July 19, 2009

Book Review: "The Exodus Gate" by Stephen Zimmer

Title: The Exodus Gate (Book One of the Rising Dawn Saga)
Author: Stephen Zimmer
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 566
ISBN 978-0-615-26747-0

After winning this book through a contest on Amberkatze's Book Blog, Stephen Zimmer was kind enough to ship not only the book but a plethora of promotional items as well. I received art cards, bookmarks, and even a poster among the booty. So, right off the bat, I need to thank both, again Stephen and Amber, for holding the contest in the first place. In a way, the contest allowed me to notice Zimmer's work, as--I must be honest here--I have glossed over the fantasy section of the bookstores in the past.

Blasphemy, sure, but I've been working to remedy that this year.

So, what kind of fantasy novel is Exodus Gate? Well, it's a sweeping epic and weighs in at nearly 600 pages--light reading for your run-of-the-mill fantasy fanatic--and is only the first of a projected five books in the Rising Dawn saga. For a guy like me, who has yet to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy because of both page count and the notoriety of fantasy-themed prose, that sounds a bit daunting. I entered the contest in hopes of giving it a chance if lucky enough to win, though.

Thankfully, this fantasy tale blends a whole lot of other stuff beyond the ol' swords and sorcery fare. We get a strong dose of science-fiction, a taste of horror, and even a dash of humor. It sounds like a mish-mash, and maybe it is, but the way the whole story is laid out it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

In the story, Benedict Darwin (the character's name was cool enough to catch my eye while initially reading the plot summary) is a late-night radio host dealing with kooky characters and their conspiracy theories and experiences with the supernatural and the unexplained. He's a little jaded by his work though, so when he gets his hands on a new virtual reality game being developed by a friend/fan he finds himself reinvigorated. But, the game is just a little too realistic, sending him into a world inhabited by giant wolves (An-Ki), giant monsters (Night Hunters), and some very angry demons (Fallen Angels).

Not long after Benedict's niece, Arianna, tries out the device they learn it's not a virtual reality game, but a gateway into the past. And when I say the past, I'm talking before the Great Flood. Which is kind of key of the story, as Diabolos (the head baddy) is looking to lead his armies (with the aid of an evil corporation responsible for the Gate in the present) into a full scale war on both Heaven and Earth. And the Exodus Gate is a key piece to that puzzle. So, when the corporation figures out the prototype isn't under lock and key like it should be, the hunt is on in the past and the present.

While there is sufficient action and suspense to this tale, which I've barely touched upon thus far, the book as a whole did feel like a prelude to something greater that's to come along later in the series. That's the one hang-up I have with most trilogies and sagas: the early books come off as hype for the final books. But you get a strong sense of where many of the characters are coming from.

I did find some of the dialogue to be inorganic among a few of the human characters. By that I mean they spoke with voices that didn't really sound like their own at times. The supernatural beings, however, were well defined and I became a fan of the An-Ki--I'm a sucker for a giant bipedal wolf. And while the slower sections of the story could get bogged down a little with narration, it was almost necessary to get a broad scope of the characters and the hardships they were about to be put through. It's the price to pay when investing more than one book on a storyline that features multiple characters spanning eons.

Thanks to the blend of modern with ancient, the story feels different from what I stereotype as standard fantasy literature. And for a first-time author, Stephen Zimmer carries it off well. To start a writing career with something on this large a scale, story-wise, is commendable. I can only hope that when the second book comes out in early 2010, he can build on the foundation he's laid out with this book and thoroughly hook me on the rest of the series.

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