visit relatives, and I soak up the sounds and sights and smells of California. I’m originally a California girl, so the nostalgia is an added bonus.

Janet: What’s the most surprising/fun/zany/scary thing you’ve ever done?

Ginny: I honestly never have done anything surprising/fun/zany or scary, other than self-publish this book. Unless you count spending 20 years as a high school substitute teacher. That might qualify. I’m actually a very boring person. I suppose it’s not very good marketing to say that. Zinovy is much more interesting than I am, though.

Janet: That’s probably true of most writers. We’re alive, but our characters are a bit larger than life. Who wants to read about “normal”? And as a writer, I think taking on the whole independent publishing thing is pretty scary. [Substitute teaching sounds downright terrifying to me. I remember some of my classmates!] I’m curious what prompted a female Canadian author to choose a Russian man as her protagonist. Zinovy’s story could be anyone’s story, from anywhere, and we’re so overloaded with North American protagonists. He makes a refreshing change.

Ginny: I chose a Russian male to be the main character in the novel because I wanted someone who had no Christian background. It intrigued me to think how strange the new world would seem to someone who had no concept of the Kingdom of God. I figured a Russian KGB assassin would be about as far away from that kingdom as anyone could get. I’ve also never really seen myself as a Canadian writer. I’ve lived half my life in the U.S. and half in Canada, so I have more of an international perspective. That worked well for this novel. I agree that Zinovy is really everyman/everywoman. We all are on a heroic journey, looking for God, whether we know it’s Him we’re hungry for or not, and that kind of journey isn’t restricted to national boundaries.

Janet: Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Ginny. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life. And may He use Zinovy’s Journey to get many readers thinking about their own life choices.

Ginny: God bless you too, Janet. You’re a gift, and I’m so glad God gave me your friendship.

Janet: Someday we will yet meet in person!

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Zinovy's Journey cover art

When the world ends…
Zinovy’s journey begins.

To view the trailer for Zinovy’s Journey or to read a sample chapter, visit the Zinovy’s Journey website. And here’s a link to my review of Zinovy’s Journey.

To learn more about Ginny Jaques, visit her at Something About the Joy and Something About the Writing Journey.

Review: The Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead

The Realms Thereunder - cover artThe Realms Thereunder, by Ross Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

The Realms Thereunder is a fun ride. Eight years ago, 13-year-olds Daniel and Freya discovered an underground world with sleeping knights and dangerous creatures. Today, Daniel lives on the streets of Oxford, England, and Freya is a university student there. And the lines between the visible and hidden world are blurring.

The novel tells both stories, in scenes clearly labelled “eight years before” and “now,” and it held my interest from the very beginning. The plot is complex but understandable, Daniel and Freya are real characters with real issues and neuroses (Daniel’s home life scarred him, and Freya hasn’t recovered from her first experience underground.)

There’s some delightfully understated humour, like Daniel’s reaction to a stone he’s supposed to put in his mouth, and there are mythical and disturbing creatures of all kinds. (Love the conversation about how to dispose of dead trolls in present-day UK.)

Naturally, most people around Daniel and Freya deny the encroaching danger, but there are a few who don’t: Scottish police officer Alex Simpson and the mysterious Oxford-based group, the Society of Concerned Individuals.

The Sleeping Knights (once awake) and their people use archaic names and titles, complete with some ancient letters that I can’t reproduce on this blog. The author is careful to have Daniel or Freya pronounce the key words phonetically the first time so readers can do the same. And there’s a pronunciation key at the back of the book if needed.

I applaud the publisher for allowing at least some of British spellings in the novel (they wimp out on manoeuvred and go for maneuvered). Words like honour, armour, colour, are a subtle way to remind readers that we’re in England. As a Canadian, I hope this is precedent for novels set in Canada.

On the other hand, this intricately-plotted story would have benefited from more careful polishing and copy-editing. We see a horse’s reigns and a creature trying to wretch, and a character exalt at the prospect of adventure, all simple spell-check issues. And there’s text with repeated words or phrases (“find purchase” three times close together) that a quick polish would fix.

These are minor things and hardly worth mention for most readers, but they’re evidence of a disturbing trend as even the big-league publishers find themselves with more work than time to do it.

The Realms Thereunder is Ross Lawhead’s first novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, quickly passed it on to my son, and am looking forward to the next in the series, The Fearful Gates, available September 2012.

Click to read an excerpt of The Realms Therunder, and you can learn more about Ross Lawhead at his blog.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson] 

Review: Relentless, by Robin Parrish

Relentless, by Robin Parrish (Bethany House, 2007)

One morning Colin Boyd sees himself on the street heading for work. He, meanwhile, is wearing a stranger’s body. Lucky for him, his new persona comes with muscle memory and fighting instincts. He’ll need them all and then some, to survive the mysterious assassin who’s suddenly on his tail. And that’s just for starters.

A mysterious, barefoot girl warns him to leave town, but he needs to find out what’s going on. Apparently he’s now Grant Borrows: strong, handsome, owner of a luxury apartment and a sweet blue Corvette. And he’s wearing a fancy gold ring that’s bonded to his finger.

The novel’s pace is relentless indeed, and when the stakes look like they can’t get any higher, they do. Colin/Grant and his unlikely collection of friends try to stay one step ahead of the unseen Keeper, only to find him manipulating every turn. Everyone who has been “shifted”—and now wears a bonded ring—has some form of mental powers. Grant’s is the ability to move objects with his mind.

Grant is the Bringer, long prophesied to lead the ring-wearers into their destiny. He’s a reluctant hero, but he can’t break away from these people—and from his friends—who need him.

I didn’t have any better idea than the characters of what was going on. We learned together, and it was a fun ride with some very satisfying explosions. On a deeper level, the novel touched on forgiveness and on the question of who we are: defined by our circumstances, or by something inside us?

Relentless comes from a Christian publisher, but it could easily be a clean mainstream novel. Toward the end there’s mention of an Old Testament prophecy, and perhaps a spiritual thread will develop as the series progresses. If you like fast-paced speculative thrillers, this book’s for you.

I read the epub version as a free download from Christianbook.com, and there were some formatting glitches. Mostly they were just missing blank lines when the scene shifted from one group of characters to another. There was one page with a totally extraneous sentence, but that’s in the print version too. (Guess who bought a copy, then forgot and downloaded the ebook?)

The Dominion Trilogy finishes with Fearless and Merciless. You can learn more about American author Robin Parrish at his website.

Review: The Personifid Project, by R.E. Bartlett

The Personifid Project, by R.E. Bartlett (Realms, 2005)

Some time in the future, Earth is a baked planet under a yellow sky, oceans rapidly receding. Most people live in domed cities with advanced technology. Not only are robots and androids readily available, many humans have transferred their souls from mortal bodies into “personifids” in the quest of eternal life in more attractive forms.

Aphra is a 23-year-old human whose friends are androids. She always gets her own way, and doesn’t know how to relate to other humans on a personal level. She’s never seen a live dog, either, only the artificial ones.

R.E. Bartlett does a great job of conveying Aphra’s spoiled, self-centred attitude while building reader sympathy. After all, the poor fem’s security is abruptly shattered when the most powerful man in the city sends his cohorts to hunt her down after she hears—and witnesses—his secrets.

The language often feels passive or a touch restrained, but that’s how Aphra views the world. As the novel progresses, she meets other humans and learns to really live. She also learns about the Triune Soul, as humans now call the Trinity.

The Personifid Project is disturbingly similar to our own time’s fascination with personal entertainment devices and virtual friendships. It’s a scary look at where these things could lead us if we’re not wise.

The technology isn’t fully explained—and that would only slow the story. They have flying cars, something called luminires that are like teleporters, and voice-activated computers that can manufacture food and change their owners’ appearance.

This last one confused me, and a bit of explanation would have helped. The best I can figure is, the computer can project over great distances, whether an appearance mask or a personal force-field. I’m not sure that’s the reason, but I enjoyed the story regardless.

The Personifid Project is one of those novels that kept coming back to me when I wasn’t reading, and I finished it more quickly than I expected. Now I’m eager to read the sequel, The Personifid Invasion, published by Marcher Lord Press. Must work through that looming to-read pile first!

R.E. Bartlett is a New Zealand author. The Personifid series are her first published novels. You can read an interview with R.E. Bartlett here.

[Review copy from my personal library]

Review: Eternity Falls, by Kirk Outerbridge

Eternity Falls, by Kirk Outerbridge (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

Rick Macey is one of the best at tracking down—and shutting down—terrorists and other high-profile criminals. No longer working for the US government, he takes on projects that catch his personal interest. The novel opens with him in pursuit of a serial sniper, and the pace doesn’t slow as he jumps into a new case.

The year is 2081 and the future is a grim place where I wouldn’t want to live despite the technological advances. Cars have an auto-pilot feature. People have “neural nets” that sound like internet-enabled brains, only better. Science’s quest to extend human life has gone beyond cloning and cyborgs to the “Miracle Treatment” that lets people live forever.

The problem: one of the Treatment’s early takers has been found dead of natural causes. Macey’s assignment is to prove it’s the result of terrorist activity. He takes the job because the sole clue points to a memory from his own past.

Macey knows all the tricks, and he’s an excellent noir-type detective. He’s paired with the self-centred but attractive Sheila Dunn from the Miracle Treatment company’s head office, and as danger throws them closer together he tries to keep his distance. Macey has too many secrets for romance.

Eternity Falls has a satisfying number of twists, turns and revelations. The stakes start out high and get higher, masterfully woven by the author. This does not feel like a debut novel; it has complexity and depth and a detailed back-story that surfaces in bits and pieces as needed, to keep readers guessing.

I wasn’t sure if I liked the novel at first. The world is so dark. And the first characters to claim allegiance to God are either terrorists or seem like cult members. Knowing Marcher Lord Press, I reasoned there had to be more to the faith element than this. And I decided I trusted Macey even if he was surrounded by unlikely individuals.

Eternity Falls is billed as a cyber-thriller, dark PI fiction and cyberpunk. It’s high-tech, darker and more violent than I usually read, and Macey finds some interesting spiritual insights while he’s trying to keep himself and Sheila alive. He’s a fine story hero.

If you like thrillers and science fiction, and you’re not afraid of characters who mention God, check it out. I enjoyed it and I’ll be looking for more from Kirk Outerbridge. You can read a sample of Eternity Falls here.

You can read an interview with Bermudian author Kirk Outerbridge here. Eternity Falls is his first novel, and winner of the 2010 Carol Award for speculative fiction. A second Rick Macey novel is now out as well: The Tenth Crusader.

[Review copy from my personal library]

Friday Friends: Cynthia d’Entremont

Cynthia d’Entremont is the author of the young adult speculative novel, Unlocked, winner of the 2009 Word Alive Writing contest for fiction. The prize was a full publishing package from Word Alive, and Unlocked was released in April, 2010.

Janet: Welcome, Cynthia, and thanks for taking time to join us. You have a family, a job, you’re working on a Masters’ degree… and it sounds like there are multiple story plots jostling in your mind. How do you do it?

Cynthia: This past year has been unusually busy for me. Generally I can juggle two major commitments such as teaching and writing, but the addition of taking another university degree has been challenging. I have a good support system and continually remind myself that the university commitment is only for two years. At the moment I am halfway through! I try to find stolen moments to work on stories but I have to admit that it’s not as much as I would like.

Janet: What got you started writing?

Cynthia: I have always loved reading. However, a passion for writing has developed over the last ten to twelve years. I began taking courses and participating in writing groups…I was hooked! I believe that it’s never too late to try something new.

Janet: Tell us a bit about Unlocked.

Cynthia: The moment I finished the first draft for Unlocked I felt as if I had experienced the birth of another child. I printed off the manuscript, tucked in a binder and carried it around in my arms—and there might have been a few tears!

The reader first meets the protagonist, Jaron, scratching out an existence in the dystopian world of Leviathon. As I often say, “Jaron starts out living in a garbage dump and it goes downhill for him from there!”

Janet: Where did the story idea come from?

Cynthia: It literally hit in 2005 while staring at a figurine that I had bought in Old Warsaw, Poland fourteen years earlier. This father and child statue compelled me to write about characters that were homeless and desperate. I started out with the intent that the story would be a picture book. Boy, was I wrong!

Janet: How would you define the age range for readers? I suspect there may not be an upper limit, as long as the adult in question likes fantasy and speculative fiction.

Cynthia: I wrote the story with a young adult audience (15+) in mind. I kept the dialogue and action fast-paced and tried to keep the tension high throughout the story. Even so, there have been many adult reader they tell me that they can’t stop thinking about the characters once the book has been read.

Janet: And although the novel comes from a Christian publisher, the faith element is low-key and allegorical enough that readers from another faith—or from none at all—should enjoy it too, right?

Cynthia: Definitely! I think that because I am a person of faith, my storytelling reflects who I am. That said, individual readers may have their own interpretations of the story according to their world view.

Janet: Okay, I’m going to ask a question I personally hate answering. Feel free to pass. What’s the novel’s theme? Or what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?

Cynthia: I don’t know if there is one thing that I would like the reader to take away, per say. However, when I look at the totality of the novel I am struck with the power of making choices even in the midst of feeling that one has no choice. Living with hope might also be another theme.

Janet: These children starting out in a garbage heap certainly don’t seem to have many choices open to them, and readers may feel that way about their own circumstances, but even small choices can make a difference. Your characters prove that. I can see how realizing we have even a bit of power to choose can give hope.

Unlocked is essentially Jaron’s story, right? I’m hoping there’ll be a sequel and perhaps more after that. Would you stick with Jaron or switch to a different character?

Cynthia: The sequel is underway. In the first novel Jaron was the main character but there were also two other characters’ points of view (Devora and Freesia). The second book is mainly Devora’s story—she also started out in the Garbage Heaps with Jaron.

Multiple viewpoints are also included and the identities of these characters might surprise you. Okay, I’ll share one secret…we finally get to know Benjamin’s thoughts.

Janet: Remembering some of the surprises from Unlocked, I suspect knowing Benjamin’s thoughts will change my opinion of him from book one.

What has reader response been like for this book?

Cynthia: The most frequent thing I hear is that once people start reading it’s hard to put the book down. I consider that high praise. The next comment is usually, “When is the sequel coming out?”

Janet: Guilty of making both comments!

You’re a new novelist, so to help people who don’t know your style, fill in the blank: If someone likes__________________, they’ll like Unlocked.

Cynthia: Okay, this is a tough one! I like to think of it as a grittier, darker version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but that might be thinking too highly of myself and may not fully convey some of the more mature issues found in the book. There is good versus evil, kindness versus deceit, life verses death, and hope versus despair.

Janet: I know you have other plot irons in the fire. Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

Cynthia: First, I have to say that my favourite thing to read is a mystery. For that reason, I never thought I would write one. When I’m working on a genre like fantasy, I often avoid reading other fantasy novels—I want to keep the world in my own story intact.

Well, in 2009, to my surprise, I wrote a mystery that I titled Oak Island Revenge. This young adult novel was recently accepted for publication and will be released next year by Nimbus Publishing. Set in 1958, this story has no shortage of small town scandal, treasure hunting, and a certain kind of justice.

Janet: Sounds intriguing! How can people find out when it releases (and about a sequel to Unlocked)? Do you have a mailing list?

Cynthia: I regularly update my website with news and events. Oak Island Revenge will likely be released late 2011 or early 2012. As well, details for the release date of the sequel to Unlocked will be posted as soon as they become available.

Janet: What do you like best about the writing life?

Cynthia: I love the creative nature of bringing a character to life—someone that has never existed before, now has a voice.

Janet: What do you like least?

Cynthia: Waiting to hear from publishers. Rejection. Self-doubt. Sitting while typing.

Janet: What do your family think of your writing?

Cynthia: They are supportive. I’m sure at times they would like me to pry myself away from the computer and I try to keep that in mind and book regular family time with my children and husband. Sometimes I feel like a hermit, especially with a deadline looming.

Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?

Cynthia: I wish I had something brilliant to say—like I just finished War and Peace. Instead, I’ve been reading a lot of manuscripts from writers in my writing group. Other than that, the last year has mostly been reading textbooks, editing my own work, and reading picture books—I teach grade primary (kindergarten).

Janet: What are you listening to?

Cynthia: I love the song from the Prince Caspian soundtrack “This is Home” by Switchfoot. I’m a little disappointed it was already used in a movie—it would be perfect for Unlocked, the motion picture (a girl can dream, right?)

Janet: Dream big! I can see Unlocked working as a movie. Dark, impossible odds, and a journey with lots of action. Definitely movie material. And in the mean time, I’ve heard of authors recommending selected songs as a soundtrack to their novel. “This is Home” could be Unlocked’s unofficial theme song.

Is there a particular Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Cynthia: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Isaiah 54:9 (NIV)

Being a wife, a mother, a writer, a teacher, and a student gives ample opportunity to feel “shaken”. I am blessed and thankful to have a full life but often need to remember God’s unfailing love and covenant of peace when I face challenging days.

Janet: That verse means a lot to me these days, because it’s part of one of my favourite songs on the newsboys’ Born Again CD: “Build Us Back.” There’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on these days!

Cynthia, thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit. May the LORD continue to strengthen and bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.

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Visit Cynthia d’Entremont’s website to learn more about the author and her books. Or follow this link to read my review of Unlocked.