Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lodestone Book One: The Sea of Storms by Mark Whiteway

Reviewed for the New Podler Review of Books by Rob Steiner

The Sea of StormsLodestone Book One: The Sea of Storms by Mark Whiteway has a unique way of making a science fiction story feel like a fantasy.

The world of Kelanni is populated by a pastoral intelligent race that suffered a terrible cataclysm in the distant past, driving society into a dark age. Into this dark age comes an alien being known as the Prophet who enslaves the Kelanni with his powerful Keltar “priests.” The Keltar use “lodestones,” rocks with strange physical properties, to power their technology – from flying cloaks to communication rings to cannons and grenades. The Keltar force the Kelanni to mine the lodestones for the Prophet's own nefarious purposes.

Most Kelanni meekly accept the way things are. But a small group of patriots led by a former Keltar apprentice named Lyall and his best friend Alondo, fight back by using the Keltar's lodestone technology against them. They recruit a young, talented Kelanni named Shann into their rebellion and set out to free the Kelanni slaves.

Along the way they meet Keris, a Keltar with a crisis of faith who was persuaded by an intelligent caterpillar-like creature named Boxx that the Prophet is constructing a weapon to destroy the Kelanni people and take the Kelanni world as his own. They learn the Prophet is building this weapon on the other side of the Kelanni world, so Keris, Boxx, Lyall, Alondo, and Shann set out across the Kelanni frontier to find the weapon and destroy it before the Prophet can complete it.

The Sea of Storms does what the first book in any series is supposed to do – introduce us to the main characters and set up the world they inhabit. In most respects, the book does this very well.

We learn that Lyall is the moral voice of the small band of rebels, Alondo is the comic relief, Shann the cynical teenager, and Keris the brooding warrior with a haunted past. Boxx is a truly alien creature that keeps the other characters guessing with its endearingly cryptic speech.

And the world of Kelanni – with its three suns the people worship as gods – has the strange regions and creatures you'd expect to find in a fantasy novel. The Fire Pits. The Great Barrier of Storms. The Serpent of Karthrun. But that's where the fantasy ends. The science fiction comes in with the lodestones, which are supposed to be a form of technology that Whiteway based on Einstein's theories of “negative matter.”

The book is fun, but it does have its down sides.

For one, it can be very plot driven at times. Some of the characters abandon long-held beliefs at the drop of a hat in order to make choices the plot obviously demanded. For example, Keris the Keltar abandons her faith, her mentor, and the only life she has ever known after getting a dubious message regarding the Prophet's secret weapon. A message which someone in her position should at least have been skeptical. And Lyall, the leader of the rebellion, seems way too trusting of the strangers he meets on their quest. It makes one wonder how he survives in a society where the Keltar are all-powerful and betrayal is supposedly common.

The world-building was fine, but it did have some holes. Like the nomadic race that wanders the plains hunting herds of buffalo-type creatures...and “brews their own wine.” Now that's okay, but the author never explains where in their wagons they store their vineyards.

But with that said, Lodestone Book One: The Sea of Storms is a fast-paced adventure that doesn't spend a lot of time with character navel gazing, or devote pages to technology or magic description like many sci-fi/fantasy door stoppers today. All those things are there, but they come out at appropriate times through the action in the story, and they do not slow down the narrative. Give The Sea of Storms a try if you're looking for a short, action-packed read.

You can find Lodestone Book One: Sea of Storms on Amazon, along with its sequel, Lodestone Book Two: The World of Ice and Stars. It is also available in ebook form from Smashwords.

Rob Steiner is the author of The Last Key.

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