In the last few years there has been an ever increasing interest in humanity's faith and man's relationship with religion. This has become even more apparent with the plethora of books being published that deal with the subject. So much so that bookshops are now creating new sections in their stores to accommodate them.
RealmShift, by Alan Baxter, is a novel that sits on the outer edge of the aforementioned genre and drops into the SF and Fantasy genres to spice things up.
Essentially the story is based around Isiah, a once mortal man who has now become a kind of middleman between us mere mortals and those that reside on the other side of the `RealmShift'. Be them angels, demons, gods or the Devil himself.
Isiah is tasked with guarding a very unsavoury member of the human race to his destiny in the deep South American jungle, for if he doesn't succeed in getting the mortal to achieve his predestined objective, a chain reaction will ensue ending in the downfall of mankind.
Essentially, what you have is a very fast paced action novel complete with supernatural skills, plenty of martial arts, colourful characters and enough suspense to keep the pages turning into the small hours. However, besides the fantastic screenplay that this novel could easily be adapted to, it's the plot's underlying thread within the action that sets the story apart.
Isiah, being trapped as an immortal human in a kind of Highlander purgatory must learn to accept his place within the hierarchy and come to believe that everything happens for a reason, whether it's good or bad. This also throws in a brain twisting little paradox - with the central character at the mercy of the forces beyond the RealmShift, he learns more about the `system' at work. However, as he takes Samuel, the wickedly evil mortal (who is the crucible in the coming battle to save the world) across the globe to meet his fate, he imparts certain knowledge about his own relationship to gods and religions. Everyone has the choice to believe in what they wish and if enough people believe in something, it will come true. So the eternal conundrum, I believe, that RealmShift poses is that if Humanity really is in charge of its own fate then it's completely up to us to do what we believe is right since we create everything ourselves.
Without giving too much more away, RealmShift works brilliantly on all levels, as an action novel, as a divine expedition, as a dark fantasy and as a great example of character development within the two key players.
It concludes with a feeling that you have reached the edge of a cliff in a speeding car and come to a direct stop just before the lip, which is perfect as there is a sequel available in print.
After 3 years it would good to catch up with Isiah again. 3 years to a guy who is centuries old is an afternoon nap but there’s still been enough time in between for him to shake off his last big battle and resume the search for the ultimate root of all evil.
The thing that taunts Isiah though is he knows its not a battle that requires the annihilation of all that is evil as thats just not how ‘The Balance’ works. I love the concept of The Balance. Essentially there is a place for everything and everyone, good, evil or neutral and as long as there is an overall balance of those concepts, humanity is able to survive and thrive – Upset the balance and you tip the scales in favour of one side and that side can then take advantage, rise up and take ‘free will’ away from the world. THIS is what drives Isiah more than anything – Well, its what drives ‘The Balance’ he is their personal soldier in the war on keeping things in check.
An essential point that RealmShift made still rings very true in Magesign and that is that everyone has the choice to believe in what they wish and if enough people believe in something, it will come true. So the eternal conundrum is that if Humanity really is in charge of its own fate then it's completely up to us to do what we believe is right since we create everything ourselves.
With that in mind, everything gets amplified in Magesign. The Balance shift is bigger, the baddies are badder, Isiah even more pissed at the Balance for making him do its dirty work and the events are colossal. A few new concepts are introduced, namely the use of Magic and the fact that Isiah may not necessarily be alone in his quest to bring things back from the brink.
The character development is very strong as the book progresses. Some of them you love and some you most certainly love to hate, but ultimately you find that you can relate to every single person in the book as they all display traits that are within us all – Although most of us have the ability to keep from acting on those impulses..
There has been an emerging trend lately of pacing books at the speed of an all out sprint from the opening scene – Magesign is no different – Alan Baxter has an ability to write a book with such visual capabilities that its like you are reading a movie – Each chapter is a scene within itself so it does feel like you are watching a movie unfold scene by scene – It does make it a little jumpy at times especially if you go a few days reading a chapter at a time as you will find yourself back tracking a bit to remember what happened but once your back on deck, its flat out until the apocalyptic finale.
Australian readers will love the local geographical references as you chase the story around Sydney and into the outback but there is plenty of international jet setting too!
Overall, Magesign is an excellent conclusion to the Realmshift saga although I couldn’t rule out a possible third instalment being possible – Alan would have to go deep to out-do Magesign’s finale, but Im sure he could!
Alan Baxter is fast becoming my favourite fiction writer. I say fiction as you know the world’s he create are not real but deep down, I wish they were – they feel total real and come alive as you read. Like alot of the other reviewers of his work, I’ve found myself not wanting to stop reading once I start and end up reading the entire story in one or two sittings only to be annoyed at myself when it ends for doing so and not taking more time to live in Alan’s worlds – However, its the pure pace of Alan’s writing that keeps those pages flying and I found that its not really up to me hehe
Verse Full Of Scum is a another such Baxter effort that’s set on hyperdrive. It could easily be expanded into a series of books that explore Ghost’s backstory, futurestory and the world he inhabits generally, but also holds up really well as a quick glimpse into that world.
As much as Ghost is a mystique, I identified with him straight away and his cause, Im still not sure if he is a god guy, bad guy or indifferent but it hardly matters – What does is the action, of which there is plenty, the identifiable characters, some you are more than happy for Ghost to dispose of and the Verse Full Of Scum that is contained within. At times it’s Blade Runner meets Han Solo’s job before he met Luke mixed with stuff you think Boba Fett gets up to when he’s not on camera and at other times completely new ideas and scenarios which is a testament to Alan’s creativity.
This is the 3rd outing I’ve read from Alan and each time the ante has been upped significantly, I can’t wait to see what his characters get up to next!