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The Thorn

The Thorn

The Thorn is the first book in the Chronicles of Gan series by debut author Daron D. Fraley. It is speculative Mormon fiction that takes place on a faraway planet called Gan, where there are three tribes descended from three brothers, Daniel, Gideon and Uzzah.

Jonathan is the hero of the story, hailing from the tribe of Daniel. The tribe of Gideon plays the antagonist role, similar to the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. They are, for the most part, bloodthirsty and aggressive. Manassah, the Gideonite leader, wants to unite the three tribes via conquest, whereas Jonathan seeks to bring people to remembrance of their distant family heritage in order to restore peace and unity.

The story moves along quickly and provides intrigue and satisfying battle scenes. Nothing too gory, so the book is appropriate for all ages. As expected with this genre, there is a great deal of religious content. This is both good and bad. It’s good in that it gives the book lofty meaning and spiritual insights. It’s bad in the sense that the storyline occasionally feels like it has been forced to fit around the doctrinal goals of the author rather than just unfolding on its own. This is why I’m generally not a huge fan of this genre. Fraley does a great job, but I’ve never encountered a story in LDS speculative fiction that doesn’t seem a bit forced in places.

There are two nits that I feel compelled to bring up. Neither are truly errors, but they still bugged me a little while reading the book. First, the planet Gan in the story has three moons. Therefore, the author continually calls the light from those moons “moons-light.” For some reason, this got under my skin. Light coming from a moon, or moons, is moonlight, just as light coming from multiple candles is still candlelight, not “candles-light.” Second, I was a bit baffled why all the people on Gan have names from the Old Testament. The peoples of the Book of Mormon, for example, were only a continent away from the Holy Land, yet most of them did not have Old Testament names. The fact that people on an entirely different plant didn’t have original names made it more difficult for me to suspend disbelief as a reader.

Again, those are just nits that probably won’t bother anyone but me. I don’t want my inclusion of them to take away from the overall positive tone of this review. I liked the book a lot. It is a wonderful and well-written story by a very promising new author. The message of The Thorn is inspiring and will be greatly enjoyed by LDS readers of all ages. Daron Fraley deserves congratulations for a wonderful debut. I look forward to the rest of the series with great anticipation.

Price: $16.95
Publisher: Valor Publishing Group, LLC
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Binding: Trade Paperback
Pages: 300
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9781935546115
Daron’s Blog: http://www.daronfraley.com

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Hidden Empire

Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card

In this sequel to his acclaimed thriller Empire, legendary science fiction writer Orson Scott Card once again shows that he can write great books in any genre. Hidden Empire continues the story begun in Empire – an increasingly partisan and volatile American electorate is manipulated by a masterful politician/academic who brings the Democrats and Republicans together, effectively giving himself absolute power.

Fictional President Averell Torrent is that man. He sees the world in broad historical strokes, and secretly patterns himself after Augustus Caesar, who transformed the Roman republic into an unstoppable empire. Torrent is the ultimate strategist and opportunist, using natural crises and calamities as the catalysts to reshape the world according to his vision.

The convenient crisis that rears its head is a new and very deadly African virus that is ravaging the dark continent, leaving 50% of its victims dead. President Torrent institutes a quarantine blockade of the entire continent in order to contain the disease. Once the disease has run its course, he deposes the illegitimate warlord governments and redraws the borders of the African nations in a more enlightened way.

The three heroes of the book are Cecily Malich, her son Mark, and Colonel Coleman (“Cole”). We know Cecily and Cole from the first book. Cecily is the widow of Reuben Malich, the hero that thwarted the progressive rebellion and restored peace. She is also a close advisor to the President. Cole was Reuben’s sidekick, and now leads his tightly woven team of expert special ops soldiers, who are sent into Africa to protect American interests and prevent genocide among the warring factions.

Hidden Empire has an overtly Christian theme, which is articulated by Cecily’s thirteen year-old son Mark. When a grassroots movement arises among Christian groups, who insist that they to be allowed to violate the quarantine and go to Africa to care for the ravaged plague victims, Mark insists that it is his Christian duty to go help. Of course his mother says no, but he eventually prevails, arguing that the Christians’ selfless care of plague victims was what eventually propelled ancient Christianity into prominence in the Roman Empire. Regardless of the risks, it’s what Christians do, so not helping would be hypocrisy. So Cecily resigns her position with the President and she and Mark go to Africa, putting themselves in the middle of the action as the President’s schemes unfold.

With Empire, and now Hidden Empire, Card has proven that he has fully mastered his foray into the techno-thriller genre. The book takes place in the present day real world. All of the cool military technology that the author utilizes in the story is either presently available or at least conceivable in the short term. The pace of story is blistering and relentless. Try to imagine an episode of the television show 24, but written by Tom Clancy. It’s like that.

Card effectively weaves the themes of oil geo-politics, Christianity, terrorism, loyalty, and patriotism an unforgettable tale that thoroughly entertains, while making the reader somewhat uneasy at the same time – it all somehow seems disturbingly possible. I look forward to the next book in the series with great anticipation.

$24.99
Title: Hidden Empire (December 22, 2009)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor (Tom Doherty Associates) 336 pages.
Website: Click Here

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Am I Not a Man

Am I Not a Man

Occasionally after I finish reading a book, I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. This was one of those times. Am I Not A Man: The Dred Scott Story is a remarkable achievement for first-time novelist and three-time Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff. In this 534 page debut, Shurtleff expertly combines his talents in writing, historical research, and constitutional law, creating a very memorable literary work.

The book follows the life of Dred Scott, a slave born in Virginia into the household of the kindly Blow family, who treated their slaves like family members. With the death of the family patriarch, Dred is inherited by one of the Blow sons, who through drinking and financial misfortune, transforms from a dear friend of Dred into a violent master.

Dred is ultimately sold to an Army doctor, who treats him well. Dred serves as his medical assistant and is generally treated with respect, partly due to Dred’s veteran status fighting against the British. Dred’s owner is transferred to Illinois, a free state. Unknown to Dred at the time, if a slave owner willingly takes his slave to a free state, the slave is legally made free. A few years later, Dred and his owner return to Missouri, a slave state.

This sequence of events sets the stage for the Dred Scott case. When Dr. Emerson dies, Dred is inherited by his daughter Irene. Irene ultimately moves to Boston, leaving Dred in Missouri with her brutal anti-abolitionist in-laws. Dred sues in court for his freedom, supported by the Blow family, who still keep in touch with him and deeply regret not having freed him when they had the chance. The lawsuit is based on the fact that having lived in Illinois with Dr. Emerson officially should have freed Dred, and the law clearly stated that “once free, always free” even after returning to Missouri.

The law was clear and the court found in Dred’s favor, making him a free man. This would turn out to be only a temporary condition, however. His owners appealed the decision to Missouri’s highest court, which ignored the law and ruled against Dred, returning him to the bonds of slavery. With the support of his friends and the abolitionist movement, Dred appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a stunningly horrifying and blatantly racist decision, the highest court ruled not only that the Missouri high court had ruled appropriately, but that slaves were not human – only property – and therefore did not have standing to sue in court. Further, the majority opinion stated that people of African descent were so inferior that they, even if free, could not be citizens of the United States.

Although personally devastating to Dred Scott, the supreme court decision was ultimately a boon to the abolitionist movement. It was so outrageous that it polarized the country and directly led to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President and to the eventual emancipation of all slaves.

I picked up this book thinking that it would be a typical work of historical fiction. After reading only a few chapters, it became clear that it was more than that. Shurtleff has done a meticulous job in his research of the life and times of Dred Scott. The level of historical detail in the book is beyond anything I have ever seen in historical fiction. It actually prompted me to ask the editors, “What is this? Is it history, or is it fiction?” The response was that it is “dramatized history,” a categorization which is quite apt. Shurtleff’s book carries the erudition and gravitas of a history textbook, but is made infinitely more readable through meaningful dialogue, action and description.

While immersing the reader in the detailed legal and social historical contexts of this famous legal case, he tenderly exposes us to the hearts and souls of the people involved. It takes several chapters to become accustomed to this unique literary style. At first, I found it somewhat jarring and confusing, particularly the way the timeline jumps around. Additionally, the long passages of history tend to slow down the narrative at times. I was nearly a third of the way through the book before I became acclimated to the style and was truly pulled into the story and characters.

As is often the case with historical fiction, it was occasionally difficult to determine which events actually occurred, which events were just embellished, and which were fabricated by the author for literary effect. The copyright page of the book explicitly states that the incidents are based on historical accounts, but that the author has taken liberties for the sake of storytelling. The extent of these liberties, of course, is impossible for the reader to know on an incident by incident basis. However, I’m not quite sure how the author could have easily resolved this problem without using footnotes, which would have been equally distracting to the narrative.

Shurtleff had a tremendously difficult task of describing the historical events from the victimized point of view of slaves in a meaningful way – without overdoing it. For the most part he succeeded in this task, but on a few occasions he crossed the fuzzy line into melodrama. Despite this, the author effectively brings the characters to life for the reader, and masterfully treats the character of Dred Scott, an illiterate slave, with the proper dignity and respect that he deserves as one of the most important players in U.S. history in the fight for equal rights under the law.

At over five hundred pages, this is not light reading. Yet it is important reading. Every American should know the story of Dred Scott and his fight for freedom in a legal system that was absurdly stacked against him. But Shurtleff’s book is more than just history. The reader cannot help but be uplifted and inspired by the themes of loyalty, familial love, tenacity, courage, and the dignity of human life that are woven continuously into the narrative. I highly recommend this book.

Title: Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story
Author: Mark L. Shurtleff
Publisher: Valor Publishing Group
Pub Date: November 2009
Website: Click here

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The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Delacorte Press

The Maze RunnerThe Maze Runner is a tremendously gripping work of young adult science fiction. Dashner pulled me into it in chapter one and never let go.  In terms of literary parallels, I would say that The Maze Runner could best be described as Ender’s Game meets Lord of the Flies.

The character arc of the protagonist Thomas was brilliant. The story begins with Thomas entering a dystopian civilization (called “The Glade”) populated by  unsupervised teenage boys.  Thomas has no memory of anything prior to that moment.  He soon learns that each of the other boys had arrived the same way over a two year period. The Glade sits at the center of a massive and unsolvable maze filled with horrifying and deadly creatures called grievers.

Throughout the story, Thomas’ character is slowly revealed to the reader as it is being revealed to himself. It was very effective. Throughout most of the book, neither the reader nor the character himself really know whether he is the hero or the villain.

The story moves at a blistering pace, barely leaving the reader time to breathe.  Dashner has a very crisp and enjoyable writing style, filled with vivid description that puts the reader directly in the middle of the sights, sounds and action.  The plot twist at the end took me by surprise.  I had thought I had it all figured out…

Parents will like the fact that there was no sexual content and the violence did not achieve the level of gore.  The fake profanity was somewhat excessive, though.  Instead of using real swear words (which of course would have been worse), Dashner made up a brand new lexicon of fake profanity.  He then used it fairly gratuitously, which was a bit distracting at times.

The Maze Runner is a truly great work of YA science fiction – the best I’ve read in a while.  I would be very surprised if this book does not become an instant classic of the genre.

James Dashner’s Site

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