Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Review of R.C.Baze's Overseer's Island

Another book review:

If there's anything you need to remember, it's that Chuck Baze's Overseer's Island is a fantasy novel. Our hero, Jack Murphy is an alcoholic living in a cheap hotel room. He washes dishes at the local greasy spoon for minimum wage.

The wizened wizard of this fantasy is his neighbour, Carl Langum, who talks like your grandpa, and takes a swig of Jack's bourbon whenever he enters the room. Chuck Baze's fellow Texans should find it refreshing that he doesn't speak with the noble but quaint language of Gandolf, Merlin, or Professor Dumbledore.

But the story is obviously not set in Texas in something-something "Year of our Lord", but somewhere on the "Bastenian Continent" in a year designated, A.S. -- presumably "After Secession". That's when the "Free States" seceded from the "Trilov Monarchy". The popular religion isn't Bible Belt Christianity, but that handed down from the "Gima Priests".

But the characters are definately Texan. When Carl knocks on Jacks door first thing in the morning of the day all the action begins, Jack says, "Jesus, Carl, I thought it was someone important!" Where the expression, "Jesus" came from, or the Irishness of Jack's Surname, is one of the mysteries of the Bastenian Continent.

That isn't a criticism of Chuck Baze's novel, simply an observation. If Tolkein could import actual medieval European culture into Middle Earth, why can't Baze do the same with Texan culture? All he wants is a character that many potential readers will relate to. It's about a down-and-outer who's sunk about as low as one can. Baze paints him using the cultural symbols that we know only too well. He's your high-school career councillor's worst case scenario.

So, back to the story: There's a good reason he's an alcoholic. His dreams have driven him to drink. The realness and repetitiveness of them convince him that they are memories of previous incarnations. In each one, he remembers himself being murdered. The horror of it, many times per night, makes him dread going to sleep.

Carl Langum's excuse for showing interest is his screams during the night, but really, he knows exactly what's happening. Every one of Jack's lives for the last thousand or so years have indeed been shortened, in each case, by the same person. It's someone whose sole purpose for existing is to track him down and kill him before he can fulfil his mission.

But what is that mission? That's the question that still puzzles' Carl. They can only find out when the two go to the Overseers' Island. How they get there? If I told you, that would be a spoiler.
Carl, as I said, is the wizened wizard of this fantasy. He's a Calta Brici, one who knows how to derive telekinetic powers from Ley Lines and Nexus Points. I Googled "Calta Brici" and "Ley Lines". While I found plenty of material on the latter, I think that "Calta Brici" is a Chuck Baze invention. The various Calta Brici characters in the story insist that the art isn't magical, rather it's based on gravitational and magnetic forces that run through the Ley Lines and are especially strong around Nexus Points, where the lines intersect.

Carl knows all about that, and he also knows that the popular religion of "Gima" doesn't tell the whole story of the earth's beginnings. The real story begins with the "Overseers", who are 13 very special people, not quite gods, but not human either. They were assigned as the guardians and teachers of humanity. Only one of them was given the power to administer death, either to humans or his fellow Overseers, as a last resort in administering discipline. However, that power went to his head. He is Shaitiman, the Destroyer, who thinks he's a god.

Shaitiman has only one fear. That is Jack Murphy, or Cassimus, as he was in his original incarnation. The narrative is that of Jack's quest to find out why he is so feared, and once having found out, how to remember what he needs to know from all his past incarnations to complete his mission.

Reincarnation isn't really a part of the world-view of Overseer's Island. Everyone else enters the "afterlife" on dying, but only two people have been destined to endless rebirths, Jack Murphy/Cassimus and the one sent by Shaitiman to hunt him down.

In the course of the story, Jack begins to remember. At first, he surprises himself by speaking out about things he didn't remember learning, but he's learned it, none-the-less. His endless reincarnations have given him valuable experience which he must learn to tap into.

One of these is the art of the Calta Brici. Cassimus had it, but Jack Murphy has lost it. It's not something he must learn, but remember.

Author Chuck Baze, very skilfully, renders the process of recapturing the lost art in a believable way. There are also other things that return. Jack Murphy, the down-and-outer, was too far out of it to have a love life. Cassimus, however, had a lover, a ravishingly beautiful woman. Jack has no memory of her, but soon, begins to remember missing her in subsequent lives -- I'll stop there, or I'll spoil it. But Chuck Baze does it beautifully.

Things like Calta Brici, military strategy, swordsmanship, interpersonal relationships, as well as the overall plot, are Chuck's strong points. Relationships are something that's lacking in many a Fantasy or Science Fiction story, but not in this one. Whether it's a growing love between Jack Murphy and the aforementioned lady, the deep friendship between him and Carl Langum, or the father that Jack never had, but finds in the one he had as Cassimus; the reader will find a warm safe haven.

If only the characters didn't talk so much. Much of the action is dialogue driven, which is good. However, it sometimes feels like the characters, in explaining their perceptions, don't know when to stop, and keep it up well after the reader has already got the point. Perhaps in a later edition this can be adjusted -- or at least, in the sequel...

It's a great story, and the ending does seem to hint at a sequel, probably a whole series. I think that once having read Overseer's Island, the reader will be looking forward to getting their hands on the next one.

Get the book at Readers Eden, the same place that publishes Pepe