alternative history

The Children of Darkness

The Children of Darkness (The Seekers)
Published: 20 Jun. 2015)
Author's Twitter: @davidlitwack
A thousand years ago the Darkness came–a time of violence and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” eliminating the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything. Orah and Nathaniel, have grew up in a tiny village, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the status quo. When Orah is summoned for a “teaching”—the brutal coming-of-age ritual that binds the young to the Light—Nathaniel follows in a foolhardy attempt to save her.

July 30, 2015

Format: Paprback

5 Stars


The Children of Darkness, the first volume of David Litwack’s The Seekers series, is a classic quest story. Three young heroes embark upon a journey to uncover a secret that can save the world. Along the way they meet a wise guide and encounter daunting obstacles that test their courage and resolve. And they return very changed.

This YA novel follows the pattern, but it’s anything but run of the mill. The quality of its intelligence, imagination, and prose raises The Children of Darkness to the level of literature.

Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas live in a theocracy. The Temple of Light came into existence a after a series of wars almost destroyed humankind, and for a millennium it has kept the peace. The Temple controls every aspect of peoples’ lives. The vicars of the Temple prescribe how many children a family may have, how people cook their food, what musical instruments they play, and, of course, what they’re allowed to think. The rules are enforced by bands of deacons and by “teaching” the young in a process that amounts to torture.

A vicar comes to the village of Little Pond and selects Thomas for a teaching. When he returns, he avoids Nathaniel and Orah because the vicars have forced him to betray his childhood friends. Next Orah is taken for teaching. Nathaniel follows her and the vicar to Temple City and offers to take her place. While he awaits the vicars’ decision in a dungeon, the old man in the adjacent cell tells him of the Keepers, a secret group who through the centuries have passed down coded directions to the Keep, a hidden place where the wonders of the ancient world are preserved. Everything forbidden by the Temple is there.

The old man appoints Nathaniel a Seeker, charged with finding the Keep, and gives him the first part of the code along with clues to the location and identity of the next Keeper. After Nathaniel returns to Little Pond, he and his friends set out to find the Keep.

At first their quest appears altogether noble and right. The Temple of Light is oppressive, cruel, and anti-intellectual. As the wise man explains to them, the aim of teaching is to extinguish the fire in human beings — the spirit that drives individuals to dream and achieve and aspire to greatness. Teaching almost destroys Thomas. But a thousand years ago, humankind almost destroyed itself and the world with the magic in the Keep. For all its shortcomings, the Temple makes it possible for human beings to live in harmony among themselves and with nature. The quest might open Pandora’s Box.

Litwack avoids the usual tropes of YA fantasy. There’s no simpleminded battle between good and evil, no sexual jealousy and tension between friends, and no adolescent bickering. The friends argue about things that matter — how they can best survive, whether the quest is worth the cost.

In The Children of Darkness Litwack has created a fully realized and altogether believable world. The characters, including the functionaries of the Temple, are complex and sympathetic. The conclusion is unexpected yet feels altogether right. Everything is set for the next volume of the series, which I very much look forward to reading.

Highly recommended.

5 stars.

Reviewed Chelsea Heidt

3.5 Stars

I admit it: I liked this book more than I thought I would for a good while. It’s a dystopian book, but that takes a while to come out, and it begins like a humdrum fantasy, which put me off a bit at the beginning. The story starts with a festival in the town of Little Pond, and one of a handful of annual visits by a vicar from Temple City to bestow a blessing of light, deal out medicines, and–unfortunately–take away one of the main characters, Thomas, for a “teaching.” Thomas leaves behind his friends Orah, who has prophetic dreams, and Nathaniel, who believes he is destined for greatness. In Temple City, Thomas receives his teaching, showing the horrors of the past age called “the darkness,” a time when people used weapons like suns they dropped from the sky against each other. He comes back changed, and shortly after Orah is taken for a teaching of her own–but Nathaniel, determined not to let another of his friends suffer, goes after her, and he, Orah, and Thomas end up on a quest to discover the truth about the darkness and whether the vicars of Temple City have been lying to them their entire lives.

Not-so-spoiler: they have. This is pretty much a given in a dystopian book. What makes this interesting in comparison to most modern dystopians, I feel, is that the government in control of the land is a theocracy. In most dystopians published these days, religion has been eliminated or at least pushed to the fringes. In The Children of Darkness, religion–granted, a conglomeration religion and not one of the ones that’s currently practiced on Earth–is front and center. I liked this, because it shows how government and religion can be so strongly linked that they can become the same thing, even in places where one isn’t actually portrayed as the other. It also makes it harder for the heroes to invoke change, because they’re fighting against a doubly-strong force; trying to turn people away from a political structure of life and a religious one is, in theory, twice as hard as trying to turn people from just one of them.

That said, this book can be a bit slow. The quest of looking for the truth about the darkness doesn’t progress very quickly; there’s not a lot of action. You’re not going to find any girls on fire in this book, no teenagers quite literally fighting the power. There’s a lot of walking from place to place, admiring of the scenery and creations left over from the previous age, and then a lot of sitting around and learning. This was necessary for the characters, because the main thing they’re trying to do is find out the truth; they’re not dead-set on overthrowing the system, they just want to know what’s really going on. When they do decide to act, they do it with words rather than weapons. I’m skeptical of how successful this would have realistically been, since they never actually emerge into the light and kind of end up with a leaderless movement, but eh. Whatever. However, this non-action might mean that this isn’t the book for people looking for something a little more like The Hunger Games. It’s a slower, lower dystopian, and it also kind of ends up feeling more like backstory for whatever comes next.

There are supposedly two more books in this trilogy, one of which is currently out. I think I’ll read the next one, at least–it involves crossing the ocean, which is a much more intriguing proposition to me than finding the keep was–but I’m also interested in reading another Litwack book I already happen to have, Daughter of the Sea and Sky. I think his writing and world-building skills are strong enough to give another look, even if this one wasn’t quite as fast and action-y as I would have thought, and might have liked.

3.5 stars out of 5.

I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

The Scottish Movie

Scottish Movie, The
Author:
Published: August 15, 2012
Why is 'Macbeth' known as 'the unlucky play'? Young Harry's unpublished novel has the answer. And when some Hollywood producers steal it, they find themselves making a very unlucky movie.   Harry Greenville, a young actor and part-time writer struggling to make a living in modern Los Angeles, writes a novel about Shakespeare. ‘It’s 1606 and the Bard needs a new play for King James, who is notoriously hard to please. As history tells us, he comes up with ‘Macbeth’. But the rehearsals are dogged by illnesses and accidents, the royal premiere gets the royal thumbs down, and the actors consider the play to be more than unlucky – they believe it’s cursed. The question is: Why?’ Harry’s novel offers an intriguing answer, and he posts the first draft on a website in the hope that a Hollywood agent will discover it. And someone in the movie business does discover it – but not the kind of person Harry had in mind. The result is a truly Shakespearean tale of theft, revenge, and just desserts.

Reviews by Awesome Indies' Assessor

August 4, 2014

A Joy to Read

The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis is a well-crafted revenge tale that even Shakespeare naysayers can enjoy.  The novel begins with William Shakespeare’s creation of his play, MacBeth.  We learn that the bard overheard the plot being described by another playwright at a pub and, wanting to really impress King James with his next piece, promptly goes home to write it.  When the original creator finds out the Globe Theatre is performing his play, without his consent, he sets out to sabotage the performance.  As it turns out, this story is just that, a story that a modern day author has penned.  In a very similar turn of events, Harry Greenville discusses his novel with his friends at a diner, only to have an eavesdropping Hollywood executive steal the idea for his own.  Once Harry discovers that someone has ripped off his idea and the movie is to begin production, he takes a page from his own novel and proceeds to sabotage the film.

This novel was a joy to read.  The author used the lore surrounding the Scottish Play and turned it into an intriguing story with snappy dialogue, and hilarious actions scenes.  Though the author completely has his own voice, the style of the story reminded me of a Christopher Moore novel.  Through complete dumb luck and sheer brazenness, Harry Greenville is hired onto the film’s production staff and given an all-access pass to conduct his revenge on the story thief.  Harry is the everyman stepped on by the corporate big shot, and you just can’t help but root for him.

The strongest part of the book was the author’s ability to seamlessly change between character points of view, sometimes multiple times in one scene.  This allowed the reader to see the story angled from both main and supporting characters.  Sometimes the switch was only for a few paragraphs; however, it added color to the story, almost like seeing a facial expression in a film that only the audience is supposed to see.

My only concern is that, as the characters use many modern references to Hollywood stars, movie titles, or general hat tips to modern culture, this novel may not age well.  If the reader cannot place what actress a character is referring to when only using her first name, some of the dialogue charm could be lost.  Even still, a good revenge story is always an indulgence, and this one does not disappoint.

INCEPTIO

Inceptio
Publisher:
Published: March 1, 2013
Author's Twitter: @alison_morton
York, present day, alternate timeline. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, at a price, and a ready-made family in a strange culture she often struggles with. Just as she’s finding her feet, a shocking discovery about her new lover, special forces officer Conrad Tellus, isolates her. And the enforcer, Renschman, is stalking her in her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why this Renschman is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it… “Grips like a vice – a writer to watch out for.” – Adrian Magson author of the Harry Tate spy thrillers. “Breathtaking action, suspense, political intrigue… Inceptio is a tour de force!” – Russell Whitfield, author of Gladiatrix and Roma Victrix

Reviewed 

4 Stars

Inceptio by Alison Morton take place on an alternate earth where the political boundaries are different, and Europe boasts an extra country created by those who escaped the persecution of pagans when the Roman Empire became Christian. It’s a matriarchal society and the people speak Latin, but other than that it could be any small European country.

The story begins in the Eastern United States when Karen Brown finds herself in the sights of a man who wants to kill her. Why? She isn’t exactly sure, but it has something to do with her receiving an inheritance on her next birthday and some political concerns about her taking over the family business. She discovers that the freedom and safety she took for granted in the EUS is a lie and ends up being rescued by her mother’s family, who whisk her away to this little European country where she starts a new life. The killer finds a way to follow her and, despite repeatedly being foiled, like all the best bad guys, he just keeps on coming back.

The story is basically one of a woman who, after a close escape from a traumatic interaction with a killer, vows never to be a victim again, and she does what is required to make that a reality. Karen’s life goes through many different phases so much so that the second half of the book bears little resemblance to the first, but a common thread runs through it all, a tenacious killer and a love interest.

Apart from the killer, the characters are reasonably well-drawn, but Karen’s transformation from a helpless victim into a highly-skilled special ops cop who succeeds at everything she does is too quick to be entirely believable for this reviewer, and the story stretches believability in other ways as well: Why didn’t grandmother contact Karen earlier? Why didn’t the EUS try a more subtle approach with Karen to start with? The questions around the killer’s motives are answered at the end of the book, and had more depth been given to his personality throughout the story, we might have felt some sympathy for him and found his scenes more solid.

It’s an interesting story and reads well, despite the plot issues. If you’re looking for a story of self-empowerment, then you’ll likely enjoy it. I’d be interested to read the sequel.

And I love the cover.

It just scrapes into the 4 star bracket.