01/01/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Livani Publishing. 398 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 960-14-1160-0.
check out websites: www.livani.co.uk and www.mariorouti.co.uk
At face value at least, this book sounds like one of those rare works that blurs the boundary between juvenile and adult fiction. Though written for children and from the perspective of the teenage protagonist, the subject matter is very adult, namely free will and the nature of good and evil. The backdrop is a combination of Science Fiction and Greek mythology but spun around our own world so that rather than abstract issues, the protagonists are dealing with contemporary ones including terrorism and climate change.
The problem is that while the book contains lots of compelling themes and an essentially entertaining storyline, it's let down by the words. It is simply not a good read. Now, because the book is a translation of a novel first published in Greek, it's difficult to know if the original book had more pizzazz, and it's just the translation that's heavy going. But some of the book's flaws certainly have to be laid at the author's feet.
One problem is the grating simplicity of the whole argument. There's nothing wrong with clarity when you're putting across ideas and intellectual challenges, but when they're simplistic, then that's something else entirely. Much of what the author argues is trite. Science, industry and market economics are all bad while artists, wild animals and the primitive tribes of Africa are good. The fact that the supposed heroes have clean energy, ample food and perfect health without any explanation of how or why is ignored totally. If we had those things on Earth we'd be a much happier noble people, too! So why don't the Orizons just come down here and help us do away with coal-fired power stations and genetically-modified crops? But no, they're going to busy themselves feeding unhappy lions and zipping off to another dimension to fight ritualised wars with spears and arrows.
As if these idiotic ideas weren't bad enough, they're put across in long speeches that would make even Cicero balk! This may be the fault of the translators and quite possibly in the original Greek these thick dollops of prose were actually much funnier and wittier than they are in English. But as things are presented here, most readers will surely flip through some of the more verbose declamations.
Another problem is the almost total lack of a surprise ending. The denouement is so obvious that most readers will have predicted it from about page seven. In itself, the lack of a twist at the end isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many authors, not least of all that other notable Greek, Homer, have told tales where the conclusion is known from the start and the bulk of the story is about explaining how the hero got into this situation. But in this instance, Routi singularly fails to come up with anything gripping enough to keep the reader surprised and curious about what happens next.
Characterisation is weak. Among the child heroes, there's literally one from every nation and race and each has his or her own speech to make about their culture or religion. All of these utterly forgettable cookie-cutter children are of no significance at all and no tears were lost by this reader when a few of them got turned to stone, eaten up by monsters or whatever. The adults are, if anything, even duller. It's not that they don't do anything heroic, but it's that as living, breathing people they make no sense at all. The supposed 'romance' between Leiko and Felicia for example is completely wooden and truly tedious. About the only non-child character that exhibits anything like realistic emotions is a tree, for heaven's sakes!
To be fair on the book, there are some action scenes that add a bit of impetus to the flywheel. The idea that the immortal Orizons are operating behind the scenes on Earth opposing problems such as terrorism is an interesting one and, if anything, it's a shame the author didn't spend less time in the parallel world and a bit more time here on Earth. The chief antagonist, King Turgoth, uniquely among the adult characters isn't a complete dolt and actually has some depth to him, not to mention a certain degree of cunning. But these are bright spots in an otherwise heavy-going and ultimately unsatisfying book.
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