on March 29, 2016 :
A review of Fantasy Novel "The Gods Of The Gift"
Arthur Rosch can write. It's apparent that he loves language, he has a musician's flair for the sound of words. In a form like fantasy or science fiction there's a freedom to invent names and terms that can be highly evocative. The places of this book, its characters, philosophies, races and cultures are named with a lilting and often hilarious touch of the jazz improviser. There are eccentric locutions that reverberate through the action. There's a planet called Xtalus that orbits a star, Hipnes. This planet has been populated by acolytes of a band called The Dreadful Great. Their music form is dubbed "Jerk n' Jell", or sometimes "Lunge n'Squeeze", as if the term "Rock n' Roll" has never been considered. It just didn't come up. Jerk n' Jell does the job nicely, evoking sexual vigor and rhythmic energy.
Xtalus is the adopted home of one of the novel's major characters, a galaxy-wide musical celebrity named Robolion Spdaz. Unfortunately, the planet has been lethally corrupted by a drug plague. The drug was introduced as something like super-weed but it's sneakily addictive and by the time the DetoxVolunteers are alerted the culture has been swallowed whole and people are starving to death by the millions because they no longer care about the exterior world. Robolion and a companion are rescued by the book's protagonist. This is Garuvel Zimrin, a seeker/traveler, student of various schools of martial arts and spiritual philosophies. Garuvel is not an "ordinary" person as we tend to think of ordinary people. He has been gifted a Power, a really really BIG power. It came to him out of the blue.
At the very beginning of the book, in the Prologue, we see the arrival and impact of this Power. What would it be like if you could do literally ANYTHING, so long as you could visualize it coherently and speak it in words, aloud? Want to disappear? Visualize yourself vanishing. Then say, "I have disappeared, although I'm still here."
Zip! Vanished. Standing there in front of a mirror at the age of nine, Garuvel feels a weird sense of displacement. He can't see himself. He's there, his hands contact face, arms, legs. He vomits from feeling dizzy and his puke jets as if out of nowhere and splashes on the floor.
Power. Big time. Major Power. Garuvel is contacted by a sort of Council. There are six Beings in the cosmos who also possess this power and they instruct Garuvel that whenever he uses the power there is a corresponding change elsewhere. The principle of The Great Balance must always be satisfied. It's a metaphysical reality. Change things in location X and something must change in location Y.
One would think that this is what the book is about. I read the prologue and expected the plot to continue developing along the lines of this amazing Power, which is called The Realgift. But it doesn't. The Realgift stays in the background and it has profound effects on Garuvel's personality but here's the trick: If you're given a power like that, you CAN'T USE IT unless you're about to die, like this very second. Who would you be if you could have every desire satisfied, instant gratification, all the time?
Eventually you would deteriorate into a monster, an utter weakling who can't face the slightest discomfort. Garuvel recognizes this immediately, even as a nine year old. So instead of going on the ultimate binge, he dedicates himself to the task that he calls Growing Towards The Gift. That's why he becomes a traveler, seeker, inquirer, philosopher and activist.
In this role, disguised as a wandering poet, he encounters a curious duel. He is on a backward planet called R'zelfo. The duelists are squared off in a classic Samurai-style confrontation. One man kills the other, but the duel isn't over. Two swordsmen appear. Then they are killed, at which point three duelists appear to face this adversary. As soon as they are killed, they are replaced by the same number plus one. Garuvel finds an interval to meet the warrior, who is called Nutun Utulo. This formidable warrior kills thirty five mercenaries before the duel moves into its next phase. It's clear that Garuvel can only watch. Unless something dishonest happens, unless someone cheats or breaks the law, he has no moral reason to take anyone's side.
Garuvel watches. As the action develops the underpinnings of this duel are revealed. The real target is a warlord named Boraz Bufaisdek. This is a legal duel form known as a Chain Duel. Boraz is teasing and testing his adversary. The real fight happens after Boraz breaks the law, at which point Garuvel joins Nutun and they are attacked by a small army of Boraz' minions.
The premise of the book develops in the first few chapters. The Gods Of The Gift is a Quest book, or a picaresque. It is highly original, full of prose of passionate and tender lyricism. There is Character Development, the real thing, which is so often the weakest aspect of sci fi/fantasy. This won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's not your grandfather's science fiction novel. It's a big book, one that surprises with every page. Though it's a piece of metaphysical speculation, it never takes itself seriously. Rosch stays with Story and keeps the narrative moving. He can be sardonic and very funny. He has written a fabulous book..
(review of free book)