The Obelisk Gate

By N. K. Jemisin
Orbit, ©2016
ISBN: 978-0316229265
Paperback, 448 pages

Essun never thought she’d want to settle anywhere for long. But Castrima sits like a jewel, deep underground, replete with air, lights, water, food, and a comm full of survivors in a land where the comless don’t survive a Season. Essun begins to think she may—may—find a home here. With Alabaster honing her skills, at least life has a point. Then an enemy approaches their gates and stirs the age-old hatreds, and suddenly Essun has more of a goal than she ever wanted.

To the South, Jija takes Nassun to be “cured.” But Nassun isn’t sick, and she knows it. Instead of “healing,” she finds the training to sharpen her already considerable orogeny, despite her father’s fear and growing hatred.

Essun knows what’s at stake. Nassun knows only that it’s all so pointless. Between them are the magical threads, the obelisks, and the Stone Eaters, whose motivations are as shadowy and hard to read as they are. With a seemingly innocent whisper, mother and daughter land in opposing camps in an ancient war whose winner will decide the fate of the human race.

In this, the second book in the Broken Earth series, Jemisin continues the excellent worldbuilding she began in The Fifth Season. Castrima over once again comes alive with boilbugs, falling ash and dying trees. Castrima under deepens with the layers of drama played out against the backdrop of its jutting points and crystalline shell. In Jekity and Found Moon, we see a satellite training station, unsanctioned by the Fulcrum, where the ashfall is still light and hope is not yet dead.

Most of the characters in this part of the tale are familiar, though Nassun and Jija we knew only by their connection to Essun in Fifth Season. Here, they are active participants whose threads begin to weave through the already complex storyline. It wasn’t hard to dislike Jija—look at what he left for Essun in the first pages of the last book—but here he fleshed out my contempt in spectacular fashion, and I found myself understanding why Nassun evolves the way she does, even empathizing with her, despite some alarming twists in her character. Schaffa surprised me most, I think; I saw some of Essun’s development coming, but not Schaffa’s. I’m quite intrigued to see where Jemisin will take him in book three.

So much happens in the pages of this book! Its intricate plot is layered with foreshadowing and peppered with details that each play their own role. Jemisin sets a masterful pace between the contemplative, slower passages and exhausting, nerve-wracking scenes, leaving this reader enthralled, and eager to read the next book. The Broken Earth series is no ordinary tale; it’s a sweeping dystopian epic and possibly a warning for our own times. Winner of the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel, The Obelisk Gate continues the tale in true Jemisin fashion. You won’t want to miss it.

The Fifth Season

By N. K. Jemisin
Orbit, ©2015
ISBN: 987-0316229296
Paperback, 512 pages

In the Stillness, a land riddled with shakes and blows and hotspots, Father Earth never forgets his hatred for humans. Here, the world ends over and over in periodic Fifth Seasons, winters triggered by seismic events whose effects linger for months, years, even decades. Orogenes, trained by the Fulcrum in the art of manipulating kinetic and thermal energies, feared and hated almost universally, learn to deflect or even stop the shakes and blows as much as possible. But orogenes can’t be everywhere at once. And some orogenes don’t want to stop the destruction. They have other plans for the humans who have enslaved them.

When this Season begins, Essun saves her comm, but can’t save her son—an orogene, like her—from being killed by his own father. Now her murderous husband is missing, along with their daughter. Essun sets out through the ashfall and the end of the world to track him down and commit a murder of her own. She knows, as do other orogenes, that this Season won’t last a mere decade. This one will last a thousand years. This one is how the world ends, for the last time.

The first book in The Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season is absolutely captivating. Even though The Stillness is not a land with which we are familiar, it is enough like our own world that we can picture the landscapes and mountains and coastlines. We can relate to the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and the tragedies they sometimes bring. The Stillness might well be our own backyard. I could picture the cosmopolitan city of Yumenes and the provincial Tirimo. I could even imagine the island com of Meov, with its salt air and constant hiss of ocean sounds.

Every character is well defined, believable, and irretrievably woven into the story’s threads. Essun’s life unfolds throughout the book in various stages that jump back and forth between “before” and “after” the Season starts. Alabaster, a powerful orogene, develops in a more-or-less linear fashion through Essun’s interactions with him, yet he is still something of a mystery after the last page is turned. Alike in many ways, Essun and Alabaster are also opposites. Orogenes live precarious lives fraught with risk; some, like Alabaster, fracture under the pressure while others, like Essun, are tempered.

Other characters—humans, orogenes or stone eaters—fill realistic supporting roles that come together in complex ways, but it is always Essun we root for. She isn’t always likable, but that just made her more real. Her character develops in ways I didn’t see coming, but which made perfect sense as the story unfolded. At the end, I knew I’d seen only a hint of her power, that she was just getting warmed up.

Rich in detail and narrative tension, The Fifth Season is dystopian fantasy at its best, a masterpiece of storytelling that will draw you in and sweep you away. Jemisin absolutely deserves the Hugo award this book won for the best novel of 2016.

The Moon and the Other

By John Kessel
Saga Press, ©2017
ISBN:9781481481441
Hardback, 608 pages

In the mid-22nd century, humans have colonized the Moon in multiple domed cities. One, the Society of Cousins, is notorious for its matriarchal social structure and free attitudes toward sexuality. Another, Persepolis, is the SoC’s opposite in every way that counts—government, use of space, attitudes toward gender and religion and business, and treatment of its citizens.

Erno, born in the SoC, rebelled at great cost and was exiled as a young man to make his own way in one of the patriarchal lunar cities. Mira came as a child with her mother to the SoC and, through a series of tragedies, is left alone and hostile to the status quo, as well as almost everyone she encounters. Carey is son to one of the SoC’s most esteemed women. Handsome, charming, athletic, he is one of the Society’s most sought-after lovers. Amestris is daughter to one of the richest, most powerful men in Persepolis and wants nothing more than to be respected for her own merits despite the fact that she’s a woman.

As the lives of these characters intersect and intertwine, tensions are growing in the SoC, where men are protesting their treatment as second-class citizens without even the right to vote. Factions clash politically, but when the patriarchal city-states send a committee to oversee the treatment of men in the SoC, the simmering cauldron erupts, changing all their lives forever.

I must admit it took me a little while to really get into this story; it starts out slow, building the societies, the settings, and the characters a little at a time. Later in my reading, I was glad for this. The Moon and the Other is a complex, detailed story with believable tech and settings that I could see in my mind, rich tapestries of social structure, and true-to-life characters with strengths and weaknesses that made them feel especially realistic. And humans being who they are, the events that unfolded in the SoC rang true to what could actually happen, given those circumstances. Perfection is a dream, even for the utopian Cousins. Still, I was charmed by their social structure. I could see myself living among them, easily.

Once I was hooked, I didn’t want to stop reading. It was clear that Kessel was leading me in a specific direction, and I wanted to know where and why. About a third of the way into it, I realized that Moon is a book of comparisons: matriarchy to patriarchy, all the varieties of human gender identity, sexual freedom with sexual repression, goddess devotion to monotheism (though these are undercurrents), open society to closed society, privilege and want, expectation and reality, and others besides. I liked this—it made the conflict even more obvious when I could see something of both sides and how the two would never, ever find common ground. It also seemed to me a fictional illustration of social issues we face right now, in 2017, and how the violence wrought by extremists colors everything that follows.

Personally, I found this book to be an excellent, if heavy, read. This ambitious sci-fi tale has left me wanting more. Even if Moon has no sequel—and I’m not sure whether it will—I’ll definitely check out Kessel’s other works.

Waking Gods: Book Two of the Themis Files

By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Ray/Random House. ©2016
ISBN: 9781101886717
Trade Paperback, 336 pages

Nine years have passed since the formation of the Earth Defense Corps. Themis, Kara and Vincent have become parade attractions, t-shirt slogans and action figures while the science team continues to probe Themis for new technologies. Everyone has begun to believe the creators of Themis haven’t noticed her discovery by humans. Everyone but the science team, and their nameless and intrepid behind-the-scenes friend. So when a second colossal robot appears in Regent’s Park in London, they are among the few who aren’t surprised.

Human nature takes only a few days to rear a fearful head; Londoners and politicians sniffing for any chance at an opening against their opponents call for decisive government action, even as calmer heads advise a wait-and-see attitude. When the fearmongers insist, British armed forces close on three sides of the park with disastrous consequences. Kara and Victor bring Themis to the rescue, to everyone’s relief.

But the reprieve is short-lived. Soon, Titans begin appearing in major cities around the world – thirteen in all. EDC leaders debate the best course of action even as the stakes rise higher with every passing day. Surely Themis is their best chance, but she can fight only one at a time. With the fate of humanity hanging by a slender thread, Victor and Kara must make life-altering choices if they are to have any chance at all.

I said after reading Sleeping Giants that it was the best book I’d read in a long time. Waking Gods carries on that same feeling. Neuvel’s transition into book two is smooth, believable, intriguing. Again, the tale is told in the form of recorded interviews, news reports, journal or log entries, and it works incredibly well. From the very beginning, tension mounts until I found myself unable to put it down. And just as with book one, Neuvel throws in a wicked twist on the very last page. Masterfully done.

Many of the same characters are continued from the first book, changed in believable ways that are consistent with the flow of the tale. A few new faces make their appearance, including little Eva, who is no ordinary child. She knows things she shouldn’t, and is much stronger than she looks, strong enough to face the Titans with no (okay, a little) fear. But when the story’s tension peaks, the path to salvation comes from a surprising source.

I learned after starting this series that the author intends it to be at least three books, so there’s a third book on the way. Not sure when it’s scheduled for release; Neuvel’s own website is pretty out of date. But Waking Gods at least ends on a solid note. There is definitely a cliff-hanger, but at least it isn’t one that will have me pacing the room until the new release. I will be watching for it, you can bet, that and the movie release. Neuvel has a real winner here. I strongly recommend it.

Sleeping Giants: Book One of the Themis Files

By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Ray/Random House. ©2016
ISBN: 9781101886717
Trade Paperback, 336 pages

11-year-old Rose Franklin sneaks out of her house to ride her new birthday bike and wakes the next morning in an enormous metal hand lying at the bottom of a deep, square hole whose walls glow turquoise light through intricate carvings. Seventeen years later, she’s the senior scientist on a team assigned to study the hand, whose every detail defies understanding. Experts discount carbon dating results, but Rose isn’t convinced. It isn’t just the age of the thing; it’s everything else. The metals of which it’s made. Its weight and design. The symbols in the hole where it was found. The turquoise light. Despite herculean efforts, the team is getting nowhere. Rose begins to believe the mystery will never be solved.

Chief Warrant Officer Kara Resnik pilots a Blackhawk helicopter on a nighttime secret mission over Syria. As she returns to Turkish airspace, she and her copilot spot strange lights in a dark field below. Moments later, her engine dies, and the chopper drops like a stone. Kara escapes from the wreckage to find an enormous metal artifact with turquoise veins of light webbing the surface. Turkey wants it. U.S. military officials claim the find is part of an old U.S. plane crash. Kara doesn’t care, either way.

But Rose does. She believes the artifacts are connected, and so do the U.S. Powers That Be. The race for control that follows changes the course of history, and upturns the lives of everyone involved.

This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time. The entire tale unfolds in bits and pieces of interviews, log entries and experiment reports which reveal details in a round-about way that worked quite well. Giants takes place on a believable global stage full of intrigue and conspiracy. Location is usually revealed at the beginning each interview, report or news article. Passage of time is revealed in the things the characters say, either to each other or in their log entries.

We are seldom in a character’s head; instead, we learn their thoughts through probing questions from the interviewer—who is never named, but who we learn is powerful enough to know connections and details he shouldn’t, who has friends in many places, and who has private conversations with the U.S. President (who’s a woman, by the way).

I thought at first that this storytelling approach would grow old fast, but I was wrong. Ironically, it seemed to make the scenes even more intimate. In fact, Neuvel weaves an artful connection between the characters that grows, adapts and evolves over the course of the book as Rose and Kara and the others spend endless hours working together to resolve the mystery of the artifacts. Breakthroughs and tragic accidents serve to bring them even closer, as well as heighten tension both for the characters and for the readers. By the end, I didn’t want to turn the last page.

It’s worth mentioning that Neuvel tried and failed to find a publisher for this excellent novel so many times that he eventually self-published. Response was so overwhelming, the publishers began to approach him, and before the book was even released, he’d already sold the movie rights. Not sure when it’s due out, but you can bet I’ll go see it.

Neuvel’s tale is so riveting, I started this book on a Tuesday morning and finished it the very next afternoon despite working a day job and numerous other interruptions. Sleeping Giants is thrilling sci-fi fantasy at its best. I can’t recommend it enough.

Myst III, The Book of D’Ni

By Rand Miller and David Wingrove
Hyperion Books. © 1998
ISBN: 978-0786889426
Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages

Seventy years after the fall of D’Ni, Atrus and Catherine return with a team of enthusiastic assistants, intent on rebuilding. The devastation is overwhelming, unimaginable. The team hardly knows where to start. But Atrus feels certain some D’Ni could have escaped to other Ages. Their first task is to find them and bring them home.

The search begins with Books. Find and examine all that remain, even ancient texts so old their Maintainer’s Guild seals are faded almost into obscurity. Those survivors they find are reunited with their people and their fallen city, and the task of rebuilding begins even as the testing of Books continues.

But when a structural support in one of the buildings is deemed too damaged to repair and the floor is broken away, the survivors discover a crypt unknown to even the oldest D’Ni among them. Inside are Books more ancient than any even imagined, vaults sealed with the hardest of D’Ni stone, and a mysterious temptation Atrus cannot resist.

The Book of D’Ni is the third book in the Myst trilogy, and concludes the tale of young Atrus, who starts out Book I as a boy. Not every loose end is neatly tied, but then some things are better left to the reader’s imagination. Miller and Wingrove do a great job here in setting a scene, describing Terahnee, one of the new Ages. Beautiful and lush and prosperous, it sounds like paradise. I could see the buildings and gardens and waterways as I read. Characterizations also work here, though maybe not quite as well as in the Book of Ti’ana; while there are a number of characters, I had a little trouble picturing or feeling some of them, even though they appear numerous times in the story. Atrus seems, at times, a bit too good, too nice, too moral, but I think he represents an ideal. The antagonists in this story are somewhat stereotypical. They are also many; take one down and another takes his place. But I believe they too are symbols, exemplifying that which we ought to reject.

Of particular note is the lack of many truly strong female characters. If there is any serious flaw in the Myst books, this is it. Catherine and Ti’Ana both fill these shoes, but the writers didn’t take their roles far enough. Society in D’Ni falls back on male-only guilds and male heads of households. I suspect no malice in the writers’ lack therein; rather, I expect it was more a product of the times. Remember, these were written 20 or more years ago.

All that said, I still got lost in this book. It’s difficult to say much about it without spoiling the twist. Just as in the first two of the series, the authors weave a tale around ethics and compassion that could just as easily fit our own society, even almost twenty years later. I don’t think any reader will be able to miss these larger-than-life themes, even in a casual pass. The Book of D’Ni—indeed, the whole trilogy—is almost like a fairy-tale, a moral lesson on ethical behavior. Personally, I enjoyed it.

As I said with the other books, this series was written specifically to the fan base of the wildly popular computer games Myst (released 1993), Riven (1997), Exile (2001), Revelation (2004), and End of Ages (2005). If you played any or all of these games, but haven’t yet read the books, you’re missing out.

Yet you can enjoy the books without having played the games. Hyperion offers the entire trilogy in one volume, The Myst Reader, which is easily found online. If you enjoy fantasy, or a well-told tale, it’s an enjoyable, inspiring adventure.

Myst II: The Book of Ti’Ana

by Rand Miller and David Wingrove
Hyperion Books. ©1996
ISBN: 978-0786889204
Mass Market Paperback, 592 pages.

Anna lives with her father, conducting geological surveys in the desert. When his death leaves her alone, Anna sets off for the nearest town, but decides to make one last exploration of tunnels in the extinct volcano, discovered by her father just days before his death.

Deep beneath the surface of the caldera, the civilization of D’ni has thrived for thousands upon thousands of years. At the moment, its citizens once again engage in a long-standing debate: whether or not to venture to the surface and possibly make contact with its inhabitants. One faction says yes; as long as we’re cautious, we ought to know what other lifeforms inhabit our world. The other says no; in a society as rich with tradition and as steeped in study and honor as the D’ni, what could surface dwellers have to offer? Surely they would be little more than animals, not burdened with higher reasoning or any sort of intelligence.

When Anna gets lost in her exploration of the tunnels, two worlds collide. Anna’s encounter with the D’ni guardians set off a chain of events that shakes the ancient civilization to its very foundations.

The Book of Ti’Ana is the second volume in a trilogy that covers the story of the D’ni, a subterranean race of builders, excavators, scientists and artisans who also happen to hold the amazing talent of Writing, that is, the art and science of writing Books that link to strange and fascinating Ages, worlds where anything can—and sometimes does—happen. In the Book of Atrus, we saw the city of D’ni after its great Fall, with buildings abandoned and collapsed, no living residents remaining. Here, we see it thriving in the last years of its prime. Great guildhouses and homes cling to the walls of a cavern miles wide and so tall one cannot see the ceiling. As in The Book of Atrus, the writers give us vivid and colorful descriptions of Ages both beautiful and horrific. The main setting, the great underground city of D’ni, is as complex and detailed as you might expect in any major fantasy novel. Social conventions and traditions are a bit dated (remember when this was published), but believably told.

Characterizations are well-done, though there are a great many more characters in this story than there were in the first book, with a complex web of interactions between them. Neither Atrius nor Anna (later Ti’Ana), the protagonists, are perfect, which I liked. Nor is the antagonist purely evil. In fact, it isn’t clear in the beginning just who the antagonist will be; unless you read the first book (The Book of Atrus), you might not know him at first glance. But even those who know his name may be fooled in the beginning, for his character starts out good and develops through time and bitterness into a formidable enemy. I found the twist of this character’s nature entirely believable.

The Book of Ti’Ana could easily be read first, before The Book of Atrus, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Even though it’s backstory, I agree with the authors’ decision to place this second in the trilogy. Just as with part one, this is a good story on many levels. The Book of Ti’Ana is a fantasy about the conflict between exclusivity and inclusivity, between tradition and evolution, where hostility and suspicion holds the power to destroy it all, for both sides. It’s also a tale that is relevant to our own world, our own time, for the very same reasons. The inhabitants of D’ni face the same sorts of questions we do: whether inalienable rights extend to all or only a privileged few, whether purity of blood is essential to one’s relevance in society, and whether someone who is not “like us” deserves compassion and fair treatment.

As I said of The Book of Atrus, The Book of Ti’Ana is probably not up to the most discriminating standards where fiction-writing is concerned. Nevertheless, it was easy to lose myself in the story. I found myself rooting for Ti’Ana and Atrius throughout, sharing their joys and sorrows from beginning to end.

The Myst trilogy, of which this is the second volume, was written specifically to the fan base of the wildly popular computer games Myst (released 1993), Riven (1997), Exile (2001), Revelation (2004), and End of Ages (2005). If you played any or all of these games, but haven’t yet read the books, you’re missing out. Still, even if you didn’t play the computer games, give them a try. The Myst trilogy is recommended fantasy for anyone who enjoys a good tale well-told.

 

Myst I: The Book of Atrus

by Rand Miller, Robyn Miller and David Wingrove
Hyperion Books. ©1995
ISBN: 978-0786881888
Mass Market Paperback, 422 pages.

Anna is the only person young Atrus has ever known. His mother died in childbirth. His father, Gehn, abandoned Atrus immediately after, leaving him to his grandmother to raise or bury. Gehn didn’t really care which. Anna chooses the former, making a home with her grandson in a dormant volcano in the midst of the desert. Together they tease a garden from the reluctant earth, ration their precious water, and scavenge the surrounding area for anything they might sell to traders in exchange for salt, fabric, other necessities.

Through Anna’s lessons, Atrus learns what it takes to survive, even thrive. Her devotion seeds and tends his love and loyalty. Her stories hint at a past too fanciful to be real. Together, they eke a happy existence in the barren wasteland. Atrus begins to believe it will always be this way.

In his fourteenth year, his father returns, and Atrus’s world flips upside down. Now he must leave the desert, the only home he’s ever known, and his beloved grandmother for an unknown future with a strange, distant man. When Gehn leads Atrus up the face of the volcano and deep into its heart, Atrus begins to realize that his grandmother’s tales were true, that his own history is far more fantastic than he ever could have imagined.

The Book of Atrus is the first volume in a trilogy that covers the story of the D’ni, a subterranean race of builders, excavators, scientists and artisans who also happen to hold the amazing talent of Writing, that is, the art and science of writing Books that link to strange and fascinating Ages, worlds where anything can—and sometimes does—happen. Most fantasy writers in our own world create one, two, maybe three worlds at most in any given story. In The Book of Atrus, the Millers, together with Wingrove, have created a whole plethora of them. From the very beginning, their descriptions of Anna and Atrus’s home, the desert around them, and Atrus’s entire journey through the underground with Gehn, not to mention the various Ages, painted a clear and inviting picture that made me want to explore the D’ni tunnels for myself.

Characterizations also evoked emotions in me. I fell in love with Anna and Atrus immediately, and despised Gehn from the start. After Gehn’s reappearance, we don’t see much of Anna; I missed her and sympathized with her as I watched Atrus grow up without her guidance. Atrus does develop as a character, even if somewhat predictably. Gehn grows more despicable with the turning of every page. Although I could somewhat predict the ending, it was no less enjoyable because… Well. I can’t tell you that, now can I?

This is a story of Atrus’s coming of age, how he grows to manhood in the care of his father. But it’s also more than that. It’s a provocative tale of ethics and morality, and the ever-present struggle between personal gain and compassion for others, one which holds some relevance to events unfolding in our own world, in our own time. More than once I found myself comparing events in this tale to contemporary headlines, political and social sagas playing out all around me even as I read.

The Book of Atrus is probably not up to the most discriminating standards where fiction-writing is concerned. As I read, I heard lessons from my own editor and experienced writers echoing in my head (“never do this!”). Nonetheless, such “shortcomings” did not diminish my enjoyment of the tale one whit. I found The Book of Atrus to be an enjoyable adventure set in a visual world with provocative ethical dilemmas.

One thing to keep in mind as you read is that the Myst trilogy was written to the fan base of the wildly popular computer games Myst (released 1993), Riven (1997), Exile (2001), Revelation (2004), and End of Ages (2005). The Book of Atrus describes events that lead up to the first game. If you played any or all of these games, but haven’t yet read the books, you’re missing out. If you haven’t played, there is still plenty to recommend about this novel, though I suspect reading it may make you curious about the game, which I can’t recommend enough.

The Miller brothers and Mr. Wingrove have done a great job bringing the Myst universe to life in these pages. If you like fantasy that takes you to another world, The Myst trilogy is for you. Start here, with The Book of Atrus.

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
Riverhead, © 2009
ISBN 978-1594484629
Paperback, 336 pages. From $14.97

Lifelong Christian Science devotee Barbara Bradley Hagerty, inspired by a spiritual encounter she could not explain, spent years exploring the nature of God. Fingerprints documents her journey through the labyrinth of stories from people who’ve experienced a transcendent connection with something Other that changed them forever, and Hagerty’s quest to learn whether there is hard, documented science to explain these experiences. Through more than a decade of interviews with scientists, medical practitioners, and neurotheologians, she sought answers to questions like “Is spiritual experience real?” and “Is there a reality outside this one?” and “What do people really see during near-death or other out-of-the-body experiences?” From the MRI chamber to the all-night peyote ceremony, Hagerty followed every available lead, chased every clue, with surprising—and sometimes astounding–results. Along the way, she met extraordinary people with remarkable tales that cast credible doubts on the lines between “real” and “imaginary.”

Hagerty starts out as a Christian Scientist. Throughout the book, she compares her new findings to the belief system that has supported her throughout her lifetime. By the end of the book, she admits to having lost some of her long-held assumptions, but overall her research only informs what she believed all along. The big difference is that she no longer believes her own religion is the only right, true faith. She has come to understand that, as she says in the book, faith is like a spoked wheel. God is the hub. All spokes lead to God. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. And—she asserts this clearly—it is a choice. Science can’t prove there is a Divine, any more than they can prove there is not. The choice is up to us how we interpret these experiences, and how we allow them to inform our lives.

Now let me tell you right up front that this is not the first time I’ve read Fingerprints. Still, as a deeply spiritual woman with personal numinous experience, I am always inspired by this book. Hagerty asks hard questions and presents intriguing scientific data from documented experiments. She reminds me of mystical Truths I already knew but had forgotten in the day-to-day business of life. Each time I read it, I find myself reevaluating my own assumptions, adjusting my beliefs to fit new knowledge, and remembering that I am a part of, not apart from, the Whole. For me, it is a refresher course that never seems to disappoint.

Hagerty’s book will suit anyone who ever asked the Big Questions, anyone who ever had a mystical experience, or anyone who seeks connection with something beyond All This. Whether you maintain a particular religious faith, or consider yourself a Seeker, Fingerprints offers deep and satisfying food for thought.

The Target

by David Baldacci
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group, © 2014
ISBN 978-1-4555-2123-4
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages, $10.00

When faced with the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to take down a global threat—U.S. President Cassion weighs the risks and reluctantly gives the order. The mission must succeed. Failure means certain retaliation, probable impeachment, and possible world war. Only five people know the deal: the President, the CIA director, the national security advisor, and the CIA’s two top agents, WILL ROBIE and JESSICA REEL. Operation commencement sets inexorable wheels in motion for everyone involved, especially when all does not go as planned.

On the other side of the world, North Korea plots against a traitor for scheming with the evil West, and imprisons his family in a notorious camp from which few ever escape. But “impossible” isn’t in the U.S. vocabulary, and when Cassion sends Robie and Reel to liberate the prisoners, North Korea must retaliate to save face. In the aftermath, their best agent conspires with well-placed contacts in the U.S. This time, the stakes are higher than ever, and none of them expect to come out of it alive.

David Baldacci spins a good thriller. Even with numerous characters, the reader knows they’ll all tie together somehow. Part of the fun in this kind of read is trying to figure out the connections before they’re made clear. It’s a given that intrigue and personal drama each play their own role, almost becoming characters in their own right. When a reader picks up a thriller, they have certain expectations of the plot and every character. Robie and Reel were predictable good guys. I knew what they’d do in almost every scene, though they did surprise me from time to time. On the other hand, I admit to being most captivated by the antagonist, CHUNG-CHA, and found myself trying to see the world through her eyes, impossible though that would be.

I’m not certain if it’s a concrete part of his style, or whether this novel was different, but The Target is mostly narrated from an almost omnicscient perspective. Between that and his prominent use of passive verbs, I found it a little more difficult to connect with the characters. Of course, as an up-and-coming writer, this got my attention, since books and classes on the craft of writing always say this is unwise. Now I see why. Still, Baldacci’s long list of titles, many of which became best sellers, speaks to his storytelling ability. Clearly, many love his novels. This was my first Baldacci experience, so my comments here are based on a narrow range of his work, and on what my teachers say. (Of course, they also say once you’re a bestselling author, you can break all the “rules” you want.)

That small detail aside, I enjoyed this book enough that I’ll likely read other Baldacci novels. If you’re looking for an entertaining read, The Target might be for you.