Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo

"From newcomer Mark Teppo comes an explosive, action-packed occult thriller combining Western magick, Hermetic traditions, and shamanism." That's from the back cover.

Explosive... well, there are several kabooms, and thousands of casualties, so I suppose that's accurate enough. Action-packed is pressing it a little--but then I read Conan books so the bar I expect an author to clear in order to merit action-packed is perhaps a tad high. Yes it's a thriller insofar as the main character is effectively a detective and there are periodic motiviation shifts in major characters. But the important thing in that blurb is the word occult, combined with the last few nouns.

I'll give Teppo his due in one regard: every urban fantasy author strains himself to establish some kind of credibility for his alternate world, and Teppo has chosen well. He's picked out tidbits from every major religion (and most minor ones) and taken a good swing at building a coherent theme from them, using the result to bolster his universe. After a mystic exercise with his girlfriend goes tragically wrong, the MC's soul is partly ripped from his body (ouch) and he is thrown headlong into the world of the psychic and the divine. Delving into philosophy helps him come to understand what's happening, and selling antiques helps pay the bills--until his girlfriend resurfaces years later, and the story picks up.

Okay, good enough for UF. Many authors take the all-encompassing route of trying to explain away vampires and werewolves, sprites and pixies, trolls and goblins and all of our long and varied myths; Teppo doesn't, introducing instead only the soul as a physical thing and the human Will as an element of the divine. Not bad. (Full disclosure: zombies are still fair game: they're the husks left after the soul has been removed. Yeah, we've got lots of zombies here.)

But although the premise is good, and the MC's particular hash of abilities is clever (the "chorus" of human souls he employs does a lot for the story), he's also a whining douche-bag rabbit for much of the book. For three chapters running he'll spend all his time looking for a way to leave town, then he'll get his ass kicked, and finally he'll immolate a dozen people and walk out unscathed while pronouncing himself ready for anyone.

But wait, that's not all! I haven't even gotten to the important bit yet. Here it is: if you took out every pages-long half-baked philosophy-jumbling treatise from this book, the book would be half its length (and a lot more clear). Fully half the book consists of the author acting like a freshman philosopher who is desperate to impress a date, pulling out every reference to every religious belief that he can muster just in case he'll hit the right combination and get lucky for the night. The author's clearly intending this to be world-building, and to some extent it does work that way, but it's overkill to such a degree that it's mostly just a distraction from what would otherwise be a pretty good first novel.

For all that, this one was still good enough that I found myself looking for it to read during meals, which is pretty much my baseline for do-I-buy-the-sequel. But if author can't stick to his theme more and his philosophy less in the next book, I probably won't finish it.

B&N link

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