Friday, 22 July 2011

‘Awakenings’ – Edward Lazellari (Tor)

It’s an old tale here and one that I’m not going to go into anymore; suffice it to say that Urban Fantasy invariably ends up disappointing me (with rare notable exceptions) for pretty much the same reasons every time. Long term readers will know what I’m on about and why the merest mention of Anita Blake makes me want to break something...
At first sight, the cover art for ‘Awakenings’ looks very much like your typical Urban Fantasy (mean streets with a hint of the supernatural, very nice cover actually) and I have to say that I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence at this point. I’m always a total sucker for a well placed cover quote though and a brief comment from Glen Cook persuaded me to give the book a go. I have no idea whether Glen Cook likes Urban Fantasy but I like his books so his recommendation was good enough for me. I should have read the quote a little more thoroughly, ‘Awakenings’ isn’t an Urban Fantasy at all. It’s something else entirely and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the read.

What does dedicated family man and New York cop Cal MacDonnell ultimately have in common with self destructive photographer Seth Rancrest? Cal has no idea and neither does Seth because the other thing that they share is retrograde amnesia, neither of them can remember anything at all past a certain point some thirteen years ago.
They may not remember their past but that past is about to catch up with them in the worst possible way. A group of very dangerous men lurks in the shadows and they are prepared to kill anyone who stands between them and our two amnesiacs. How can Cal and Seth defend themselves if they don’t know what’s going on? A strange woman holds the key to their memories and once unlocked, Cal and Seth’s memories may hold the key to the continued life of a very important child and the salvation of a broken empire. All in a days work for a tough New York cop and a streetwise photographer? Maybe not this time...

‘Awakenings’ is one of those books that it’s far too easy to get into. Before you know you know it, you’re doing things like grumbling because the commute is over too soon and reading by torchlight so as not to wake everyone else up at night. That’s not to say the book is without any problems at all; this is far from the case and you’d do well to be aware of at least one pitfall before you start reading. Despite that though, I couldn’t get enough of ‘Awakenings’ and am eagerly looking forward to reading more in this series.

‘Awakenings’ is essentially a tale of two worlds colliding and the repercussions that come about as a result. As things slowly become more clear there’s also an element of a ‘race against time’ which is made all the more delicious as our protagonists have no idea whether the race has already been lost or not. You have to keep reading to find out (and the stakes are high), only to be told that there’s another book to come and those questions will remain unanswered for a while yet. That’s a little infuriating but that’s the nature of series I guess, each instalment has to end somewhere and you do get some sense of closure on other elements of the plot.

What you can’t escape though is the fact that the whole ‘two worlds colliding’ thing has already been done and plenty of times at that. The onus is on Lazellari then to give things a fresh spin and, to some extent, he does.

Lazellari’s approach is to really ground his readers in the ‘ordinary, everyday’ feeling of our world... and then hit us with something right out of leftfield to remind us that there is far more going on than we realise. Most of the time this works with well described scenes of magic and monsters contrasting well with their more mundane surroundings. Other times though, it’s like we’re grounded a little too well and the events that follow don’t gel as successfully. At times like these I was left a little doubtful as to how plausible it all was instead of being taken along for the ride like I was when Lazellari is really at the top of his game. Luckily for the reader the pace remains constant throughout and you’ll find that these slightly sticky moments are over before you know it (and you’re back to the good stuff).

And there’s plenty of good stuff to be had here. Lazellari gives us a mystery that needs to be solved and gradually gives us answers as well as more questions along with constant reminders of what threatens Cal and Seth. These threats result in some great action sequences that really had me holding my breath.

Where Lazellari also shines (and gives the whole ‘two worlds things’ fresh impetus) is in his treatment of the two main characters. As they become more aware of their past, Cal and Seth must both face up to new responsibilities that they cannot avoid and this forces their characters to develop in new and interesting ways. Cal in particular is the interesting one here as his time on our world has worked against everything he held dear elsewhere. He has a whole new set of responsibilities that he will not put to one side and this creates a real sense of conflict that offers a real sense of intrigue concerning what is to come.
At the centre of all this is a young boy who really has no idea of the conflict that his very existence has set off. All he can do is lurch from one life crisis to another and no matter how bad it gets for him Lazellari leaves you in no doubt that it will get much worse. Given the climactic scene in this sub-plot, Lazellari has got his work cut out making good on that promise but you’re left with the feeling that he can deliver.

As the opening book in a series, ‘Awakenings’ suffers a few teething troubles but remains a thoroughly entertaining read with a cast that you can really get behind and root for. If ‘Awakenings’ is anything to go by then I think we’re in for a series that’s worth following. Look out for 'Awakenings' around the end of August.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

P.S. You can find Edward Lazellari's blog over Here. You can also follow him on Twitter if you like...

1 comment:

Bibliotropic said...

Every time I see a review of this book it makes me grumpy because I don't have a copy to read. It really does sound awesome, and like I'm going to enjoy it a lot when I go and buy myself a copy. Great review, and you made me want to read "Awakenings" even more now!