Thursday, September 20, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Casting Shadows by J. Kelley Anderson vs. The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear & five others

This battle, the last one in first round of the Summer 2012 Battle of the Books, features Casting Shadows by J. Kelley Anderson going against The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBirmingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Bassey and Cooper Moo. The winner will be whichever book I most want to keep reading after the first 25 pages.

Casting Shadows: World Castle Publishing, trade paperback, 230 pages, February 2012, cover art by Rhea Ewing. J. Kelley Anderson is a US writer. Casting Shadows, his first novel, is a contemporary, dark urban fantasy. The first 25 pages covers a little over three chapters.

Edward Kelly, who is in his mid-twenties and living in a small town in Ohio, apparently wanted revenge for the murder of his sister and the deaths of his parents, so he got involved in malevolent magic. On a rainy night, Edward summons a servant into a body buried in the local cemetery. The creature becomes a black skeleton with dark flames in his eyes. Edward calls him Vincent.

Edward orders Vincent to kill the cemetery groundskeeper and his wife. But Vincent does nothing because he senses that Edward didn’t really want to hurt them. The groundskeeper thinks Edward is acting weird so he calls the police. Edward walks home with Vincent following. Edward is surprised that skeletal Vincent can talk to him telepathically, and is amazingly rational. Police Officer Michael Miller drops by Edward’s house and cusses out Edward for being in the graveyard. The policeman, Michael, is an old school buddy of Edward’s, and probably his only friend.

Edward needs to contact Seth, his unseen black magic teacher. Edward lights ritually prepared logs in the fireplace. Edward communicates with Seth through the fire. Seth is upset that Edward didn’t start a killing spree. Seth attacks Edward with blue flames. Vincent rescues his Master and battles Seth. When Edward is knocked unconscious, he dreams of two young girls and their grandmother. The grandmother has a skeletal helper that looks strangely like Vincent.

The Mongoliad: Book One: 47 North, trade paperback, 448 pages. The Mongoliad was originally released in a serialized format online. Two more books are forthcoming in the series. Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear are authors well known for their many works of speculative fiction and science fiction. Mark Teppo is the author of an urban fantasy series. E.D. deBirmingham has written historical fiction. Joseph Brassey teaches medieval fighting techniques. Erik Bear has written for a video game and Copper Moo has written magazine articles. The first 25 pages covers a chapter and a half.

The year is 1241, months after the Battle of Legnica where the armies of Christendom were decisively defeated by the Mongols. Near Legnica, which is now in Poland, a woman messenger/spy spots a group of men near the ruins of a monastery. They are training with swords and bows. They appear to be the knights of Shield-Brethren whom is she is seeking. She is cornered by their sentries. Feronantus, an older man who seems to be in charge, recognizes her as one of the Bindings, not a Mongol. She informs the men that Illarion, a friend of theirs, is hurt and she can lead them to him.

Meanwhile, in Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire, Ögedei Khan, Khan of Khans, the third son of and successor to Genghis Khan, is in his palace. His brother Chagatai Khan has sent an emissary because he’s rightfully worried about Ögedei’s drinking. Ögedei tells his wives that he dreams of riding a strong pony across the grassy steppes instead of talking to an endless parade of bureaucrats and court officials.

The Battle: Casting Shadows had a uphill battle against The Mongoliad: Book One.

In Casting Shadows, Edward abuses someone’s grandfather's corpse to make a skeletal servant and has murderous thoughts. That’s not typical protagonist behavior, especially for a character that’s apparently not all bad. I think that more should have been done to explain what drove Edward down this evil path. If Edward was somehow brainwashed by Seth, that should have been better conveyed.

The layout of Edward’s house was described in more detail than I needed. Edward’s dream sequence, which was presented without introduction and printed in all italics, was initially confusing to me.

The Mongoliad, Book One in chapter one introduces an unusually high number of characters. There’s a fighter in monk’s robes, a hunter wearing animal skins, and a handsome knight in armor. There’s an Irishman, a man who looks like a Saracen, and men that by their names seem to be Hungarian and Norwegian. The woman messenger/spy apparently speaks, of all languages, Tocharian.

The portion of chapter two that I read encouraged me to look up Ögedei Khan on Wikipedia. He’s a historical figure.

Casting Shadows gave it a try, but it was simply outmatched by The Mongoliad. Even though I don’t know where the story of The Mongoliad is going yet, the writing is solid, the cast is interesting and I want to read more.

THE WINNER: THE MONGOLIAD: BOOK ONE by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and five friends.

The Mongoliad, Book One will advance to meet The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen in the second round.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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